The afternoon of January 8, 1981, marked an extraordinary event near the village of Trans-en-Provence in southeastern France. A farmer named Renato Nicolai witnessed a strange craft landing on his property, leaving behind physical traces that were collected by the Gendarmerie within a day and subsequently analyzed by various French government laboratories. The results were astounding, revealing extensive evidence of anomalous activity.

The case was officially investigated by the Groupe d’Etudes des Phénomènes Aérospatiaux Non-identifiés (GEPAN), also known as the Unidentified Aerospace Phenomena Study Group. Established in 1977 within the National Center for Space Studies (CNES) in Toulouse, GEPAN was France’s response to the growing interest in UFO phenomena, equivalent to NASA in the United States. Jean-Jacques Velasco, the then-current head of SEPRA (which succeeded GEPAN), led the investigation.

The witness, Renato Nicolai, 55, was startled by what he initially believed to be a military experimental device. His immediate notification of the local authorities resulted in a swift response, with the Gendarmes interviewing Nicolai and collecting samples from the site within 24 hours. Their collaboration with GEPAN led to comprehensive analysis by government laboratories, emphasizing the serious approach taken by French authorities towards this incident.

Nicolai’s description of the event was vivid and detailed, adding to the credibility of the case. He described the craft as resembling two saucers inverted upon each other, standing on the ground, and then taking off rapidly toward the northeast. The absence of flames, the slight whistling sound, the shape, and color of the craft all added to the mystery. His observation of the landing site revealed tracks and traces that were thoroughly examined.

Various analyses were conducted on the samples, including physico-chemical analysis, electronic diffraction studies, and mass spectrometry. The results were as puzzling as the event itself. The soil had endured mechanical pressure and heat, and the wild alfalfa collected from the site showed bizarre signs of weakening in chlorophyll. Even more striking was the potential connection to electromagnetic energy fields, suggesting the craft might have been propelled using technology unknown to mankind.

Trans-en-Provence UFO Landing A Look Back at the 1981 French Case (1)

The scientific community was abuzz with the findings, and the Trans-en-Provence incident became a hallmark in UFO investigation. The details were meticulously documented, and the case was widely regarded as the most thoroughly scientifically investigated Close Encounter of the Second Kind (CE-II) to date.


Among the most compelling aspects of this case were the biochemical mutations in the vegetation, discovered by Michel Bounias of INRA. The young leaves affected by the phenomenon exhibited characteristics of old leaves, a phenomenon never before seen on Earth. This led to further research, culminating in the theory that the craft might have used magnetohydrodynamic effects for propulsion.

Within the broader context of UFO sightings in France, the Trans-en-Provence case stood out, and Jean-Jacques Velasco highlighted it among four other significant incidents. His summary at a 1994 meeting of the Society for Scientific Exploration (SSE) underscored the complexity and uniqueness of the case.

Years of investigation led to the conclusion that the incident likely involved a powerful emission of electromagnetic fields in the microwave frequency range. This finding steered SEPRA’s latest focus towards experimental reproduction in the laboratory to understand the biological impact on plants and to explore the propulsion mechanisms of Unidentified Aerospace Phenomena (UAPs).

The Trans-en-Provence case continues to be an emblematic incident that transcends the realm of mere curiosity. It represents a systematic, scientific approach to understanding phenomena that challenge our conventional wisdom. The collaboration between witnesses, law enforcement, and scientific bodies paints a picture of how our understanding of the unknown can evolve through rigorous investigation. As we continue to explore the universe and our place in it, the Trans-en-Provence case stands as a beacon, reminding us of the mysteries that await and the tantalizing possibilities that stretch beyond our current comprehension.

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