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Mysterious Voice Heard From Accident

Rescuers who saved a 'miracle baby' claim they heard a mysterious voice from the accident. Continue reading →

Four police officers who helped rescue a baby from an overturned car in a Utah river last weekend claim that they heard an unexplained voice calling from the car. The accident occurred after a car driven by Lynn Jennifer Groesbeck, 25, ran off the road and into the Spanish Fork River. Her 18-month-old, Lily, was found in her car seat upside down just above frigid river water, and had been there for a least 12 hours.

Lily, widely dubbed a "miracle baby," captivated the news media's attention for much of the past week and after being admitted to the hospital in critical condition was released Thursday.

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Though neighbors heard a crash at the time of the accident Saturday night, no one called the police and the car was found by a fisherman the next afternoon who called for help. Police found drugs and marijuana in the vehicle, though toxicology results are still being completed so it's not clear if Groesbeck was driving under the influence.

It's a tragic story but news reports and social media have offered a silver lining in the form of a possible guardian angel sign. According to a CNN report:

"A mystery arose from the rescue: The police officers who entered the water say they heard a voice calling for help. The mother was dead, but the officers said that they heard an adult's voice calling to them. "The four of us heard a distinct voice coming from the car," [officer Jared] Warner told CNN. "To me, it didn't sound like a child's voice." The voice gave the rescuers a surge of adrenaline needed to push the vehicle upright, he said. The mother was dead. The child was unconscious, but her eyelids were fluttering, and the rescuers knew she was alive, Warner said. It's one of those things that doesn't have an explanation, he said about the voice."

Hearing Voices With Groesbeck dead - and her toddler dehydrated, unconscious and unable to speak anyway - the spooky question arose: Where did the voice in the car come from? Short of some act of ghoulish ventriloquism there seemed to be no explanation. Or, rather, the only explanation was a guardian angel - or perhaps Groesbeck's spirit - that called out to the rescuers to save her baby.

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But there may be another explanation. No one is suggesting that the police officers made up the story of the mysterious voice. However illusory voices and signs of life can be created by well-understood psychological process called apophenia, which cause people to "hear" distinct sounds and voices in random white noise patterns such as the background static in an audio recording –like hearing a non-ringing doorbell or the telephone while in the shower.

For example in June 2012, customs officials at a New Jersey port stopped and searched a cargo ship for dozens of hidden stowaways. According to an ABC News report:

"The ordeal began around 3 a.m. Wednesday, after a Coast Guard patrol stop at the mouth of New York harbor, when officials conducting a routine check of the cargo ship believed they may have heard faint knocking coming from one of the containers onboard.... The ship had been out to sea for more than two weeks prior to docking, leading authorities to fear for the health of the alleged stowaways." Not only had the officials heard knocking from the container, but they also believed that the stowaways were responding to their calls and requests: "officers heard noises ‘consistent with the possible presence of stowaways' coming from one of the containers in the ship's hull, said Charles Rowe, a Coast Guard spokesman. ‘When we knocked, we heard a knock back,' he said."

After over 150 cargo containers had been opened and thoroughly examined, the search was called off. No one was found, either at the time or in the following weeks. It had all been a mistake, a sincere misunderstanding. The knocking that the customs agents believed was created by humans was not.

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So it's possible that in the chaos of the recovery effort some unrelated sound nearby - maybe the river waters itself, or from cars nearby - was mistaken for a cry for help. It's even possible that some unseen distraught bystander was calling for help and the rescuers heard it but assumed it was coming from the car.

A Psychological Explanation?

There may be another psychological factor at work. A comment from one of the rescuers suggests that he was not sure if he actually heard a voice or not: "It felt like I could hear someone telling me, ‘I need help," [officer Bryan] DeWitt told CNN affiliate KSL. ‘It was very surreal, something that I felt like I could hear.'"

If what DeWitt heard sounded like an ordinary person's voice calling for help, as has been described in news stories, it's unclear why he would describe it as "it felt like I could hear" (instead of just "I could hear"), nor why hearing an otherwise expected cry for help during a rescue would seem "surreal."

It wasn't until days later when the rescuers discussed the incident among themselves that the topic of the mysterious voice came up. Because the informal discussion wasn't recorded there's no way to know for certain who said what, but it seems likely that one of the men said he heard the voice, and others chimed in with their own stories.

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It's likely that - regardless of whether all of them actually did hear a voice or not - the rescuers unconsciously cued and prompted each other. This is very common, for example when one person says, "Now that you mention it, I think I did hear a voice!" and another might say, "I heard it too, but it didn't sound like a child," and so on. One person's memory might be unconsciously adopted by one or more of the others, who hear it and reinforce each other's recollections afterwards.

