SIGHTINGS OF DECEMBER, 1978
This is a two part presentation. The first part consists of three technical papers which discuss one of the sightings that occurred off the East Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. These papers are unique because they seem to be the only series of articles containing a discussion of a single UFO sighting that has appeared in a refereed technical journal. The journal is called Applied Optics, a publication of the Optical Society of America. The second part of this presentation is an analysis of the squid boat hypothesis which has been proposed to explain the sighting that is discussed in the Applied Optics papers. (NOTE: A technical article that reports on the "flashing light" sighting that occurred AFTER the one reported here is at another location on this web site.)
The technical articles appeared in the Letters to the Editor section of Applied Optics. These articles discuss a bright light which was seen and photographed from a freighter aircraft between about 0219 and 0233 (2:19- 2:33 a.m., local daylight savings time) off the East Coast of the South island of New Zealand on December 31,1978. I wrote the first article after my extensive investigation in New Zealand and Australia. William Ireland and Mark Andrews of the Department of Scientific and industrial Research in Lower Hutt, New Zealand, wrote the second letter to dispute my claim that the bright object was unidentified. I wrote the third paper to respond to Ireland and Andrews.
In the first paper I presented numerical data obtained from the 16 mm color movie film that was shot during the sighting and which, when combined with known film characteristics and with radar distances recorded on the airplane radar, allowed me to carry out a calculation of the luminous intensity of the light. I claimed that the source of the light had not been identified. Ireland and Andrews, in the second paper, pointed out that the brightness level I calculated is consistent with what might be expected from a sngle (stationary) squid boat while fishing with its lights on in the Pegasus Bay, about 45 nautical miles from Christchurch. They estimated the location of the hypothetical squid boat. It is important to note that the angle of the right turn (made by the airplane) which they showed in their map of the sighting area is too large by about 30 degrees. In the third paper I corrected an error in my paper (the time at which the airplane radar was turned on) and a major error in the Ireland/Andrews paper (the turn angle). I also pointed out that a search by Ireland of fishing records failed to find any squid boat at the location they proposed. Moreover, I pointed out that the data provided by the witnesses is not consistent with any hypothesis, such as the squid boat hypothesis, that requires the bright light to be stationary.
The image below shows that the ampersand image is in a series of frames that lead to stationary frames. The ampersand image was probably caused by the camera bumping something. The frame numbers begin with the first film frame obtained during the flight north from Christchurch.
Subsequently, Philip J. Klass published the squid boat explanation
in his book, UFOs, THE PUBLIC DECEIVED (Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY,
1983). After citing his reasons for agreeing with Ireland and Andrews,
Klass wrote, "If the bright object photographed in Pegasus Bay was not a
squid boat, the only plausible alternative is that it was an
extraterrestrial craft from a distant world."
Could that be true? Is it possible that the light was not from a squid boat and therefore was from a ET craft?
The following paper shows why it was not a squid boat....unless it was a
(NOTE: the reason why the editor of Applied Optics allowed publication
of papers related to (gulp!) UFOs is presented in the FOOTNOTE which
follows the list of reasons why the object wasn't a squid boat. This
is an interesting history in itself with seven key events: (1) the
publication of a book by Dr. Frank Salisbury, THE UTAH UFO DISPLAY (Devin Pub
Co, Old Greenwich,. CT) in 1974, (2) the publication of what I call the
"buggy UFO hypothesis" (BUFOH) in the article, "Insects as unidentified
flying objects" by entymologists P.Callahan and R. Mankin, published in
Applied Optics in November, 1978, (3) my attempt at responding to the BUFOH
in a letter to the editor of Applied Optics, (4) the occurrence of the New
Zealand sightings, in December, (5) the initial rejection of my response
to the BUFOH, (6) the rejection by NATURE Magazine of the letter I submitted
on the New Zealand sightings and (7) the acceptance of my article on the New
Zealand sightings as a partial response to the BUFOH. You will notice
that in the first footnote in the first Applied Optics letter below I have
listed "glowing insect swarms" as one of the explanations that had been ruled
out. In fact, no one had proposed that the New Zealand witnesses saw swarms
of glowing insects, but I had to tie this letter to the BUFOH in some way,
so that is how I did it. The FOOTNOTE provides a more detailed explanation
of the history behind these Applied Optics articles.)
