Airplane Encounter

Airplane Encounter

Date: December 21 To December 31, 1978

Location: Airspace Over New Zealand

In the late hours of December 30, 1978, an Argosy freight plane left Wellington, New Zealand, the pilot was Captain Bill Startup, a very experienced flier and the co pilot was Bob Guard. The air crew were accompanied by an Australian TV unit from Channel 0-10 Network.

The purpose of the flight was to try to capture a UFO on film, for some weeks UFOs had been sighted over Cook Strait.

When the aircraft was flying over the Pacific Ocean, to the northeast of South Island, the pilots observed a strange object in the sky, they endeavored to verify their sighting with radar confirmation at Wellington air traffic control.

Quentin Fogarty, TV reporter, stated that he saw a row of 5 bright lights which were pulsating and grew from the size of a pinpoint to that of a large balloon. The whole sequence was then repeated, the lights now appearing over the town of Kaikoura, between the aircraft and the ground.

At this stage, David Crockett, cameraman, was wearing the headphones and was warned by Wellington control that an unknown object was following the Argosy, the pilot immediately turned the plane 360° in order to ascertain what had been behind them.

The people aboard the aircraft saw nothing but yet once more Wellington control warned them:

Sierra Alpha Eagle, you have a target in formation with you… target has increased in size.

At this, the crew and passengers saw lights outside of the aircraft but were unable to film them because of interference by the plane’s navigation lights.

When the navigation lights were turned off, however, everyone aboard the aircraft saw a big, bright light which Crockett was able to capture on his hand held camera. In order to do this Crockett had to exchange seats with Bob Guard, causing the resultant filming to suffer from the effects of camera shake. However, he managed to obtain 30 seconds of decent footage.

Startup then turned the plane completely around once more and the object was not visible but Wellington control maintained that its echo was still evident on radar. As the Argosy approached Christchurch, the fuel gauge went haywire but apparently this was not necessarily something unusual, and they tuned in on the UFO off Banks Peninsular.

Wellington control now had the object on radar while the aircraft landed at Christchurch.

At 2:15 a.m. December 31st, the aircraft set off on a return flight and very quickly 2 strange objects came into view. Crockett observed one of the objects through his camera and described a spinning sphere with lateral lines around it and one of the objects appeared on the aircraft’s radar for 4 minutes.

As the aircraft approached the end of its flight, 2 pulsating lights were observed, one falling for about 1,000' before eventually stopping in a series of jerky movements. The presence of this object was confirmed by Wellington air traffic control.

The resultant film taken during these flights was shown all over the world, the BBC giving it priority on the main evening news program.

Despite the fact that the filmed events were also evident on ground based radar, skeptics were driven to extreme and strange lengths to explain the filmed evidence, including the lights from shrimp boats, top secret U.S. remote controlled planes etc.

It should be noted that the Royal New Zealand Air Force was so concerned about the event that Skyhawk jet fighters had been put on full alert in order to intercept the UFOs.

Following the broadcasting of the film by the BBC and the subsequent investigation, the Daily Telegraph, U.K. newspaper, noted for businesslike and scientific observations, remarked:

The scientist who suggested that all on the aircraft were seeing Venus on a particularly bright night can be safely consigned to Bedlam, insane asylum.

1978 December 20th – Blenheim Airbase, South Island, New Zealand

Blenheim Airbase sits facing Cloudy Bay and the Cook Strait on the northern tip of the South Island, New Zealand. At 11:00 p.m. Ian Uffindel of the New Zealand RAF reported unusual lights in the sky, one large and 2 smaller lights making controlled movements and flying closely together.

He added that they were not aircraft.

John Cordy at Wellington Air Traffic Control Center, WATCC, confirmed targets on his scopes in the area reported by Uffindel.

This was the first radar/visual event, RVE, in these encounters. December 21, 1978 – Cape Campbell, South Island, New Zealand

Witnesses in the Cape Campbell area, 45 miles north of Kaikoura, saw lights in the sky behaving in the manner of aircraft involved in a search & rescue operation, as if helicopters were using high powered spotlights to view the terrain beneath them. WATCC detected 3 unidentified targets on their radar screens, one of which moved at high speed for 60 nautical miles and was estimated at the size of a commercial airliner. It stopped abruptly and remained stationary for some time.

01:20 - Captain Vern Powell flying in the area reported to WATCC that he could see bright white lights from an unidentified craft. He likened them to landing lights of aircraft and added that an object appeared on his radar at the same location, RVE.