There is one way to determine whether or not the rescuers really heard a voice or it was a figment of their socially-reconstructed memories. If all the responding police officers independently heard a voice calling for help coming from the car, then that detail should appear in their official report of the accident at the time - a voice calling for help from an overturned car is an important detail that could hardly fail to be mentioned by first responders.

On the other hand if the memory of the cry for help was only inserted into the story after the fact when sharing their experiences, there would be no reference to it. Because the accident report is currently unavailable that detail cannot be confirmed.

Guardian Angel Reports Sharon Hill is the editor of Doubtful News, a site that collects and analyzes news stories about weird and unexplained events, and she explained to Discovery News how this claim fits into pop culture narratives.

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"The appearance of mysterious stranger who helps car crash victims, or the apparent sighting or sign suggesting the intervention of a guardian angel are very common cultural stories," Hill said.

"These types of colorful flourishes to the event are a result of the person relating the story interpreting it in a comforting way," she said. "It's nice to think miracles happen, and we interpret the event in the framework of our beliefs but often that's not what happened but instead how we'd like to remember the stressful, chaotic situation. When people are spared from a plane crash or are revived from a near-death scare, it affirms their faith in the supernatural and they often are eager to share that affirmation."

Hill also notes that the guardian angel aspect of the story is odd for several reasons including that "the mysterious voice did not actually save the child since rescuers were already on the scene and checking for survivors. What saved this child was the car seat, the person who called emergency services, and the rescuers who got her out." Whether a mysterious and possibly angelic voice actually called out to rescuers, many see a miracle in Baby Lily's recovery.

As we head toward 2015, look back at some of the strangest mysteries of this past year, as well as some of the mysteries that remain as we enter the new year. Keeping in mind that science is a process of continually refining a body of scientific knowledge -- that what we believe is true today may be changed by some amazing new discovery tomorrow -- here are 10 strange mysteries, both unexplained and recently explained.

Unexplained Mysteries of 2013

For almost a century one of America's strangest mysteries has been found in remote Death Valley, California. It's there -- actually at a specific dry lakebed called Racetrack Playa -- that stones are claimed to mysteriously move on their own, when no one is looking. The phenomenon occurs in a handful of other places as well, though none are as well known as those in Death Valley. They moved very slowly, in some cases only a few inches over months or years, but their trails can clearly be seen in the dried mud behind them. Over the years

many explanations

have been offered, ranging from hoaxing to aliens to some sort of localized, unknown magnetic effect. Others have suggested that the area's strong winds might move the stones, but that doesn't explain why they'd move at different rates and sometimes in different directions. For many years the best scientific explanation was that the rocks moved due to a specific combination of wind, temperature, and water. Racetrack Playa is in a desert, but sometimes collects water from rain and melting snow, providing a slick surface over which the stones might move. The mystery was

finally

solved in 2014 when a team of researchers set up cameras over the area and measured the rocks' movement patterns. They concluded that the stones moved under just the right conditions when ice formed under the rocks and moved them, usually only a little bit at a time: "moving sheets of ice tens of meters in extent but only a few millimeters thick are clearly effective at moving rocks in their path."

The study,

"Sliding Rocks on Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park: First Observation of Rocks in Motion" was published on Aug. 27, 2014 in the open-access journal PLoS ONE.

Volcanoes are known around the world, though most of them can be found in the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire. It's where the world's most active volcanoes are located, covering the western edge of the Americas, Hawaii, Japan and into Oceania. The volcanoes there result from the subduction of oceanic tectonic plates moving beneath lighter continental plates. Most of Australia, however, is spared -- except for an unusual 300-mile stretch in the southeastern part of the country roughly north of Tasmania. It is the continent's only active volcanic region, but for many years no one was quite sure why. Since Australia lies well inside its own tectonic plate (called the Indo-Australian plate), it could not be caused by the same geological processes that spawned others in the nearby Ring of Fire. A team from the Research School of Earth Sciences

finally solved the mystery

earlier this year. According to lead researcher Dr. Rhodri Davies, "Volcanoes in this region of Australia are generated by a very different process to most of Earth's volcanoes.... We have determined that the volcanism arises from a unique interaction between local variations in the continent's thickness, which we were able to map for the first time, and its movement...towards New Guinea and Indonesia." The continent's drift northward creates an isolated region in its southern end which spawned the volcano. But don't stand on Australia's northern shore expecting to reach Indonesia any time soon: the continent is moving northward at about two and three-quarter inches a year. The study was published in the journal "Geology" on Sept. 24.