The local Christchurch newspaper reported, the same day as the sighting, that a local astronomer was reported as being 99% certain that the witnesses saw the planet Venus. When it was learned the next day that the sighting had occurred long before Venus was visible he changed his explanation: now it was Jupiter (a planet that was nearly overead at the time and could not have been seen through the roof of the plane).
Sir Bernard Lovell of the Jodrell Bank Radio Observatory claimed the witnesses saw "unburned meteorites," which makes no sense in the context of the sighting that lasted many minutes.
"The squid fleet must have played a role in the sighting," said a New Zealand Air Force officer who arranged a special nighttime flight several nights later to find out what was "out there" to be seen. He saw the squid fleet. It was way off the coast of New Zealand and putting out as much light as a small city. However, the crew of the December 31st flight also saw the squid fleet. It was over 100 miles from the area of the sighting.
After all the other explanations had been suggested and rejected only one remained: there was a single squid fishing boat in the Pegasus Bay and this is what the crew and passengers saw and filmed. Along with this basic hypothesis there is an important corollary: EITHER the air crew failed to recognize a stationary squid boat sitting on the water OR the crew eventually realized what they were looking at but didn't inform the passengers (two newsmen and the cameraman), i.e., the air crew perpetrated a hoax.
Even the skeptics couldn't accept the idea that the air crew would perpetuate a hoax or a lie. The crew was adamant that they could not identify the object that made the light. Therefore, if they weren't lying and if the squid boat hypothesis is correct, then they must have failed to realize that the source of light was a single squid boat in spite of years of flying experience in this area of New Zealand when squid boats were present (and when they weren't present; the squid fleet returns to New Zealand waters in late November or December and remains until February or March).
So, why couldn't it have been a squid boat? The purpose of this discussion is to answer that question by presenting a summary of arguments against the SBH (squid boat hypothesis). This is done by showing where it conflicts with the testimonial and optical (film) data. This paper is a greatly shortened version of the complete film and testimony analysis that I carried out between January 1979 and October, 1982
The reader may well wonder why a SB would even be considered as a possible explanation. The answer is that we know from the color movie film made that night that the light source was very bright. It just so happens that a squid boat is also very bright. A squid boat could carry several hundred thousand watts of incandescent light (up to 20, 10,000 watt bulbs for example) which are used to lure squid up to the surface where they can be netted at night.
NOTE: A photo (35 mm color slide) of a group of squid boats, taken at a distance of about 30 nm (56 km), shows roundish images. SBs tend to fish in pairs to concentrate their light. (Even when in large groups they pair off.) Hence for a single boat to be fishing alone would not be a typical mode of operation. If there were one, then there should have been two boats in the Pegasus Bay.
Figure 1 shows the track of the aircraft as if flew from Christchurch and sighting directions to the bright object as well as a number of suggested locations for the HSB. The plane flew to about 39 nm from Christchurch and then turned to the right. The magnitude of the turn is based on the immediate recollections of the pilot that he turned the plane 92 degrees before he stopped turning in an effort to put the object "on the nose" of the aircraft (see below). (He subsequently turned left to regain the original flight direction.) Note: it is important to know that the captain specifically recalled the flight direction when he stopped the right turn: 125 deg (magnetic). Before the turn the plane had been traveling along the 033 deg (magnetic) radial out of Christchurch. The turn was thus 125 - 33 = 92 degrees (probably accurate to within a degree). The captain told me that he was surprised to discover that he had turned that far while trying to get the light "on the nose" of the aircraft. The first documentation of the turn angle is in an article about the sightings published in the Melbourne (Australia) SUN newspaper (January 2, 1979) in which the captain is quoted as saying that the plane turned 90 degrees. Nine days after the sighting I spoke to the captain by phone (from the United States). At that time he told me that he turned from 033 to 125 deg magnetic. This testimony by the captain shows that the 120 deg turn angle used by Ireland and Andrews (see the map in the second Letter to Applied Optics above), and later by Klass, is clearly wrong.