03:30 - Powell indicated to WATCC that he could now see a bright red light. They confirmed that a target was on their radar to the right of his aircraft at a distance of 23 nm. It paced him for a further 12 nm RVE.

He called ATC to say that it had changed to an extremely bright light encircled with a red halo and its luminescence was still visible when it passed behind clouds.

WATCC had 5 strong unidentified targets on their scopes in Powell’s vicinity as he approached Christchurch. As he was coming in to land he reported a high speed target moving at approximately 15,000km/h. It disappeared from his radar but he could still see a flashing white light, RVE.

Later that night a large white orb dramatically buzzed another plane. They could not identify it but reported the encounter to WATCC.

1978 December 30th – Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand

11:00 p.m. - A weather balloon was released from Christchurch to detect and record atmospheric conditions.

Wellington, North Island, New Zealand

Investigating the preceding encounters over the Cook Strait area, reporter Quentin Fogarty, cameraman David Crockett and his wife sound recordist Ngaire Crockett boarded an Argosy freight plane with Captain Bill Startup and Co Pilot Robert Guard. Startup had 23 years experience and 14,000 hours flying time. Guard had 7000 hours flying time.

11:50 p.m. - The Argosy crossed the Cook Strait. Startup reported excellent weather conditions:

Clear with visibility over 30 nm. In fact they could see the lights of Christchurch, which was 150 miles away.

There is another target that just appeared on your left side at about 1 mile.

Wellington Air Traffic Control Center

1978 December 31st – Kaikoua Coastline, South Island, New Zealand

12:05 a.m. - The pilots first noticed lights near to the Kaikoura coast. These lights projected a beam downwards and then disappeared. The number varied from none, to one, to many. The pilots noted that the strange lights were above the town of Kaikoura but between the aircraft and the ground in the one o’clock position at a distance of 13 nm.

12:12 a.m. - WATCC radioed confirmation of these lights as targets on their scopes. Indeed those targets had been appearing and disappearing for the past half hour. On duty that night were Air Traffic Controller Geoffrey Causer and Bryan Chalmers, a radar maintenance technician.

At this point another aircraft landed at Wellington and from then onwards the Argosy was the only plane in the sky south of Wellington Airbase. Not long afterwards WATCC reported that they had another target in the aircraft’s three o’clock position but the crew could see nothing in that direction. The radar target disappeared.

12:15 a.m. - The camera crew came up to the cockpit to view the objects.

12:16 a.m. - WATCC notified them of a target in their twelve o’clock position at a distance of 10 nm. The crew confirmed they saw a light in that direction.

Startup: It was white and not very brilliant and it did not change color or flicker. To me it looked like the tail light of an aircraft. I’m not sure how long we saw this for. Probably not very long. I did not get a chance to judge its height relative to the aircraft. RVE

The light disappeared and WATCC confirmed its disappearance on the next sweep of the radar but they reported a new strong target at their eleven o’clock position at a distance of 3 nm. The Argosy crew saw nothing. WATCC reported a target at nine o’clock at 2 nm. Again the crew could see nothing. Just after this they picked up a target at their ten o’clock position at a distance of 12 nm. The Captain requested permission to turn around to investigate the anomalous targets.

WATCC authorised him with the caution that:

There is another target that just appeared on your left side at about 1 mile… briefly and then disappearing again.

Although the crew were still witnessing the lights near to Kaikoura, they could see nothing of the new targets reported by Wellington.

Startup put the Argosy in a turn.

WATCC reported:

The target I mentioned a moment ago is still just about five o’clock to you, stationary.

Once more nothing was visible to the crew in that direction. Causer had been picking up appearances and disappearances of targets on the scopes which correlated to the lights viewed by the crew close to Kaikoura.

There is a strong target right in formation with you. Could be right or left. Your target has doubled in size.

Wellington Air Traffic Control Center - The Kaikoura Coastline

12:27 a.m. - With the Argosy now moving back along its flight path towards Wellington Airbase Causer reported another target in their twelve o’clock position 3 miles distant.

Startup responded:

We pick it up. It’s got a flashing light.

He reported seeing:

A couple of very bright blue/white lights, flashing regularly at a rapid rate. They looked like the strobe lights of a Boeing 737.

NB – the Argosy was the only aircraft in the area at the time. RVE

12:28 a.m. - The Argosy turned back towards Christchurch and WATCC reported that all the targets were now 12 to 15 nm behind them.

12:29 a.m. - WATCC notified the pilots of a target one mile behind the aircraft in their six o’clock position, which soon vanished.

