Crowds streamed to Rachel, Nevada, for years hoping for Area 51 UFO glimpses

Area 51

Investigative journalist George Knapp looks into the early days of Area 51 and reports of a possible alien presence. UFO watchers visit the tiny town of Rachel, Nevada, hoping to get a look at UFOs and attorney Jonathan Turley talks about legal action against Area 51 for endangering its workers. Aired on Nov. 29, 1996, on KLAS TV in Las Vegas.


Home video from 1989 shows a glowing orb above Area 51. It may be the first but certainly not the last taken of odd objects in the Nevada desert. Scientist Bob Lazar said he knew where to set up his camera because he worked at Papoose Lake south of Groom Lake but still inside Area 51.

Bob Lazar. (KLAS-TV)

Lazar said he saw nine flying discs of alien origin hidden in hillside hangers. “There are nine total that I saw. Each one being different. Like they had the assortment pack,” said Lazar.

Lazar’s controversial statement set off a stampede that continues to this day. People come by the bus load to Groom Lake to watch the skies. “This is a classic mothership appearance,” said one hopeful UFO observer.  

Nearby, the rustic town of Rachel became a UFO hotspot. The town’s bar and grill became the Little A’Le’Inn, whose walls are adorned with alien drawings and poster-size photos of the base. A full line of UFO merchandise including videos, T-shirts, anti-matter hats and ET welcome mats are for sale. “Hordes of people come out here from all over. From all over,” owner Joe Travis said.

Travis has given more interviews than he can remember to news crews from all over the world. This crew from Switzerland, for example, arrived just this week.

Public interest remains high even though the government has seized vantage points once used to peer down on the base. Area 51 is off limits, but people still see weird lights in the sky. Photos of captured glowing globs, sombrero shaped craft, dual objects with rows of lights, things that make unusual maneuvers.

“If anything, it has increased over the past months,” Travis said. “It’s just every week, maybe two or three times a week people come in and say they seen this orange globe or, whatever you want to call it.”

Today, the base is hidden. Protected by motion detectors, security forces and the Groom Mountains, but also by the mountains of legal briefs filed by the Pentagon.

A lawsuit by six former employees alleges the military endangered workers by illegally disposing of hazardous waste at Area 51. The government has used national security as grounds to stall the suit. It denied the base existed, denied it has a name, even denied having such hazardous materials as jet fuel and car batteries, although both jets and cars have been photographed there on film that was once classified.

Jonathan Turley represents workers who say they were hurt by the government’s illegal disposal of hazardous waste in trenches at Area 51.

President Clinton recently signed an order exempting the base from environmental laws, but the lawyer who filed the suit doesn’t think it will matter in the long run.

“From the very beginning the military has adopted an absolutist position in this case that they and they alone will dictate what information the public receives. This opinion was something of a wakeup call,” said attorney Jonathan Turley who is representing the families.

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