In February 1942, jittery Navy seamen unleashed a furious barrage of anti-aircraft artillery over Los Angeles as they attempted to bring down what they thought were Japanese fighter planes.
In the ensuing years, however, a second theory emerged — one that argued that the Navy was targeting UFOs.
Former FBI Special Agent Ben Hansen and his team of paranormal investigators kick off the second season of “Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files” (tonight at 10 on Syfy) by ex-ploring what has become known as “The Battle of Los Angeles.”
“The Battle of L.A. I’ve been looking into for several years,” Hansen told reporters during a recent conference call. “And I spoke with one of the eyewitnesses before he passed away, and it really started generating this interest for me into why there’s really no resolution. There’s no conclusion to what people believe they saw.”
Various reports concluded that it was a case of “war jitters,” or that it was commercial aircraft or weather balloons that touched off the shelling. Three civilians were killed by the anti-aircraft fire, and three others succumbed to heart attacks attributed to the stress of the hourlong barrage.
Delving into such mysteries is what keeps team leader Hansen going. The group, made up of a scientist, a journalist, a stunt expert, a photography expert and a technology specialist, hones in on a particular case or phenomenon and then attempts to re-create or explain it away.
“I like to focus on the human aspect of interviewing,” said Hansen, who spent time working in the FBI’s special victims unit. “I’ve conducted thousands of interviews. I love getting into talking to witnesses and things of that nature and just overall putting the investigation together.”
The team researches some unusual myths and legends, and their methods occasionally can be equally nontraditional. Maintaining neutrality is important, Hansen said, which requires a willingness to believe balanced with a healthy skepticism. The show isn’t about uncovering hoaxes, he said.
“That wouldn’t be adhering to true scientific principle,” Hansen said. “So I don’t like the word debunk. That’s not what we’re set to do. All we’re doing is, we’re saying, let’s start with the simplest explanation. If that tends to be the most correct, like Occam’s razor, let’s start with that. If it’s not that, let’s try something more complex.
“If it comes out, passes all the tests and replication, then that leaves the possibility, a strong possibility of it being paranormal. So in a way we’re validating a paranormal. We’re just trying to screen out what isn’t and doing the footwork for the audience.”