I remember well the month of April 1986. I was on a ship off the coast of Belgium making a documentary film on the laying of a new transatlantic communications cable. One afternoon the captain of the vessel called me up to the bridge and told me that he would be ordering all portholes to remain closed and that work on the outside decks would not be allowed for a short while. The reason?
Some days before, the Number 4 nuclear reactor at Chernobyl, in Ukraine had exploded. This produced a toxic cloud of radioactive particles which was making its way westwards across Europe. And it was approaching our position. Many of you may remember the time or at least know what happened as it still is the worst peacetime disaster in atomic history.
However, this story is not about what happened after the explosion itself; this is about a mysterious black “bird” which appeared in the days before the blast and led to many believing it was a portent of what was to come.
It began early in that April when a worker reported that he had seen a strange flying creature above the reactor. Obviously it was not taken seriously and that was it. But it wasn’t the end. Other workers began to report a strange flying animal above the site. More and more such sightings followed.
These early sightings were of the creature flying high up in the sky. Some thought it was possible a vulture. But then it began to fly lower and the description changed. It now included headaches, nightmares about the creature. Some also said that they received threatening phone calls from persons unknown. Weird to say the least, if we can believe these reports.
The fateful day arrived; April 26th. The reactor exploded killing approximately one hundred people in the blast. It is believed that the final death toll was close to sixty thousand due to radiation poisoning over the coming years. However, those who survived the initial blast reported seeing the creature diving down and swooping through the clouds of smoke. It is said that it only disappeared when the final flames were extinguished.
You might think this is the end of the story? Of course, it isn’t. People began to come forward and report similar occurrences from other parts of the world. The descriptions of the creature were quite similar and a number of them came from reputable witnesses such as members of the emergency services.
The sightings in the United States revolved around a creature which was called the Mothman. There was a sighting in West Virginia in 1967 and some days later, the Silver Bridge, close by, collapsed killing forty-six people. There was another report from Germany in 1978. This time the creature was referred to as the Freiburg Shrieker. In this case, perhaps the sighting did some good as its appearance scared around twenty miners so much that they refused to go to work down the mines. Later that day, there was a mine collapse there which killed many of their fellow workers.
So, are there any more rational explanations for these sightings of the strange creature? Some believe it to be a sandhill crane which has a large wingspan and can measure up to the size of a man. Another reason given for the Chernobyl sightings is that the witnesses after the explosion, mistakenly took the creature to be some of the many rescue helicopters that were operating around the site at the time of the fire. The simple answer is, we don’t know.