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Pentagon says no evidence vapor trail came from anything but an aircraft

Spotted just before sunset Monday, the vapor trail set off speculation and conspiracy theories about an unexplained missile. But the military reported no rocket or missile launches.

November 11, 2010|By David S. Cloud and Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times

Pentagon officials said Wednesday there is no evidence that a mysterious, spiraling vapor trail that was captured on video off the coast of Southern California was generated by anything but an aircraft.

The unexplained projectile, spotted just before sunset Monday by a Los Angeles news helicopter, set off a wave of speculation and conspiracy theories about an unexplained missile that even the government didn't know about.

The military, however, reported no rocket or missile launches, scheduled or accidental, at the time, and aviation officials said radar did not show any fast-moving, unidentified targets in the area.

Some aerospace experts said the orange-hued vapor trail had the markings of the plume of a missile or rocket, while others said it appeared to be nothing more than a condensation trail of an aircraft, distorted by the light near the horizon at the end of the day.

The Pentagon's announcement Wednesday appeared to put the "missile" theory to rest.

"There is no evidence to suggest that this is anything else other than a condensation trail from an aircraft," said Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan, who stopped short of saying definitively that the Defense Department believed the trail was caused by an airplane.

Lapan said there was greater confidence that the vapor trail was created by an airplane because more information about the incident had been analyzed since late Tuesday. He would not go into detail about the new information.

If the vapor trail was made by an airplane, authorities may never know which specific aircraft it was because they don't know its location, trajectory or altitude, Federal Aviation Administration officials said.

Throughout the two-day mystery, the Pentagon stressed that the object, whatever it was, did not belong to the U.S. military or a foreign government and never posed a threat.

david.cloud@latimes.com

tony.barboza@latimes.com

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