12:30 a.m. - Another target appeared on the radar at 4 miles behind the plane. It vanished. Next came a target at three o’clock, again at 4 nm.

12:31 a.m. - WATCC:

There is a strong target right in formation with you. Could be right or left. Your target has doubled in size. This is known as a Double Size Target, DST. Growing increasingly worried the Copilot, Bob Guard, looked out of the right windows and saw a light:

It was like the fixed navigation lights on a small airplane when one passes you at night. It was much smaller than the really big ones we had seen over Kaikoura. At regular intervals it appeared to flash, but it didn’t flash on and off, it brightened or perhaps twinkled around the edges. When it did this I could see a color, a slight tinge of green or perhaps red. It’s very difficult describing a small light you see at night. RVE.

Startup checked their environment, seeing: coastal lights, and the lights of Japanese squid boats on his far left, east, horizon. He saw no running lights of boats, which implies that there were no boats in the area.

When Guard reported the light out of the right hand window, Startup turned off the green navigation light on the right wing to make viewing easier. The town lights of Kaikoura were now behind the mountains and not visible. Claims were made after this incident that the light witnessed by the crew was a beacon light on the end of the peninsula, but the witnesses testified to the light being level with the plane, well above ground level.

Fogarty commented:

I’m looking over towards the right of the aircraft and we have an object confirmed by Wellington radar. It’s been following us for quite a while. It’s about 4 miles away and looks like a very faint star, but then it emits a bright white/green light. RVE

Startup then told WATCC:

Got a target at 3 o’clock just behind us.

WATCC responded:

Roger, and going around to 4 o’clock at 4 miles.

12:33 a.m. - WATCC informed Christchurch Air Traffic Control,CATCC, that they had a target at five o’clock to the Argosy at a distance of 10 miles. CATCC could not confirm.

WATCC said:

Not moving, not too much speed… It is moving in an easterly direction now.

12:35 a.m. - WATCC:

The target you mentioned, the last one we mentioned, make it 5 o’clock at 4 miles previously, did you see anything?


We saw that one. It came up at 4 o’clock, I think, around 4 miles away.


Roger, that target is still stationary. It’s now 6 o’clock to you at about 15 miles and it’s been joined by two other targets. RVE

12:36 a.m. - WATCC informed the Argosy that the 3 targets had now merged on their scopes. Startup requested permission to do another turn to investigate and permission was granted. Despite this brief investigation, the crew saw nothing.

12:39 a.m. - The Argosy continued on its way to Christchurch. CATCC reported to the plane that a target was pacing the aircraft to their west overland. Guard checked the window and saw a rapidly moving light in that direction. RVE The Argosy went on to land at the airbase.

It turned with us as I changed course… It was making definite movements in relation to us.

Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand

2:00 a.m.– 3:00 a.m. - Dennis Grant replaced Ngaire Crockett, who did not want to return to the area where these UFOs were flying. The Argosy took off again at 2:15 a.m. on its return journey.

Not long after take off the crew saw 2 more objects. David Crockett saw a sphere with lateral lines around it which was spinning. CATCC confirmed that this object was swaying continuously on their scopes for 4 minutes. The object moved in relation to the aircraft, suggesting intelligent control, and was estimated to be the size of a house.

The crew saw 2 pulsating lights, one of which suddenly descended in a blurred streak for 1000' before ascending in a series of jerky movements.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force put a Skyhawk jet fighter on full alert to intercept any other UFOs which might appear.

Examination of the film and computer enhancement concurs that the footage is genuine.

The radar technician, Bryan Chalmers, responsible for maintaining the radar, checked it for evidence of anomalous propogation/refractive beam bending during the sightings. These tests prove that atmospheric refraction could not account for the radar sightings.

Although a dark object against a light sky could be seen from 30 miles or more away, a light object against a dark sky could be seen from more than 100 miles.

Turbulence and atmospheric refraction could to some degree be attributed to the radar angels, unknown targets, towards the coastline. Strong reflectors of radar on the ground might appear to move around on the scope due to the strong refraction. But for this explanation to work off the coast would mean that there were numerous strong reflectors on the ocean spread out over a wide area due to the multitude of targets picked up during the Argosy’s flights, which is unlikely given that no running lights could be seen by the cabin crew.

Furthermore any boats on the ocean should not have shown up on the radar scope because it has a filter which screens any such targets. The sensitivity of the radar scopes at Wellington means that Clear Air Turbulence, CAT, or birds/insects/weather would not have been detected beyond 50 nautical miles. The Argosy was 82 nm from WATCC at the time of the DST.

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