Contrail was recorded in this image by KCBS-KCAL in California

It’s been a month since a mysterious contrail that gave the appearance of being generated by a missile launch was spotted off the coast of California, and the U.S. government simply told its citizens there was no danger.

Since then, officials steadfastly have refused to elaborate on that first response, even though it later was revealed that a U.S. agency had warned the nation might be launching missiles in that area at that time.

But even eyewitnesses are unable to provide a definite agreement on exactly what generated the sky-high image of a trail of exhaust that some adamantly believe was from a missile; while others conjecture was produced by a passing jetliner.

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It was caught on video by KCBS, which went viral and sparked much of the heated debate over the contrail’s source.

Meanwhile, testimony from a number of experts offered analysis that the event was a ballistic missile launch, possibly even from China as a warning to the U.S. of its capabilities, and other pundits suggested the evidence indicates it was the exhaust created by UPS Flight 902, in the region then.

Even the two known eyewitnesses are in sharp disagreement over the Nov. 8, 2010, events.

Gil Leyvas is the helicopter camera man for KCBS in Los Angeles who videotaped the contrail and Rick Warren lives on Long Beach and photographed the contrail from his 10th story balcony.

Leyvas said he got the video while filming a sunset view for a KCBS weather report. As he was filming, Leyvas noticed an object on the horizon that appeared to be climbing vertically out of the ocean, and he zoomed in on the object. He videotaped the contrail for a total of 10 minutes and subsequently continued to view the contrail for an additional 10 minutes.

Leyvas maintains that the object itself that created the contrail only remained in view for two to three minutes. For 30 to 45 seconds, the object glowed brightly and then seemed to disappear from view. His initial impression was that the object was traveling east towards the coast. But on reviewing the video later, he had the impression the object may instead have been heading away from the coast, towards the northwest.

The unique appearance of the sunset contrail shown on TV and posted online, combined with Leyvas’ perception that the object creating the contrail only remained in view for two to three minutes, provides the foundation for those who believe the object was a submarine-launched ballistic missile.

But Warren said while he was photographing the contrail, he wasn’t sure what was causing it.

“I was shooting with a telephoto lens and looking through a viewfinder so I never really saw the separation of the object and the contrail until I looked at the photos, but I’m sure that this whole thing lasted way too long to be a missile. I see lots of contrails from my 10th floor balcony but the difference in this one was that it ‘seemed’ to be going up.”

He said what stood out was the vertical nature of the contrail, not that it looked like a missile-exhaust plume.

Some of his photos of the contrail were posted on the local ABC7 website, and were utilized by Mick West of Contrailscience.com to create a composite image of the flight progression of the object.

The time stamps on Warren’s photos were used to establish that the object creating the contrail remained in view for 4 minutes 43 seconds in Warren’s photos. Based on altitude and position, the object first appeared in Leyvas’ video at least five minutes prior to Warren’s photos. After seeing West’s analysis of the images, Warren says, “I’m now of the opinion that it was indeed a plane.”

Observers looking at Warren’s images agree the small dark object which appears at the top of each of his later photos is the same craft creating the plume that was seen in his earlier photos as well as that which was seen in Leyvas’ video.

If the object that created the contrail was still visible in Warren’s photos, then the object itself is not likely to have been a missile. Solid fuel engines such as those used in an SLBM create an uninterrupted exhaust plume for two to three minutes, after which time the solid fuel is spent, and the missile is usually out of view.

On the other hand, when an airliner transitions from cold moist air to warmer drier air, the dew point changes and contrail formation decreases. In the case of UPS902, the airliner would have been transitioning from moist cool air at altitude over the ocean to warmer, drier air over land. This could explain the contrail disappearing as the object moved farther east.

West created a “chronological cut” of Leyvas’ video and posted it to YouTube. The transition from moist cool air over the ocean to warmer, drier air over land may have occurred at 1:17 to 1:20 of the chronological cut, which Warren referred to as “the separation of the object and the contrail.” When still images from Leyvas’ video are compared to the overlay of Warren’s photos, there is a remarkable similarity and continuity between the two sets of images, providing a better time frame for Leyvas’ video within the context of Warren’s time stamps.


Compilation of contrail images (Used by permission)

When Leyvas was initially queried regarding these later photos, he replied, “…the [Contrailscience composite] animation … only shows the path the plume drifted and not anything in flight. The 30-45 seconds of video I captured in which I could see the object (the portion of the video showing the glow/flame of the object at its pinnacle) occurred 8-10 minutes prior to the animated images of the animation (if the time stamps are accurate). I have no way of telling if those time stamps are accurate since the raw video has no real-time time stamp associated with it. I can only go by an estimated time based on the time we launched out of John Wayne airport and the approximate time of our weather shot. My guess is that the time stamps are relatively close to the accurate time. However, what you are seeing in those images is the plume drifting and not anything in flight.”


Compilation of contrail images (Used by permission)

Leyvas maintains the object creating the contrail is not visible in Warren’s photos 8 to 10 minutes later:

“The separate smaller trail that is separate from the main body of the plume and that was captured by Warren in his photos, which makes it seem as if the object continued in flight, appears in my video to possibly be the top portion of the plume that partly dissipates leaving a segment of the tip adrift – detached from the main body of the plume. (I highlight ‘possibly be’ because during that portion of the video, I zoom in and out and pan off and back onto the plume, so I’m not sure if what we are seeing is a stage of separation like that of a missile or if it’s the tip of the plume separating from the main portion). I did zoom into that portion to see if I could see a craft of some kind (at the time I thought that there was a chance the object was still making condensation/exhaust) but there was nothing there creating that segment. Had there been, I know I would have been able to see it with the high-powered lens I was using. Add to that – if it was traveling toward us, the closer it would come the easier it would be to see it, but there was nothing there. That’s why I said it was merely the plume adrift and not anything continuously flying.

“Though there was no time code associated with the raw footage I shot, you are still able to accurately time the footage from the moment I started the recording (as we departed John Wayne airport) to the final moments of the mystery missile story. When I play the video I can time the duration of the object in flight which was between 30-45 seconds of ‘Glow Time’ – which is inclusive within, and at the end of the 2-3 minute estimated flight time from which the plume was visible at the horizon … I can rely on the raw footage as it plays to gauge my estimated times since it plays back in real time on the player deck’s control track timer.”

There were also two unknown witnesses who captured images of the contrail, both anonymous posters on the image hosting website Flickr. A photographer on Hermosa Beach, north of Leyvas and Warren, uploaded a photo of the November 8 sunset and only subsequently realized he had captured the same contrail due to media reports. From his vantage point, without the setting sun directly back-lighting the contrail, it apparently appeared similar to the other contrails in his sunset photo.

Another anonymous photographer uploaded photos of clouds at sunset on November 8, and noticed a bright horizontal contrail that he subsequently associated with the media reports regarding the contrail.

In these cases, the first noted nothing unusual about the contrail until he read media reports about it, and the second viewed a horizontal, not vertical contrail.

However, several experts with experience in the missile industry have expressed their opinion that the object was, in fact, a missile. Further it was a U.S. government agency that had warned people of the possibility that missiles could be fired in that area at that time.

Leyvas confirmed the video was edited and presented to the public for sweeps week in his television market, and part of his job during sweeps week is to go out and look for and capture video of interest for sweeps week ratings.

The video he captured of the contrail was subsequently edited before being aired, and less than two minutes of the 10 minutes of video has been seen by these experts.


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