Ever since his own close encounter at age 10, Jan Harzan’s dream has been to find evidence – real evidence – of a UFO. Now he sorts the identifiable (planes, flares, lanterns) from the 10 percent that can’t be explained.
NEWPORT BEACH – Jan Harzan is the kind of guy you want to sit next to at a dinner party.
What’s he been up to lately?
Oh, investigating alien abductions, looking for extraterrestrial motherships a quarter-mile long, and running tests on possible fragments from a UFO crash.
And it’s only 10:30 a.m.
“People ask me, ‘Do you believe in UFOs?’” says Harzan, 59, of Newport Beach. “My answer is, ‘No, I don’t believe. I know.’ A knower is someone who’s seen one so close up, in your face, you can’t deny it.”
Ever since his own close encounter at age 10, Harzan’s dream has been to find evidence – real evidence – of a UFO. That drove him, as a child, to try to build his own rocket ship; as a young man to study nuclear engineering at UCLA; and later, as an IBM executive, to seek out a certain type of corporate research.
He always ran into the same problem, what he terms “the silly factor.”
“People laugh about it,” he says. “There are companies interested in researching UFOs, but they are very quiet about it. They don’t want the silly factor.”
It wasn’t until 1991 until Harzan found a group of like-minded people at a Los Angeles meeting of the Mutual UFO Network, or MUFON. Within four years, he was running the Orange County chapter, volunteering some 20 hours a week.
Recently, he made the leap to national director of MUFON, moving its headquarters to Newport Beach.
By all appearances, Harzan – a husband and father of two – is the most normal guy you’d ever meet: polite, deferential, constantly fiddling with his laptop to make it work.
He can tell you about the Ohio cop who watched a 1,000-foot metallic triangle hover over his police cruiser. Or the Montana nuclear-missile crew who believe they lost launch-capacity as a UFO flew overhead. Or the Arizona logger who says he disappeared in a beam of light and was gone for five days.
Silly? Scientists generally say, yeah, it’s silly. And it turns out that about half the country agrees, according to years of polling data from Gallup, Bloomberg News and others.
But those same polls show that nearly half the country believes UFOs are not silly, that they do exist.
And whether you believe or not, the truth is this:
Nearly every UFO sighting in the world now is routed to a small office near John Wayne Airport, where Harzan hopes to make his dream come true.
Harzan flips through some papers and taps on his laptop.
Then he starts talking about Case 50042.
A Canadian man was driving home in Kitchener, Ontario, when at 9:45 p.m. one night a glowing orange sphere, 30 feet in diameter, dropped within 40 feet of traffic on Homer Watts Blvd. Three drivers pulled over and all tried to record it with their cellphone cameras, but all three phones went dead, according to the witness.
The sphere hovered, completely motionless, illuminating some nearby treetops for 45 seconds, then wandered off.
Harzan then reads Case 36293 – a father and son flying an Ovation II from Charlotte, N.C., to Richmond, Va., on Feb. 18, 2012, when a glowing 30-foot sphere hung 50 feet off their right wing, causing their engine to sputter and electronics to shut down. The orb then shot off at an incredible speed and their electronics blinked back on.
“We’ve got intelligently controlled craft visiting our planet from somewhere else,” Harzan says, “and I’d like to know: Who they are? Where are they from? And why are they here?”
He culls through 200 emails a day and 1,000 formal reports a month. He meets regularly with a team of field investigators; film analysts, researchers, state directors to ensure every report is investigated and categorized.
“Within our field, you’ve got the far left – scientists looking for facts, data, something they can see – all the way to the far-out fringe, like psychics and people with crystals,” Harzan says. “MUFON is left of the center; we lean toward the scientific side.”
About 40 percent of his reports turn out to be quickly identifiable as non-alien, like planes, flares or Chinese lanterns. Another 10 percent have insufficient data to decide anything. About half are deemed unidentified – which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re from another planet, he says.
Of those labeled unidentified, some 30 cases a year make him go “Wow” – because of proximity, witness reliability or something like electronics being affected.
Harzan recognizes that he has no physical evidence (no UFO bumper, as he likes to say), but still – all of these reports, from all of these people, all of the time – they can’t all be mistaken.
That’s where scientists disagree.
“Could they all be wrong? Yes, they could,” says Seth Shostak, senior astronomer with the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence, or SETI. “There are thousands of reports of ghosts every year. I would not say that’s really great proof there are ghosts.”
Harzan and others at MUFON brush off such criticisms as skeptics refusing to believe.
“Our biggest challenge is dealing with people’s belief systems,” he says. “If they don’t believe UFOs can be here, then no matter what data you present, they won’t believe.”
Harzan believes in many paranormal phenomena, including ESP, near-death experiences and even Bigfoot. (“There’s something out there. What creature it is, I have no idea.”)
So which MUFON file excites him the most?
“This,” he says, pulling out one marked confidential, “could be earth-shattering.”
Shortly after taking the reins of MUFON, Harzan got a call from someone claiming to have pieces of a UFO crash.
As with many big UFO stories, this one is clouded with controversy. But the story goes that in July 1947, several people came upon a crashed UFO with four aliens in west central New Mexico – close in time and location to the famous Roswell incident. More than 50 years later, someone excavated the area, known as the Plains of San Agustin, and found several fragments that tests showed possible signs of non-terrestrial origin.
Would MUFON run independent metallurgical tests?
“I’m like, ‘Guys, we have physical, hard evidence that we can test,’” Harzan says. “I insisted we do it.”
He’s still awaiting the results.
Whatever the results, Harzan says he has the best job in the world.
“I honestly don’t care (what people think),” he says. “I find most people are open to the possibility of other life in the universe. They find this fascinating.”
He’s now retired from IBM, making $60,000 a year as MUFON director. He heads a network of 1,000 volunteer field investigators, 50 state directors, and a membership that includes pilots, police officers, military veterans, aerospace engineers and former NASA officials.
He clearly remembers the UFO he saw over his parents’ backyard when he was a boy. The bright orange color. The smooth edges. The landing gear reaching down, 20 feet off the ground.
It changes you, he says.
“Total skeptics, if they have an encounter, it flips a switch,” he says. “They want to come and know everything we know. They’re traumatized and looking for answers. It shatters their paradigm. They have a totally different worldview.”
In some ways, MUFON is like a religion: those who’ve borne witness gain an unshakeable faith. And in some ways, Harzan is like a preacher – trying to use his faith to help mankind.
“If we’re dealing with a scientifically advanced civilization, they’d have technology we could put to peaceful use on our planet,” he says, “to further transportation, to further energy, to further communication.”
That’s his lifelong dream.
“It’s clear to me, God created a huge universe full of life,” he says.
“I want to meet my neighbors.”