Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The Southern Lights

35 years ago, New Years Eve in New Zealand made world headlines,
but not for any reasons you might expect. 

The final day of 2013 has dawned hot and bright – already the best day weather-wise since Christmas, over a week ago.  And this is quite natural, as this also happens to be my first day back at work, since finishing an absurd 22 hour shift on Christmas Eve.
Part of the reason for this rather long day was my determination to complete a project which I first began working on in the middle of this year, but then found less and less time available to work on as my job spiralled into the purgatory of ‘admin’.
Today is the 35th anniversary of one of the world’s most famous UFO sightings. And it happened more or less above my head as twelve-year-old me slept on oblivious to the fact that the Marlborough skies were at that moment full of a phenomenon which I usually sent everyone else to sleep with.

I do remember seeing the now-famous footage shot by Quentin Fogarty’s camera crew, soon afterwards, on their return to Blenheim in the very early hours of December 31 1978. Although reportedly feeling as if their Argosy freighter was being played with by the mysterious objects like a lumbering fishing boat surrounded by a mischievous pod of darting, leaping dolphins, the film sadly does little to convey this. Instead a fuzzy, ‘squashed orange’ bumped around TV screens all over the country (and eventually the world) accompanied by Fogarty’s excited narrative.  In fact, I’m pretty certain we didn’t even have a colour TV then, but the even less impressive result did little to curb my enthusiasm.

Despite being the only case of unidentified flying objects ever verified by multiple radar sources and visual sightings simultaneously, (amounting to several reliable witnesses including  experienced air crews and air traffic controllers), and on top of all that actually filmed – few people seem to remember this incident today.  The only echoes of it I was aware of years later came from seeing pilot Captain Bill Startup’s son ribbed in my seventh form class, because of his father’s experiences.

I managed to acquire both Bill Startup’s book (The Kaikoura UFOs) and journalist Quentin Fogarty’s (Let’s Hope They’re Friendly!) for my research, and each give fascinating accounts - Startup’s  factually, and Fogarty’s more emotionally.  Either way, it’s clear that there was an awful lot more to this story than the public was ever made aware of, and this was emphasised further by the white-wash report prepared by the New Zealand Defence Force.  The nearby Japanese Squid fishing Fleet and/or Venus rising explanations offered are both embarrassingly inadequate, and perhaps the reaction of an anxious Government caught short by the possibility of foreign aircraft making merry in our airspace while the Cold War still loomed.

To me it’s very appropriate that this event occurred during the festive season, book-ended by child-like amazement and looking to the future. The universe, and even some aspects of New Zealand history, is still full mysteries. As we enter a bright new year may we never lose our capacity for wonder.

Happy New Year!

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