In a statement released to the news media Wednesday afternoon, the Pentagon says that an airplane and not a missile launch was the likely cause of a large vapor trail seen in the skies off Southern California's coast Monday. A local CBS affiliate captured images of the vapor trail that many viewers thought resembled the cloudy track of a missile in flight, but military officials said they did not know of any rockets being launched in the area.
Defense Department spokesman Col. Dave Lapan says that officials are "satisfied" with reports identifying the phenomenon was an airplane vapor trail distorted by camera angle, winds and other environmental factors. In addition, he says military experts have studied the video and checked with any government which might have been involved in a missile launch and none reported having launched one.
But despite the DoD's assurance, many people remain skeptical about the military's response.
An advisory posted Monday by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) -- a sub-agency of the Department of Defense -- has subsequently raised a number of questions. In a warning to mariners in the "eastern north Pacific," the NGA advisory coincidentally reported that areas off the coast of southern California would be in the "naval air warfare center sea range," and susceptible to "intermittent missile firing operations" this week.
The advisory noted that "vessels may be requested to alter course" in the area "due to firing operations" and that navigators should "maintain continuous guard while within the range." The geographical coordinates encompassing the noted sea range correspond to the reported area in which Monday's "mystery missile" was spotted. (See range No. 18 on map of NGA navigational warnings)
Vessels traveling to and from California ports in the vicinity of the sea range were instructed to "transit via the Santa Barbara Channel and within nine miles offshore vicinity of Point Mugu or to cross the area southwest of San Nicolas Island between sunset and sunrise.
Monday's NGA warning also appeared in Tuesday's broadcast for mariners, noting that missile activity would proceed throughout the week. However, Wednesday's advisory made no mention of continuing missile activity.
Eyewitness accounts Monday estimated the approximate location of the trajectory "as west of Los Angeles, north of Catalina Island, and approximately 35 miles out to sea."
Feedback into The Blaze suggested the anomaly could have been an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) launched from a U.S. submarine off the California coastline. Sources have since confirmed no such launch took place.
However, further investigations have revealed that the noted San Nicolas Island (SNI) -- a nine-mile long strip of land about 60 miles south of Point Mugu -- is actually home to a U.S. Navy weapons testing and training facility. According to the Navy, SNI is "critical to performing the Sea Range mission and provides a cornerstone for supporting a wide variety of test, evaluation, training and experimentation operations, including surface-to-air, surface-to-surface, air-to-air, air-to-surface, missile defense, fleet training and large-scale joint experimentation scenarios."
The Navy has owned and operated various weapons tests on the island since 1933. The island is coincidentally located at the center of the NGA's missile advisory range:
The Blaze reached out to the Department of Defense Wednesday afternoon for comment on this speculation. In response, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Col. David Lapan (USMC) responded with the following statement:
There is no evidence to suggest that this is anything else other than a condensation trail from an aircraft.
As stated yesterday, NORAD and USNORTHCOM determined that there was no threat to the US homeland.
In a follow-up, The Blaze asked whether or not the Department of Defense could either confirm or deny the NGA's account of missile activity in the vicinity of Monday's unexplained occurrence. This request for comment has thus far gone unanswered.
If the object's contrail did come from a commercial jet and not a military operation, the FAA hasn't been able to confirm it. Though Col. Lapan told reporters Wednesday that the FAA had run "radar replays" from Monday afternoon, he said they were unable to identify any "fast-moving unidentified targets" or "unusual sightings from pilots" flying in the area Monday afternoon.
But many people have speculated the object's near-vertical trajectory suggests it was a rocket of some sort rather than a commercial airliner. "We did not approve any commercial space launches in that area for Monday, and any additional information should come from NORAD. That's pretty much all I can say right now," FAA spokesman Ian Gregor told SPACE.com Tuesday.
Though the FAA hasn't confirmed an account of a jetliner leaving the exhaust trail, one blogger thinks he may have pinpointed the culprit. Fox News reports:
On his blog "Time to Think," Liem Bahneman on Wednesday pinpointed America West Flight 808 as the likely cause -- backing up an explanation offered by a senior military official to Fox News Channel that the contrail caught on video by a news helicopter “was more likely caused by an airplane than anything else."
Bahneman wonders if he is the first to call it: "I did a lot of extrapolation of what flights could be at the right position (off the coast) at the right altitude (for contrail formation) and came down to two possibilities: UPS Flight 902 (UPS902) or America West Flight 808 (AWE808)."
He concluded: "As I was researching tonight (24 hours later), I realized that today's (Tuesday's) AWE808 current position (at around 4:50 p.m.) was almost the same as it was the day of the incident. I quickly pulled up a Newport Beach webcam and found that (apparently) AWE808 was making an identical contrail, 24 hours later!"
In the end, the fact that the Pentagon suggests the mysterious contrail was left by a plane but has not confirmed the account has raised questions and left the door open for public speculation. Wednesday afternoon, a professor from MIT told CNN's Josh Levs the UFO was definitely not a plane:
But while speculation is still running wild over Monday's unexplained phenomenon in the skies off California's southern coastline, the Pentagon says this case is closed.