Some 43 years ago in Lincoln County, New Mexico, ranch manager William "Mac" Brazel woke after a violent thunderstorm to discover one of his fields so littered with strange debris that his herd of sheep couldn't cross it. Since the ranch was near Roswell, home of the 509th Atomic Bombardment Group, a crack team of intelligence officers investigated that very week. Colonel William Blanchard, the Roswell base commander, even declared that the Army Air Force had retrieved a "flying disc." Blanchard's superior, Brigadier General Roger Ramey, later retracted the statement, saying the crashed object was a weather balloon. But pundits have accused the Air Force of uncovering a crashed saucer, as well as alien bodies, ever since.

Today the ranch is the subject of a new investigation conducted by the Center for UFO studies (CUFOS) in Chicago. Donald R. Schmitt, CUFOS' director of special investigations, and his partner, Kevin D. Randle, a reserve Air Force intelligence officer, have conduct seven on-site investigations over the past year. They have surveyed the area for remaining debris and are analyzing the soil in hopes of finding fragments from the crash.

Though none of the alleged alien debris has yet turned up, several of the original witnesses have attest to the material's otherworldly properties. This information, in addition to estimates that the debris scattered for more than three quarters of a mile, has convinced Schmitt that what crashed in Lincoln County was "definitely not a weather balloon He and Randle have also eliminated other conventional explanations by checking the records of V-2 and experimental A-9 rocket launches in the New Mexico area that July.

What is clear, say the investigators, is that the official military response to the incident was extremely cautious. "The area was cordoned off by military police," says Schmitt. "Mac Brazel was detained during the search, and military guards escorted him through town. And he may have been forced to change his testimony to conform to the military's version of the statement, facts. Military personnel were sworn to secrecy and still won't talk to us. My question is, why?

"We're approaching every source and testing every explanation,"

Schmitt adds. "But by the time we're through we might be left with only one possibility."

There are those who think the CUFOS team is wasting its time. "No substantial evidence has ever confirmed the incredible tales surrounding this story," says Michael R. Dennett of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal's subcommittee on UFOs. "Until some real evidence, like one of the alien bodies, is produced, it is reasonable to assume that Roswell, New Mexico, was not the site of the most important social, political, and scientific event of this century."

Schmitt and Randle, however, plan further excavation at the ranch throughout 1990. "It's like looking for a needle in a haystack," says Schmitt. "But if there's a chance of finding something, it's worth