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    WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Air Force today offered what it hopes is the final word on claims by UFO buffs that alien bodies were recovered at a crash site in New Mexico in 1947: The ``bodies″ were not aliens but dummies used in parachute tests.

    The explanation _ on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the incident _ is offered in enormous detail in a 231-page report the Air Force released today. It is meant to close the book on longstanding rumors that the Air Force recovered a flying saucer and extraterrestrial bodies near Roswell, N.M., in July 1947, and then covered it up.


    The title of the report tells it all: ``The Roswell Report, Case Closed.″

    The Air Force in 1994 issued a report on the Roswell incident that said the ``spacecraft″ that supposedly crashed in the New Mexico desert was an Air Force balloon used in a top-secret program, Project Mogul, intended to monitor the atmosphere for evidence of Soviet nuclear tests.

    The Air Force called that report its final response to the Roswell rumors. But later the Air Force came upon evidence it believed would explain the additional rumors that space aliens were recovered at the crash site and were covered up. So today’s report was put together to provide what Air Force Secretary Sheila Widnall called a ``complete and open explanation.″

    The possibility of a government conspiracy to cover up an actual UFO sighting was ridiculed today by retired Air Force Col. Richard Weaver, who wrote the 1994 report.

    ``I don’t think the government is capable of putting together a decent conspiracy,″ Weaver said on NBC’s ``Today″ show. ``We have a hard time keeping a secret, let alone putting together a decent conspiracy.″

    Asked if he thought the new report will put the matter to rest, Weaver said, ``No, I doubt it. This has become a religion to many people. It’s almost a cult. Certainly, an unbelievable financial opportunity for many folks. So I think this is going to endure.″

    Although the Air Force’s explanation of a mix-up of parachute dummies for space aliens seems reasonable, there is one aspect that troubles some UFO researchers: The tests with the dummies came a decade after the 1947 Roswell incident.

    Did those who claimed to have seen the ``aliens″ mix up their dates that badly?

    ``I think this is a real stretch,″ said Karl Pflock, a UFO researcher in New Mexico who said he does not believe the Roswell incident involved alien spacecraft.

    The life-size dummies were used in high-altitude parachute drops from 1954 to 1959 as part of Air Force projects code-named High Dive and Excelsior. The object was to devise a way to return a pilot or astronaut to earth by parachute if forced to escape at extremely high altitudes.

    The dummies were transported to altitudes up to 98,000 feet by balloons and then released. Balloons dropped 67 dummies throughout New Mexico in the 1954-59 period. The majority of them landed outside the confines of military bases in eastern New Mexico, near Roswell, according to the Air Force report.

    The dummies had a skeleton of aluminum or steel, skin of latex or plastic, a cast aluminum skull, and an instrument cavity in the torso and head.

    The Air Force said the existence of such dummies was not widely known outside of scientific circles and ``easily could have been mistaken for something they were not.″ Today such dummies are widely used in auto crash tests.