LAS VEGAS -- A tour bus carrying visitors to the edge of the top secret Area 51 military base has done something that many people have only fantasized about doing. It crossed the line and entered the base.
The driver and his four passengers learned a quick lesson about how serious Area 51 is about its boundary and its security. And the entire incident was captured on video.
In the 25 years since I-Team reports first put the once unknown base on the map, tens of thousands of curious people have trekked out to take a peek.
A few strayed over the line, on purpose, and were quickly scooped up. As far as we know, this is the first intrusion caught entirely on video and it nearly caused the tours to be shut down.
Area 51's years in obscurity ended in 1989 when news reports about classified projects at the Nevada base set off a stampede of UFO seekers, aviation watchers, and media. The base is still a favored location for classified military projects, so security is justifiably tight.
Motion detectors, high-tech cameras, the ominous cammo dudes and warning signs, which declare deadly force is authorized. The signs themselves have become photo ops, the money shot for guided outings like those operated for 15 years by Adventure Photo Tours.
"Some of them are just curious. They don't know what it's about. Others believe they have been abducted. Other people believe they are aliens and they want to go back out there to hopefully get back home. We get all kinds of people," Adventure Photo Tours co-owner Donna Tryon said.
Tryon says the typical tour includes stops at main shrines of Area 51 lore: the ET highway sign, the Little A'le'inn, and the holy of holies, the very edge of the base itself.
But there is one thing the tour most certainly does not include.
"Our guys make it a point to tell the passengers that, you know, you can't go over that line, and if you step over that line, you're on your own," Tryon said.
But on May 28, it happened to driver Denis Ryan and his four passengers, all of it recorded, inside and out. The video shows Ryan and group having a good time, zipping toward the edge of 51.
At precisely the wrong moment, one of the tourists asked Ryan a question about sports books. It was just enough of a distraction that he blew right past the warning signs, and kept on going.
After 45 seconds or so, Ryan started looking around, wondering where the cammo dudes were.
Less than two minutes after crossing the boundary, the passengers inform Ryan that a white truck is right on their tail.
"A gentleman in full military garb gets out. The one on the passenger side, he had a fully automatic rifle," Ryan said.
Ryan says the military men told him he had crossed the line and was trespassing on a military installation.
Inside the vehicle, the tourists, a couple from the UK and a mother and son from the East Coast, thought it was all part of the tour, actors playing their part.
"They said they would let the company know, 'you took us the extra mile.' They thought it was part of the whole process," Ryan said.
They soon learned it was no act.
"I apologize for this. Those are the Men in Black," Ryan told his tour.
After Lincoln County deputies arrived, the driver and passengers were pulled out, cited for trespassing, and given court dates.
The projected fine: $650 apiece and a misdemeanor conviction. Co-owner Will Tryon contacted Lincoln County District Attorney Dan Hogue and tried to get the out of state passengers off the hook.
"We were afraid they would issue a bench warrant for these people, turn good tourists into criminals," Will Tryon said.
But Hogue wasn't budging. He suspected it was done on purpose.
The company decided that if the citations stuck, they would close down the tours to 51, which would be a blow to the fragile rural economy.
What the DA didn't know until the I-Team contacted him is that the incident was on video. One look at video, and the expressions on these faces, and the DA knew it wasn't intentional. The driver has to pay but the passengers don't.
Driver Denis Ryan is now barred for at least two years.
Lincoln County has an arrangement with Area 51. It handles all trespassing cases. The DA told the I-Team that while tourism dollars are important to the county, so is the base, which generates a lot of tax revenue.
After the I-Team told him about the video, the DA agreed to drop the charges against the passengers, but on one condition: that no video recorded by the van's forward camera be made public. That camera recorded cammo dudes coming from the other direction.
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