Play Volcano Explorer

The riddle of Mars has captivated people for generations. Dozens of artists, writers, astronomers and dreamers -- from H.G. Wells to Orson Welles, Ray Bradbury to Carl Sagan -- have speculated about what life might be like on the Red Planet. In 2011, NASA's Curiosity Rover was launched into space, landing on Mars the following year. Mankind's amazing little mechanical scientist trooper has spent the past few years poking, plodding and examining the surface. A lot has been learned about Martian climate and geology, but in 2014 the biggest news was that Curiosity gathered evidence that a peak there, known as Mount Sharp,

was created by sediments

in a huge surrounding lake bed. Yes, sediments -- which if you remember high school geology, is particulate matter carried by water or wind (in this case water). And yes, lake bed: There's no water there now, at least not on the surface, but the discovery is very strong evidence that rivers and lakes have existed periodically in Martian history. Having spent a Martian year on the planet, scientists now believe that the environmental conditions on Mars may be favorable for microbial life, and the search continues.

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If you're lucky enough to get away from urban light pollution and into rural areas, it's astonishing how many stars you can see; they seem to litter the sky. And, of course, only a small fraction of the stars are visible to our naked eye. But even still, there should be more of them -- many more. One of the most enduring astronomical puzzles has been not why there are so many stars, but instead so few. According to computer models there should be an estimated 100 to 300 sextillion stars, or 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 to 300,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, give or take a few. It's a number so large that it defies comprehension and raises an interesting question: where are they? Why isn't the night sky positively lit up with stars? Surely the light from a small number of them (say, maybe a few hundred million or so) might be blocked from reaching us by planets or other celestial objects, but that still leaves some ridiculously large number of stars unaccounted for. Earlier this year astronomer James Geach and his team at the University of Hertsfordshire found that "nuclear bursts of star formation are capable of ejecting large amounts of cold gas from the central regions of galaxies, thereby strongly affecting their evolution by truncating star formation and redistributing matter." In other words, the cold gases used as the raw material for stars -- and driven out during the star formation process itself -- can inhibit the creation of new stars.

The article,

"Stellar feedback as the origin of an extended molecular outflow in a starburst galaxy," was published in the Dec 4 issue of the journal Nature.

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There are several well-known mysterious sounds in the world. The most famous is New Mexico's Taos Hum, but another mysterious hum has plagued residents in Windsor, Ontario, since 2011. Not everyone hears it, and even those who do don't all describe it in the same way; some say it's like a running refrigerator or an idling big truck. For years residents heard it -- and complained about it -- but local police couldn't help and no one was sure of its origin. Several investigations were conducted including by the Canadian government. Finally in May a study confirmed for the first time that the hum is real (and not, for example, an auditory illusion), and

conclusively identified the source

of the sound: Michigan's Zug Island, across the Detroit River, the site of heavy manufacturing including a U.S. Steel plant. Though it's clear that the hum is mechanical in nature and coming from the island, scientists haven't been able to locate a specific building or piece of heavy machinery that's causing it. Though the infernal Windsor Hum remains, nearby residents can sleep a little easier knowing it's not all in their heads.

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Though a variety of old and new mysteries were solved in 2014, many more mysteries remain unexplained as we begin 2015. In what was one of the most bizarre unexplained mysteries of 2014, on March 8, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 veered off course after it left Kuala Lumpur and soon vanished. It seems impossible that with modern technology, the cooperation of several countries, and an estimated $33 to $42 million in search costs, the plane would simply vanish, never to be found. Dozens of planes, submersibles and ships searched in vain for the Boeing 777, but as 2015 arrives not a trace has been found. Hopes for finding the flight mostly depended on locating the airplane's "black box," equipped with an electronic pinger that sends out a regular sound signature. Unfortunately, the batteries died after three months, and early pings detected by the U.S. Navy were later determined to be false alarms that wasted precious time. The search for the missing plane was

plagued by problems

from the beginning, with erroneous information sending teams from one search area to another and another. To this day many questions remain: Were the pilots on a suicide mission, and if so, why? Did a mechanical failure cause the plane to go down? The search continues and though it's likely that this mystery will be solved one day, it may take months or years longer.

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Given that Jack the Ripper stalked and killed five prostitutes in London over 125 years ago -- and that his identity has been a classic enduring mystery -- placing the unknown serial killer on a list of unsolved mysteries would seem to be too obvious to mention. And it would be, if not for the fact that in 2014 a man named Russell Edwards made international news by claiming to have finally, really, definitively, not-joking-now, seriously and conclusively identified Jack the Ripper. The evidence was as rock-solid as genetic analysis: According to Edwards and microbiologist Dr. Jari Louhelainen, DNA evidence taken from the shawl of a Ripper victim matched that of a Ripper suspect named Aaron Kosminski. This identification, which was touted as "definitely, categorically and absolutely" a match for Kosminski, seemed credible and was widely reported. However, doubts soon emerged when the research was examined.

