Flying Humanoid Fever Hits the Windy City, with Manuel Navarette
By Tobias Wayland
Manuel Navarette doesn’t just hunt monsters. His website UFO Clearinghouse is a database for all kinds of unusual activity; although the focus is UFO-related phenomena. The reason I want to talk to him, though, is because Manuel is leading onsite investigative efforts into the recent flap of flying humanoid sightings in Chicago.
Manuel takes his investigations seriously.
“We’re working really hard on this,” he says to me over the phone.
He tells me about how his team of investigators is trying a new tactic to chase down information on the mysterious flying creature that has been reported all summer in Chicago. They’ve been canvassing the area of the sightings and speaking to the homeless people that live there.
“They live in that area—they see stuff on a daily basis,” explains Manuel.
It’s an interesting idea, but unfortunately it has yet to pay off. Manuel tells me that the homeless residents with whom they’ve spoken so far have been less than helpful; either asking for money or offering nothing in the way of useful information. Nonetheless, he remains optimistic, and he and his team will continue to hit the streets in search of whatever has been flying over the Windy City.
To that end, Manuel continuously updates his online UFO database to promote community involvement.
“I want to give people a way to submit these sightings,” says Manuel. “UFO Clearinghouse gives them a way to report anonymously.”
Privacy is important to many witnesses, who feel as though their careers or personal lives may be put at risk by being publicly attached to a subject like UFOs or creature sightings.
I appreciate Manuel’s contribution to fortean research, but I want to learn more about these flying humanoid sightings. Specifically, one of the most recently reported cases. A person claiming to be a police officer contacted Manuel and said that on the night of June 29th he had seen “a large creature that…looked like a dark black shadow with wings” in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood of Chicago. The witness was reluctant to come forward because of his profession, but said that he had filed a report at his station per police procedure, and that at the urging of his son, he submitted his testimony of what he had seen to UFO Clearinghouse.
Strangely enough, when a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request was submitted to obtain the report, Manuel and other researchers were told that no such report exists. This could mean that no report was ever filed, but it could also be something else entirely, says Manuel. He tells me that he’s spoken to members of the media, and they’ve assured him that they’re aware of the flying humanoid reports, but have chosen not to cover the story.
“Members of the media have said to me ‘We want to cover the story,” says Manuel, “but we’ve been told not to because it will cause panic.’”
This is something Manuel finds comforting, in a way, due to the sensitive nature of investigating the unexplained.
“It’s kind of a good thing,” he explains. “I don’t want another Stevensville, Texas. We don’t want reality shows here muddying the waters.”
“I’m glad [the Chicago Police Department] has kept a lid on this.”
Manuel says they’ve already had their fair share of amateur investigators volunteering to help look for the mysterious creature, but in every case, he has so far declined.
“I have to turn them down.”
“We already have procedures, and we just don’t need them muddying the data,” he tells me.
That seems fair enough. I can’t help but wonder about some of the more popular explanations regarding the sightings, and what he thinks of them. Specifically, the decidedly skeptical theories surrounding the idea of drones, daredevils, or sandhill cranes being behind one or more sightings.
Manuel tells me how he had similar ideas, and as an investigator he had to explore them.
“Chicago is very strict as to what they let into their airspace,” says Manuel. “There is a ‘no fly zone’ miles out over Lake Michigan.”
“Drones are strictly prohibited along the lake front, which keeps the area pure.”
Wing suits are similarly banned, he says.
Manuel consulted an expert on wing suits, who expressed doubt as to whether the maneuvers attributed to the flying humanoid would even be possible. The expert told him that the kind of maneuverability needed to, say, quickly gain enough altitude to fly over a bridge (as reported by a family near Chicago’s river walk), simply wouldn’t be possible so low to the ground. That area of Chicago, too, is, as he puts it, in “very heavy use.”
“[Someone wearing a wing suit] would have hit a bridge, roadway, building; something,” Manuel says.
Nor does he think that the sightings can be explained as a misidentified animal. There aren’t any owls big enough in the area, and even the largest owls in the world aren’t the size of what is being reported.
“These would be some massive owls,” he chuckles.
Manuel similarly dismisses the idea that migrating sandhill cranes might be to blame.
“They’re birds,” he says. “You can tell they’re birds.”
“It’s got a contour, and the wings are feathered. You can tell it’s feathered.”
“Cranes have long legs, and they make noise,” he explains.
“It just doesn’t match any of the descriptions.”
Add to that the fact that most of the sightings involve witnesses specifically and consistently reporting a giant, solid-black bat-like humanoid, and you’ve got a real mystery; one that perhaps isn’t so easily explained.
It’s a mystery that is made all the more difficult to solve due to the difficulties endemic to the investigation. I’m told that some of the neighborhoods in which the sightings take place can be dangerous, especially at night; and since the creature is most often seen at dusk or after nightfall, seeing it in action can be a difficult proposition. The witnesses, too, can sometimes be a dead-end. Many people will contact Manuel via email, and are very difficult to follow up with.
“They might answer a few questions, and then radio silence,” he says.
Manuel isn’t about to let that stop him from trying, though, and he’s come up with a few interesting ways to investigate the phenomenon. The police have cameras throughout the city, and he’ll be using FOIA requests to try and access them. Furthermore, he’s going to increase his outreach with the homeless in the area of the sightings, and will set out with food and other items to increase the likelihood that anyone will be willing to share their testimony—if it exists. At the worst, we agree, he’ll be helping the homeless, and so much the better if it aids in his investigation.
But what does he think this thing is?
“I don’t know,” he says. “I just don’t know until we get more evidence.”
“It could be any number of things.”
The popular paranormal explanations range from extra or inter-dimensional beings to some undiscovered cryptozoological animal, but right now Manuel isn’t ready to make a determination; although he does note that there have been a number of UFO sightings over Lake Michigan and some people have reported weird flashes of light in the area during the flap.
Ultimately, the phenomenon of Chicago’s flying humanoid is still unexplained, but Manuel is going to be out there, boots on the ground, doing the work to investigate, no matter what.
“We may never know the truth,” says Manuel, “but at least we’re out there doing the work.”