It is important to notice that the reasons presented to this point show that there is no independent evidence for a squid boat. That is, there is no evidence that is independent of the visual sighting and film. But, as will be shown below, the sighting and film are not consistent with a squid boat at a fixed location in the Pegasus Bay.
It is well known that a very distant light source can appear to pace an observer who is traveling in a straight line (e.g., Venus has been reported to "pace" cars and airplanes in various "UFO" sightings). However, for the suggested S.B. positions in Figure 1 it should have become apparent to the crew, at least, if not to the passengers, that the plane was first approaching and then flying past the light source. That is, they should have noticed that the azimuth angle was continually increasing, with respect to zero degrees azimuth being straight ahead of the plane. In fact, to the witnesses it appeared that the azimuth remained about constant for a while at about 30 degrees to the right (1 o'clock position) and then rotated to about 90 degrees to the right (3 o'clock position) and then stayed about constant for a while before the plane turned to the right. This is in contrast to what would have happened if the light had come from a HSB that had been at the suggested locations indicated on the map by "Ireland and Andrews", "Maccabee Position 1" and "Maccabee Position 2" in Figure 1. The plane would have flown past these positions before turning right and the azimuth angle would have increased considerably beyond 90 degrees. Hence, if it had been a SB it seems unlikely that the crew would have thought that the object was pacing the plane and so these locations are rejected by this analysis.
The captain turned the radar from standby to mapping mode shortly after the light was first seen. There was a large radar target at 18 nm and about 35 degrees to the right of straight ahead (approximately at the 1:00 o'clock angle). As nearly as could be determined by the captain and copilot, the radar target was in the same direction as the bright light. According to the captain, the radar target moved radially inward at constant azimuth, which implies that the radar target was traveling along with the airplane but also getting closer. The light also seemed to pace the aircraft and get brighter. Then, after reaching a distance of about 10 nm from the airplane, it moved off the screen at the right side at 60 deg azimuth (2:00 o'clock) at the limit of the sweep of the radar. This all occurred during the roughly 10 minutes after the light and radar target were first seen. The captain and copilot agree that the size of the radar target "blip" on the radar screen was several times larger than one would get if the target were a large boat. The captain carried out some experiments later on to find out how squid boats appear on radar. He reported that they made small "blips", noticeably smaller than the blip made by the unknown radar target. It seems likely that the radar target was the unknown light/object.
At the left side is one of the NZ film images. The film was color reversal type, rated at ASA400 (ISO 400). The zoom camera lens was set at 240 mm focal length and at f/4. (Crockett had changed from the original 100 mm lens.) The film exposure time (10 frames/sec, 0.044 shutter efficiency) was about 1/23 sec. The lens was close to but not perfectly at focus when this image was obtained and so the shape of the image is somewhat distorted and the image is larger than it would have been at perfect focus. However, the exact shape is not important for this present discussion. Note that it is an extremely bright image (overexposed; slightly yellowish in the original film) and is silhouetted against the perfectly black background. There is no film exposure, i.e., no image, at any location in the frame that is outside the boundary of the bright image.
To the right of the movie film image is an image obtained under optically comparable conditions with a 35 mm camera. The film was ISO200 Ektachrome and the 200 mm focal length lens was operated at f/3.5. The shutter time was 1/8 sec. This photo was taken from the same (or an identical) aircraft at the same altitude and at a distance of about 10 nm (as determined by airplane radar) from a bright light source which just "happened" to be a Squid Boat! (This is one of a series of photos obtained as an experiment to see what SB images would look like.)
It is not difficult to see the difference in the two images. Of particular interest is the reddish glow that extends downward below the image of the SB. This is the reflection from the water (and perhaps scattering from small particles under the surface). (The reflection appears reddish even though the SB lights are white because of a color shift due to the low brightness level of the reflected light that appears below the bright main image of the boat. For comparison, two other photos were taken of the SB at the same time, with the shutter times being 1/15 and 1/30 of a second, thereby creating lower exposure levels. In these photos the image of the water reflection is not as bright and does not extend downward as much, but it is clearly present in these photos as well. (Note: the film exposure of ISO400 with a shutter time of 1/20 sec would be about the same as for ISO200 at 1/8 sec. When the 35 mm camera shutter times were 1/15 and 1/30 sec the exposures were about 2/3 and 1/3 of the exposure of the NZ film.) The comparison photos show that if the unidentified light had been a squid boat there would have been at least some evidence of the water reflection in the movie film images. I have searched the NZ film diligently for any evidence of a reflection in the water. There is none.