According to "The Guardian,"

"four experts with intimate knowledge of DNA analysis -- including Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, the inventor of genetic fingerprinting -- found that Dr. Louhelainen made a basic mistake in analyzing the DNA." In essence, instead of a specific genetic marker narrowing down the pool of suspects to a handful of people, including Kosminski, it was actually shared by about 99 percent of Europeans. It's far from the first time that amazing, "definitive" Ripper evidence evaporated upon closer inspection: In 1993 Warner Books was set to publish a recently-discovered diary of a man named James Maybrick, in which he admitted to his double life as the infamous Ripper. Yet suspicions were raised about the diary's unknown provenance, and forensic document examiners soon branded it a hoax. Over a hundred people have been suggested as Jack the Ripper, and given the exhaustive research brought to bear on the killings, it's virtually certain that Jack the Ripper has already been identified -- though which one of the dozen or so prime suspects is really the Ripper likely will never be known.

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With the Rosetta mission, humankind managed to land a probe on a comet in an amazing achievement celebrated around the world. The Philae lander ran out of battery power soon after arriving on the comet, ending up in a shadowy crag that prevents the sun from recharging its batteries. But before it died it sent a trove of useful data, including information that might help astronomers the answer one of the fundamental questions of how water came to Earth billions of years ago: could it have arrived on a comet? Scientists have long known that comets contain water, but they didn't know if it's the same type of water found here on Earth. The answer, so far, remains unknown. That's because when researchers compared the type of water found on Earth to the type found on the comet,

they didn't match;

the comet's water has a heavier mass. It's possible that another comet may have carried the type of water found on Earth, but so far the idea doesn't look promising. The study was published on Dec. 10 in the journal Science.

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Ball lightning, according to the American Meteorological Society's Dr. Walter Lyons in his "The Handy Weather Answer Book," is "one of nature's most mysterious phenomena. Usually seen during violent thunderstorms, the spheres of glowing light are typically the size of bowling balls or basketballs. They can last from a few seconds to many minutes. The spheres can simply vanish into thin air, but can also pass through window glass and screens, leaving burn marks behind.... They usually do not cause much damage and can even seem playful." Over the centuries, ball lightning has been attributed to various causes (including supernatural ones), though scientists have come up with a handful of

physics-based theories

. One is that ball lightning is a form of globe-shaped plasma (the fourth state of matter consisting of electrically-charged gas); another is that the lightning is composed of elements from the soil surrounding it when it strikes. Earlier this year the emission spectrum of a ball lightning strike was analyzed for the first time. As the

American Physical Society noted

, a research team led by Ping Yuan saw and recorded a ball lighting strike in northwest China in July 2012: "They were able to record a spectrum and high-speed video footage of the ball. The recorded glow was about 5 meters across -- the actual size of the ball was much smaller -- and it changed from white to reddish during the second or so that it lasted... Yuan says that this is the first time ball lightning has been seen to be created by a cloud-to-ground lightning strike. The researchers found that the spectrum contained several emission lines from silicon, iron, and calcium -- all elements expected to be abundant in soil." This suggests that the lightning may be created by some unknown interaction with the soil, and though the research offers some tantalizing clues about the origin and nature of ball lightning, the phenomenon remains elusive and largely unexplained.

From the famously frisky and polyamorous bonobo apes to swan pairs that often mate for life, sex in the animal world can be both strange and varied. But scientists are baffled by the activity they found on Marion Island, a small island near Antarctica. Fur seals there usually chase and eat the king penguins they share the land with, but on rare occasions

they mount them.

Instances of seal/penguin sex had been seen at least twice before, but researchers weren't sure if it was an aberration (such as a seal misidentifying a mate, which happens) or an unusual but natural part of their behavior. Sometimes animal behavior can be changed in the process of recording it -- what in science is called "the observer effect." If animals (whether people, penguins, or anything else) know that they're being watched or recorded, they may change their behavior. But that didn't seem to be the case. After documenting this behavior for the third time earlier this year, scientists concluded that it wasn't just one or two isolated instances, but an apparently new behavior (for obvious reasons it's not an evolutionarily adaptive behavior for the fur seals). Why exactly this behavior goes on remains unexplained, though the researchers offered two possible explanations in their study: "It may be learned behavior associated with some sort of reward or it may be an extreme case of reproductive interference that can be explained by the 'mate deprivation hypothesis,' resulting from the continued growth of the

A. gazella

population on the island." In other words, there aren't enough female fur seals to mate up with the males. The

research study,

titled "Multiple occurrences of king penguin (

Aptenodytes patagonicus

) sexual harassment by Antarctic fur seals (

Arctocephalus gazella

)," was published in the Nov. 11 journal "Polar Biology" and is recommended for mature readers only.