Obituary: Stefan Michalak

Chris Rutkowski

30th October 1999

It is with great sadness that I report the passing of Stefan Michalak, last week, at age 83.

Michalak was known to ufologists as the witness in one of the most puzzling and well-documented CE2 cases on record. His close encounter with an unidentified craft in the Canadian wilderness in 1967 left him physically scarred. Medical examinations by Canadian and American physicians could not offer a definitive explanation of his wounds and aftereffects.

Until recently, despite the incredible amount of evidence in support of his claimed experience, there were no explanations offered by skeptics regarding "what really happened." Only two published works have dealt with the case in any detail, offering two greatly contrasting explanations. One skeptic simply noted Michalak must have been a hoaxer, without addressing any of the case's major details, while the other implied that Michalak must have been the victim of a secret aerospace experiment. Neither explanation was satisfactory.

I first met Michalak as a youth, when one of my playmates told me his father had been burned by a flying saucer. At the time, I was more interested in riding my bicycle and playing baseball with my school friends than I was in my friend's father laying sick in his bed. When I reached university and began reading about UFOs and other scientific controversies, I realized that no comprehensive study had ever been done on what I believed to be the most significant UFO case in North America. I re-established contact with my childhood friend and his family, and spent many hours talking with them about their shared experience. I say shared experience, because Michalak's entire family was affected by what had occurred. They spoke bitterly about their treatment at the hands of both media and investigators, and understandably wished that the world would simply leave them alone. However, Michalak himself stubbornly refused to give in to pressure, and boldly and tirelessly told visitors and callers about his experience. More significantly, he did not alter the details of his story with each telling, and he did not believe he had seen a craft from another world. He said, realistically, that he did not know what the object had been.

When Michalak went to the Mayo clinic following his experience, he went as an outpatient, since Canadian medical insurance would not cover his expenses. But he, himself, wanted to know what was wrong with him. One can ask, logically, why an alleged hoaxer would go to such trouble and expense. Regardless, however, the psychiatric assessment of Michalak proved to be most interesting; the examining physician found Michalak to be an exceptionally stable and well-adjusted individual, with no psychopathology or indication he was prone to making up stories.

I remember one incident very well which indicates Michalak's character. When NBC flew his family and myself to the set of Unsolved Mysteries, I had opportunity to spend many hours with his family. We talked about many things, and I became further convinced that his family was as mystified by his experience as anyone else. But the most telling event took place while they were filming him for the program.

Just before rolling film, the director wanted Michalak to relax and feel more comfortable in front of the cameras. He began talking with him about the weather, his work, what Canada was like and other nonchalant topics. Then, the director said, "Well, Steve, I guess your being burned by the UFO was the most incredible thing that has ever happened in your life." To the surprise of everyone on the set, Michalak answered, "Oh, no, it wasn't." Prodded further, Michalak bravely told the story of his experiences in the Nazi death camps, speaking bluntly and unwaveringly about the atrocities he witnessed firsthand. No one dared interrupt his story, and when he was finished, the set was filled with a stunned silence; the entire crew was awestruck. Later, one of the crew said to me, "This guy is the most credible we've ever interviewed. What's being burned by a flying saucer compared with Nazi ovens?" From that moment on, Michalak was treated with much respect and dignity, justly deserved. The questioning regarding the UFO turned from "Did it really happen?" to "What happened?"

I don't know what transpired that spring afternoon in the Canadian Shield. I know what Michalak told me, and I know that he was not type of person to make up tall tales. I believe all investigating bodies were truly puzzled by the case, and desperately grasped for straws that would answer some of the questions. Michalak alone knew, and we may never have all our questions answered.

I offer condolences to his family, not only from myself but from the entire ufological community. I was honoured to know Stefan Michalak, and he will be missed.

Chris Rutkowski
30 October 1999

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