Two of Australia’s biggest UFO mysteries are in the news this week with new revelations; the 1966 Westall UFO landing, witnessed by hundreds of students and school staff, and the 1978 disappearance of pilot Fred Valentich. Both incidents will also be discussed at the Victorian UFO Action’s ‘Age of Reason’ conference in Melbourne on September 6th. I’ve got my ticket, but I’m two friends short of making up the Lone Gunmen, so if you’re interested in UFOs and honest research, come along.
In 1966, over 200 students, teachers, and locals in suburban Melbourne watched a UFO hover above a paddock, land, and take off again at lightning speed. Many of the witnesses were soon visited by military personnel (some wearing American uniforms) requesting they remain silent, nothing to see here, move along. Almost 50 years later, local researcher Keith Basterfield has discovered documents that may suggest the UFO was part of a secret program to monitor radiation fallout from the Maralinga atomic test grounds. Yep, you guessed it, the UFO was a high-altitude weather balloon.
The documents detail the HIBAL program, a joint US-Australian initiative monitoring atmospheric radiation levels using high-altitude balloons between 1960 and 1969. They also detail a runaway balloon, flight 292. “What is strikingly missing is a memo reporting on the actual four launches for April 1966, one of which was scheduled for 5 April 1966, the day before Westall. So we have no knowledge of where flight 292 went.”
I think Keith has a very solid argument, but a few questions remain. The launch location, Mildura, is 540km northwest of Melbourne. This would require certain weather conditions which (to my local knowledge) would be unusual in April. Witnesses describe the UFO landing and then taking off again in a northwesterly direction — the direction from which the balloon was originally launched.
Another researcher Shane Ryan has been investigating the Westall case for many years, interviewing scores of witnesses, and producing an excellent documentary about the incident. Shane, and many witnesses, aren’t quite convinced by Keith’s theory. For an interesting discussion, definitely have a read of Keith’s blog and the relevant comments.
Prolific Australian UFO researcher Bill Chalker has also been following Keith’s work, so definitely bookmark Bill’s blog and keep up to date on developments and discussions.
Keith strikes me as a very open-minded, honest researcher. By his own admission, this explanation is a working hypothesis, with many anomalies still to be explained. But the documents paint an intriguing picture, and it’s a theory worth considering no matter how much we want to believe.
[quote=Keith Basterfield]I believe that debates such as this are healthy, and can only strengthen our collective investigation of the phenomenon. Lest anyone wonders otherwise, my take on the UFO phenomenon is that there is a real mystery here, deserving of our serious and careful attention.[/quote]
To commemorate the 1966 Westall UFO sighting, there is now a UFO-ET themed playground at the site where hundreds of witnesses saw a UFO land and take off. I haven’t had a chance to visit the park yet, but when I do the local kids will have to wait their turn while I pretend I’m Ethan Hawke in Explorers.
The above photo is of an unidentified object, taken off Cape Otway 20 minutes before pilot Fred Valentich disappeared during a UFO encounter. Now a Victorian UFO Action group researcher has uncovered new information, a possible sighting by a farmer in South Australia who observed a plane matching Valentich’s stuck to the side of a UFO.
The Fred Valentich UFO case is exceptional for the recorded radio transmission between Valentich and air traffic control. Valentich, an experienced pilot, was flying over Bass Strait, south of Melbourne, when he encounted a UFO. Contacting air traffic control, he gave a running commentary of the encounter before he completely disappeared. Neither Valentich or his plane has ever been found.
NASA scientist and UFO researcher Richard F. Haines investigated the Valentich case with the Victorian UFO Society’s Paul Norman. They published an exhaustive report, concluding Valentich most likely crashed into the ocean. The UFOs reported by Valentich, and observed and photographed by other witnesses, remain a genuine mystery.