19The second reporter (Grant) specifically remembered seeing a reflection in the water! Not only that, but the captain was quoted in a NZ newspaper story, dated Jan 1, 1979, as saying that the light was reflected in the sea. Does this testimony conflict with the statements above that there was no reflection? No, there is no conflict. The reflection noted by these witnesses was at a considerable angular distance BELOW the bright light. That is, there was a large dark gap between the bright light and its reflection in the water below. This is unlike the SB reflection which begins only a few feet below bright SB lights (the reflection begins where the side of the boat enters the water, or close to that location). Recalling the situation during an interview about five weeks later, reporter Grant said he recalled a noticeable depression angle to the light source (say, 20-30 degrees relative to horizontal) and a further depression angle (perhaps 20 deg) between the main source and its reflection. That is, the reflection appeared at a considerable depression angle (maybe 40-50 degrees) relative to horizontal. (The angles are based on his recollection of how far down he had to look to see the bright light and its reflection.) These angles are not intended to be exact but they do indicate a very noticable angle, several degrees at least, between the depression angle to the unknown light and the depression angle to its reflection. The reflection was described as elliptical and "shimmering" , or "fuzzy", as one might expect from a light shining down on sea waves. He described the object itself as definitely round and noticeably above the reflection. Considering that the film shows no reflection at all in either the 100 mm focal length images or the 240 mm focal length images, how can it be that the witnesses saw a reflection? There could have been a reflection which did not appear in the film if (a) the reflection was far enough below the bright light to lie outside the field of view of the camera or (b) the reflection was too dim to make an image. Unfortunately, there is no way to be certain from the available data whether or not a reflection that was only a few degrees below the bright light would have been bright enough to make an image. I would hazard a guess that a several percent reflection from the water surface would be enough to make a very faint image if there were only a couple of degrees between the light and its reflection. If my guess is correct the absence of a reflection image would mean that the reflection was more than, say, 3 degrees below the bright light! (NOTE: this does not pertain to the reflection from water immediately adjacent to an SB. Clearly that reflection, the "beard" that "hangs" below the SB image, is bright enough to record on film.) An angular separation of several degrees between the light source and its reflection could only have occurred if the light source were considerably above the ocean surface. Consider that a 3 degree angle at a distance of 10 nm corresponds to about 3,000 ft. This is rather high altitude for a typical squid boat to be fishing from, don't you think? Unless, of course, it was a rare type: a Flying Squid Boat. (Well, you've heard of the Flying Dutchman.... why not the Flying Squid Boat?)
There you have it: 19 reasons it wasn't a squid boat. All you needed is one!
Sometime in the time period 1975-77 a Florida entymologist, Dr. Philip Callahan, read Dr. Frank Salisbury's book, THE UTAH UFO DISPLAY: A BIOLOGISTS REPORT (Devin, Old Greenwich CT, 1974). After thinking about the problem of identifying the UFO sightings reported therein, and, being an entymologyst, he began to think about "bugs." He wrote: "As the senior author was reading the narrative of night sightings of the Utah UFOs, it occurred to him that the descriptions which Salisbury recorded were quite similar to the descriptions of swarms of day-flying insects." After reproducing several short summaries of nighttime sightings reported in Salisbury's book, Callahan wrote: "The similarity between these descriptions and the sound and flight antics of swarms of insects is startling." Callahan the proposed the following explanation: "Since the exoskeleton is a dielectric surrounding a conducting medium (the insect body fluid), Saint Elmo's Fire is one very likely possibility." To test his proposed explanation so he did a number of experiments, some of which involved impaling beetles on a high voltage electrode and taking pictures of the corona glow from the antennae and other sharp points of the body. These pictures proved that insects in a very high electric field could "glow" by corona from th sharp points. He then argued that what would happen with an instect on an electrode could happen if an insect flew into the high electric field between an electrified cloud and the ground. He further argued that the dim light of a single insect would be amplified a thousandfold, or more, by the number of insects in the swarm. This proposal is what I have named the "Buggy UFO Hypothesis" (BUFOH). Callahan and Mankin submitted their paper to Applied Optics, a scientific journal of the