Published: 23rd December 2010
Staff reporter and NZPA
Secret government papers documenting New Zealand UFO sightings have been declassified.
Several Rotorua and Bay of Plenty UFO "sightings" are mentioned in previously secret government documents released to the public yesterday.
The papers show governments over the past 60 years haven't shown the same enthusiasm for investigating unidentified flying objects (UFOs) as the hundreds of New Zealanders who reported seeing them.
The Defence Force yesterday released thousands of documents covering accounts of what people saw, or thought they saw, from 1952 when records began up to September this year.
Experiences ranged from seeing mysterious lights - by far the most common phenomena - to a reported sighting of a flying saucer taking off.
The hundreds and hundreds of pages include several newspaper clippings including some from The Daily Post dating back 50 years.
One from April 1957 headlined 'Another saucer along our space highway' noted reliable reports that a bright, blue light was seen in the eastern sky at 6:40pm by Mrs. Dorothy Bell, "well known in local theatrical circles," her husband Doug, Rotorua radio announcer Lindsay Broberg and Penny Bell, aged 9.
The Daily Post reported, somewhat tongue in cheek, that we didn't know if there was a little green man inside.
In another newspaper report that year, a dozen Elizabeth St residents reported seeing a flying object which changed colours from pale to blood red on a Saturday night in November.
Sightings of the same object had been reported in Rotoiti and Whitfield Rd.
Elizabeth St resident Janet King said the object in the southern sky looked like a very bright light about the size of Venus. It seemed to blink and moved with each blink.
The light was strong enough to shine through bright cloud.
The secret papers also record an even older Rotorua sighting.
In a census of "flying saucer sightings" from January 1953, a report of a bright object completing a hexagonal course is detailed.
The disc was seen for up to three minutes between 7pm and 8pm by one person in June 1936.
The census also includes a sighting from 1909 that was seen all over New Zealand of a cigar-shaped object described as a "terrific bright light that hovered."
The papers also include a letter to the Minister of Civil Aviation, dated November 4, 1955, from a Rotorua man who detailed his experience during World War II, as he felt it may have bearing on an investigation into a recent UFO sighting in the Waikato.
The local man, a former RNZAF pilot who had become a school teacher, and whose name has been removed from the files, told of being followed by a strange light.
He then turned the tables: "By turning suddenly and steeply I was able to chase the light around in a circle until I could aim my four 20mm cannons at it.This I did several times until my ammunition was exhausted, but each time I observed, no apparent change in the behaviour of the light."
He said several pilots experienced this.
The Minister, TP Shand, replied that he had received another report of a similar experience. He said there was no doubt there were many phenomena for which they had not yet found an explanation.
Elsewhere in the declassified papers, a report from Whakatane, dated November 15, 1999, tells of a light, similar to a star or satellite travelling northwest, but sharply changing direction to southeast.
The person who claimed the sighting, whose name has been removed from the file, saw the light north of Whakatane at 9:45pm and 10:20pm.
The report states the night was clear, with stars visible, and that there was no noise associated with the movement, which was visible for only a few minutes each time.
No other details or comments are shown on the report.
Another sighting in Tauranga dated July 7, 1999, is labelled 'Meteorite'.
The person who claimed the sighting saw at 4:15am a very fast, bright fireball, trailing smoke, in the south-southeast sky, descending from east to west "at an angle of approximately 25 degrees."
Many of the reports are carefully written accounts from individuals on the ground and private and commercial pilots.
Others include descriptions of alien writing, sketches of aliens themselves and details of the spacecraft they arrived in.
Most of the letters were sent to government ministers and department heads, and they invariably received polite if uninterested responses.
The documents show that a UFO Investigating Committee of senior officials was set up, although it isn't clear when.
But it didn't meet during the six years up to 1976 when the Secretary for Transport advised the Secretary of Defence: "I agree there seems no need to have a committee to investigate reported sightings of UFOs, and in view of the lack of interest by other government agencies our further action will be limited to a station log entry.''
The documents also reveal that no government department wanted to be responsible for dealing with UFO reports, which were dismissed by one director because "`most UFOs are only unidentifiable by the person reporting them.''
Reports bounced around between departments and were often shuffled off to the Carter Observatory or the Meteorological Office.
One official considered they could be dealt with by Auckland University students who had formed a group to study UFOs.
Air Force and scientific experts were keen 32 years ago to attribute the nation's most famous "UFO sightings" to natural phenomena -- even though some admitted to difficulties in fully accounting for the moving lights seen from an Argosy freight plane and tracked on radar systems.
The 1978 sightings were not only witnessed by professional pilots, but other crew and passengers, and they have continued to puzzle some scientists, sceptics and believers for over three decades.
But the files released recently showed the RNZAF attributed the sightings to "freak propagation" of radio and light waves, an unusually-bright Venus, "anomalous returns" on Wellington radar, and the lights of a squid fishing fleet, cars and trains.
"Almost all the sightings can be explained by natural but unusual phenomena," said Wing Commander J B Clements.
"Defence should issue a PR statement fairly soon in order to tone down much of the wild speculation that has existed over recent weeks."
The now-famous sightings began in the early hours of December 21. Civil Aviation officials later called in the airforce due to the number and nature of the UFO reports.
Two Safe-Air flights left Woodbourne bound for Christchurch and one sighted lights off the Clarence River just before 2am. On the way back north, the crew were told Wellington Radar was picking up returns from it transmissions in that area, and the crew reported lights again at 4am, making rectangular patterns.
The second aircraft left Woodbourne at 3am and also checked out the radar observations, without seeing anything near the river.
But radar signals in Wellington appeared to show something tracking the Argosy and at one point the crew saw a bright orb, pear-shaped with a reddish tinge which seemed to be stationary, though the plane's own radar showed it tracking the aircraft.
The RNZAF said the aircrews "do not seem to be prepared to accept the fact that they might have observed Venus. Thankfully, however neither do they believe that they saw a visitor from outer space."
On December 31, another Argosy carrying a film crew saw a cluster of four or five lights near the Kaikoura Peninsula, and a pulsing white light, while Wellington radar had contacts about 21km ahead of them, near the Clarence River.
Then there were radar "returns" from behind the aircraft, and a radar "target" where the crew saw a white light off their starboard side.
Flying out of Christchurch after 2am, the crew again saw a large white light, which they said aligned with a large radar target.
The sightings were filmed by the professional news camera crew filming an item about the earlier incident.
In the 2cm-thick file on the Kaikoura sightings, a report by Dr Bruce Maccabee for the NZ UFO Studies Centre, said the incidents were hard to explain through "conventional phenomenon."
And the RNZAF said it was difficult to explain the lights, "short of them being some anomalous type of reflection or refraction, cars or trains" and that it was probable that the Wellington radar returns were "spurious".