MYRTLE BEACH In this age of iPhones that take tremendous video footage and YouTube that serves as a global space to view that footage, its hard to be a cynic when someone says they saw something unusual in the sky.
Want proof? Go to YouTube and do a search for UFO, Sept. 13, 2012, Myrtle Beach.
There, one will find several amateur videos shot that night along the Grand Strand of something strange over the ocean.
The videos show orange lights that appear and disappear. At one point, they multiply into at least eight small lights that litter the sky.
Those shooting the footage arent shy in expressing their surprise and shock, often using colorful language not suitable to print here.
But after watching the videos, the obvious question remains: What was that?
Is it a distress flare from a ship? Maybe it was a military training exercise? Could it be E.T. dropping by to say hello?
This is a mystery, said Peter Davenport, director of the National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC) near Seattle, Wash. The lights dont seem to be military flares. They dont behave like it.
Davenport said the center has received numerous reports from the Grand Strand about mysterious lights. In 2012, 59 sightings in Horry and Georgetown counties have been reported, according to the NUFORC website.
But this isnt a new phenomenon. The website indicates the first reported sighting in the Palmetto State dates back to the 1930s.
One such report was dated Sept. 18 of this year and occurred in south Myrtle Beach. The reporter stated, We sat on the porch in the evening as the sun was going down, and we (saw) two bright lights that looked like two headlights coming at us.
Rick Jones experienced his own close encounter about a week ago .
The North Myrtle Beach man was down at the citys 6th Avenue public beach access on the evening of Oct. 22 when he saw what he said were three orange- or reddish-colored lights that suddenly appeared over the ocean, seeming to come out of nowhere.
This was kind of odd, Jones said.
Within a few seconds, the lights blinked out. Suddenly, he said, they reappeared in a different part of the sky.
I was just totally amazed, Jones said.
Two days later, he and a female friend spotted the lights again, this time while at the 12th Avenue beach access in North Myrtle Beach.
Jones reported his sightings to the UFO center. On Oct. 26, he was back out on the citys beaches, hoping to get another glimpse at the mysterious lights.
Ohio resident Tonya Tigner also saw something strange in the sky when she was vacationing along the Grand Strand with friends and family in September.
Like Jones, Tigner and her companions were sitting on a deck one evening at the Murrells Inlet beach house theyd rented and saw the seemingly dancing lights bouncing their way across the night sky.
It was like a lantern, Tigner said. Were all convinced that we had definitely seen UFOs.
Several posts on The Sun News Facebook page touted personal experiences with the lights, while some dismissed the phenomenon as hogwash easily explained by Air Force or naval exercises. One post attempted to debunk those nonbelievers: People have been blaming the lights on the Air Force base for years, it read. The Air Force base is gone, but the lights are still here.
An earth-bound explanation
Or is there a terrestrial explanation?
Lt. Timothy McNamara, with the U.S. Coast Guard, sector Charleston, said there are three types of flares boats have on board.
Any of those could possibly be what people have been seeing.
One is the meteor flare, which has a rapid rise and rapid descent, McNamara said. Their average height is between 250 and 400 feet, they can be seen from 15 to 17 nautical miles away and its burn duration is 5.5 seconds, he added.
Depending on where you are, it can look higher than it really is, McNamara said.
The second is the parachute flare, a signaling device with a rapid rise and slow descent because of the chute. It reaches an altitude of up to 1,200 feet and can be seen from 14 to 20 nautical miles as it burns for 40 seconds.
Finally, theres the hand-held flare. McNamara said its average height is 10 feet, depending on how tall the person is holding it. Its viewing range is 8 to 50 nautical miles while burning for 50 to 120 seconds.
Of course, anyone familiar with UFO lore knows one explanation thats always tossed out is military exercises.
Robert Sexton, spokesman for Shaw Air Force Base in Columbia, said its 20th Fighter Wing trains over the Atlantic Ocean quite frequently, sometimes after dark.
In these evening exercises, flares are ejected from the F-16s because theyd be used in combat to distract a heat-seeking missile.
We train just like we fight. The flares that our fighters would eject are just a small object about the size of a salt shaker. All they do is fall, Sexton said.
Neither Sexton nor McNamar could say for certain that what people are seeing can be explained by flares and training exercises.
That type of confusion is exactly why Jim Meetze started studying the UFO phenomenon in the first place.
The Wilmington, N.C., man, who recently spoke at a UFO workshop in the city, said hes never had any personal experience with a strange flying object. Part of what got him interested in the topic was being an Apollo mission junkie when he was younger.
When he dove in, Meetze discovered a topic that was both overwhelming and confusing. It hit on everything from the events that occurred in Roswell, N.M. one of the countrys most famous UFO hotspots to military admittance then denial, and even some peoples beliefs that extraterrestrials and other lifeforms will speak through humans via psychic abilities.
When you start to look at it, its pretty overwhelming, Meetze said.
So, whats kept him interested in the topic for five years? He believes that when theres all this smoke, there must be fire.
Jones said its sad to think that humanity is all thats out there. So, yes, he doesnt believe we are alone.
I believe in God to start with. I just cant see us being created, and nothing else out there in this big old universe, he said.