optics/lasers/imaging systems/ etc. trade. The paper was submitted in December, 1977. I suspect that it would NOT have been published except for the fact that it argued that the "optics of insects" could solve at least part of the UFO mystery. As it was, the paper had to wait nearly a year before its publication in the November 1, 1978 issue of applied optics (Vol. 17, #21, Pg 3355). The article apparently intrigued the editor, John Howard, was impressed with the article because he featured one of Callahan's photographs on the cover with the words "UFO? INSECT?" below the image of shafts of light emanating from a dark, elliptical area (glowing corona streams from a "stink bug" on an electrode at about 2,500 volts). A press release announced the publication as an explanation for the ever-vexing UFO problem and immediately Dr. Callahan was a media celebrity, even appearing on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, who, like other major media news persons, rarely mentioned UFO sightings. But, of course, Walter Cronkite was always willing to publicize explanations for UFOs. (Walter could hardly have imagined that only 2 months later he would devote about last 5 minutes of the CBS Evening News to a discussion of sightings from far away New Zealand! After the short news segment that showed some of the New Zealand film he modified his standard closing statement, "And that's the way it is.." by adding "...or is it?") Within 2 weeks of the publication of the BUFOH I had written my rebuttal and sent it to the editor. I pointed out that many of the sightings had occurred in the winter months between 1965 and 1968 when insects would be dormant. I also disouted his claim that the brightness of a swarm would be simply the number of insects (large) times the brightness of one insect. I disputed this because the insect bodies are opaque so light from one side of the swarm would get absorbed or "blocked" by insects as it travels through the swarm toward the other side. The brightness would increase with the effective surface area of the swarm, but not with the volume. I also thought it unlikely that an insect could fly into a region of sufficiently high electric field without having a thunderstorm nearby, whereas most sightings were not during stormy weather. Several weeks later I got a letter from the Editor. He would not use my letter, at least not yet. He said that to be fair to the subject he was going to wait until all responses were in and then pick the best one. So I was put on hold. In the meantime the famous New Zealand sightings of December 1978 occurred. The fact that a news crew was on board to record the events on an audio tape and on color movie film is yet another interesting aspect ("coincidence") of the sightings because had there been no color movie film there would have been no Applied Optics letters. In October, 1978, Frederich Valentich, a young private pilot, disappeared along with his plane over th Bass Strait south of Melbourne, Australia. His last words with the air traffic control center in Melbourne were tat a strange object was flying over his aircraft. This caused a worldwide media uproar since it seemed that either Frederich had been captured by a UFO or had intentionally "lost" himself, perhaps as a drug runnign scheme, or whatever. The Valentich disappearance was a mystery with UFO overtones. (It is STILL a mystery inthe year 2000!) During the night of December 20-21, freighter aircraft flying off the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand had visual sightings as air traffic controllers reported unidentified radar targets. Ground personnel at Blenheim airfield also saw lights doing strange things in the sky. The sightings were big news the next day. About 8 days later a producer TV station in Melbourne, Channel 0, decided to do a short documentary segment on those sightings because they knew that their stories on the Valentich disappearance and UFOs in general had increased their audience. It just so happened that one of their experienced TV reporters, Quentin Fogary, was in New Zealand for vacation. They called him and asked him to do some interviews and put together a short, 5 minute segment on the previous sightings. He therefore hired a cameraman and did the interviews with the radar controllers and pilots on the previous sightings, and then he went "beyond the call of duty:" he arranged to take a trip on one of the freighter aircraft to provide background footage and so that he could (and did) say in a short "stand up," that he was flying along the same route and that he would keep his eyes open for any UFOs that might appear. So that is how there happened to be a news crew on board the freighter aircraft and how there happened to be a color movie, portions of which were shown around the world in early January, 1979. How I happened to get involved in the New Zealand sighting investigation is yet another story, but the point of interest here is that by the middle of January I was deeply involved in the investigation and the BUFOH was far from my mind. The investigation did include a trip to New Zealand and Australia to interview the witnesses. By the middle of March I had concluded that at least some of the lights reported during the December 31 sightings could not be explained . (I appeared on Good Morning America with J. Allen Hynek and several of the New Zealand witnesses to report on the results of my investigation. This was on March 26, 1979, same day as the signing of the Camp David Peace Accords by Israel and Egypt!) I therefore wrote a report on one portion of the NZ sightings and sent it to NATURE. I assumed that because the NZ sightings had gotten such wide publicity at the time, the fact that numerous scientists had offered their explanations (including Sir Bernard Lovell of Jodrell Bank Radio Observatory who had suggested they saw meteors.... a totally impossible explanation), and the fact that NATURE had reported some of the initial incorrect explanations for the NZ sightings, that NATURE would like an opportunity to correct previous errors by publishing some some real data on the sightings. (I was wrong!) In the middle of March I received a letter from the Applied Optics editor. He wrote that there had been no other responses so he thought that some version of my letter could be a rebuttal. I would have to rewrite it, to make it shorter. I was pleased but was totally immersed in the NZ investigation so I put aside rewriting my BUFOH rebuttal. Besides, I was more interested in whether or not NATURE would publish the NZ article. I was not to surprised when I received a rejection notice from NATURE in early May. The editor, who had seen fit to publish the news wire versions of the NZ sightings shortly after they happened, wrote that my paper should be part of a "larger survey that is presumably being conducted." (code words for "get lost!"). Now a clever plot hatched in my mind. Suppose I made use of an unintended "bait and switch?" My rebuttal to the BUFOH would be rather "mundane" not directed toward a specific UFO sighting and not necessarily right for an optics journal. But I had written a paper for NATURE which made use of optics, photography, etc. to calculate the brightness of one of the lights seen off the coast of NZ. I thouht that perhaps I could interest the Applied Optics Editor in this, instead. In early May, 1979, I rewrote the NATURE article to be more in line with the Applied Optics "Letter to the Editor" format. I sent it along with a cover letter saying that, although this did not respond directly to the BUFOH, it nevertheless "...contains some physical data about an unusual light source and, since the data are primarily of an optical nature, the article is suited to your journal." I was worried that he would reject the letter because it did not directly address the BUFOH article. Instead, I simply listed "glowing insect swarms" as one of many explanations that had been rejected, even though no one had suggested that glowing insect swarms had caused the sighting. I was even more worried about rejection because of my claim in the letter that the light source had not been identified (in the context of the NZ sightings, "not identified" was a "code word" for UFO!!!) To my surprise and delight his response was positive and my letter was published. It was the first, and so far as I know, to date, the only, in-depth technical discussion of a specific UFO sighting to appear in a mainstream, refereed technical journal. Several months after my letter was published I was surprised to receive from the editor a preprint of an article by two scientists in New Zealand who had written a rebuttal to my paper. I was offered the opportunity to respond to their rebuttal. Their article was published in December, 1979 and my response was supposed to be published immediately following their letter. However, my response ran into a few "minor difficulties." One of the senior officers of the Optical Society of America had not appreciated the publication of my letter and had welcomed the letter by Ireland and Andrews. This senior official criticized the editor for publishing my letter and then advised the editor to reject my rebuttal. The discussion would have ended there if it weren't for the fact that I could claim Ireland and Andrews were wrong and I could "prove" it. I enlisted the help of a well respected physicist who was an acquaintance of the senior officer and he managed to pursuade the officier and the editor to publish my rebuttal. You will note that at the end of my rebttal letter the editor included a statment that closed the discussion. And that's how three letters providing a technical discussion of a single UFO sighting happened to appear in Applied Optics. I am certain that they wouldn't have appeared if it hadn't been for Salibury's book inspiring the entymologists to write the "buggy" paper because (a) I never would have thought to submit a UFO article to Applied Optics (AO had no history of involvement with ufology) and (b) if had submitted such a paper, I'm sure the hint of "unidentified" would have resulted in immediate rejection by the editor who referred to "ufo believers" as "99 and 44/100ths percent kooks."
FOOTNOTE HOW THE APPLIED OPTICS ARTICLES HAPPENED TO HAPPEN!