Like a lot of UFO researchers I have my own list of “best cases.” The magazine “Fortean Times” got me to share part
of that list back in 2007 for their “60 years of UFOs” special issue. From a rough short list of about 100 cases I
developed my “top 10 best cases” from the Australian region. I periodically revisit that list reviewing
each case but it remains the same today.
Here is my list with the reasons for each case being chosen in brackets:
1. 1954, August 31 – Sea Fury case, near
Goulbourn, NSW, Australia (experienced naval pilot, radar visual
confirmation, independent ground witnesses, apparent intelligent responses to
witnesses’ thoughts about possible collision)
2. 1992, July 23 – Peter Khoury “Hair of
Alien” DNA case – Sydney, Australia (abduction type encounter with female
Nordic blonde yields anomalous hair sample that suggests “hybrid origin” and
unusual genetic profiles)
3. 1959, June 27 – Father Gill UFO entity
sighting - Boianai, Papua New Guinea (credible multiple witness sighting of
animate entities on UFO with intelligent interactions)
4. 1980, September 30 – George
Blackwell’s Rosedale UFO landing physical trace case – Rosedale, Victoria
Australia (compelling array of physical evidence – ground trace, missing
water, effects on witness, other witness)
5. 1993, August 8 – Kelly Cahill’s
abduction experience – Narre Warren North, Victoria, Australia (possible
independent multiple witness UFO encounter with abduction dimensions and
6. 1966, January 19 – George Pedley’s
Tully UFO nest encounter – Tully, Queensland, Australia (daylight close
encounter with UFO take off leaving physical evidence – “UFO nest”)
7. 1966, April 4 – Ron Sullivan’s “bent
headlight beam” experience – Burkes Flat, Victoria Australia (striking UFO
encounter, physical traces, bent light beams, possible related fatality)
8. 1966, April 6 – Westall school
daylight UFO “landing” encounter – Westall, Victoria, Australia (multiple
witness daylight landing, physical traces, “cover-up” dimensions)
9. 1977-78 – Gisborne UFO abduction
milieu – Gisborne New Zealand (complex and high strangeness UFO and
abduction milieu – entities, multiple witnesses, multiple abductions)
10. 1973 May – August – Tyringham
Dundurrabin intense UFO flap area, NSW, Australia (long term intense UFO
flap, multiple witness, physical effects, paranormal dimensions)
In each case I have undertaken a lot of research and investigations that
substantiates for me the reason why I regard them as impressive cases. Likewise
I regularly review many of the other cases in my original rough short list of
about 100 cases and others that have entered the fold to see if I should modify
my list. While many of these cases could
easily qualify for inclusion my list remains the same as it was in 2007.
The following news story might make you think that I should reconsider
the 1966 Westall school case as part of my top 10 list. I’ll explain why I won’t be doing that based
on my current assessment of the evidence, in spite of what is being called the
HIBAL explanation for Westall.
Melbourne Herald Sun journalist Mark Dunn wrote the story
was published on-line on 6 August 2014 with the headline “Westall ‘UFO’ incident was actuallygovernment radiation testing, reports reveal.”
A shorter version of the story appear in
the hard copy of the paper the following day with the headline “UFO all hot air
– “Westall” was a balloon.”
There is no
evidence of any original research by the journalist and it is based entirely on
research done by long time researcher Keith Basterfield. Some things may have been lost in
translation and I have therefore inserted a few comments in italics/brackets
within my quoting of the article. You
can go to Keith’s web site for further details:
and search for his HIBAL entries.
almost 50-year-old mystery when more than 200 people believed they had a close
encounter with a UFO landing in Clayton may have finally been solved after
newly-unearthed government documents revealed a secret radiation-testing
HIBAL programme was not conducted in secret at the time of the Westall
incident. HIBAL was being openly
reported in newspapers from at least 1965 and beyond 1966)
federal and state government agencies refused to comment about the 1966
‘Westall’ incident at the time, it is now believed that, rather than a UFO,
what landed was an errant high altitude balloon used to monitor radiation
levels after the controversial Maralinga nuclear tests.
HIBAL program was a joint US-Australian initiative to monitor atmospheric
radiation levels using large silver balloons equipped with sensors between 1960
held by the National Archives and former Department of Supply indicate one test
balloon launched from Mildura may have been blown off course and came down in
Clayton South in a paddock near Westall High School, alarming and baffling
hundreds of eyewitnesses, including teachers and students.
official documents have been found as of the beginning of August 2014 that
refer to any HIBAL launch being the explanation for the events at Westall in
April 1966. No documents have been found
that even confirm that the scheduled 5 April 1966 launch took place.)
hovering over the area, it landed at an area known as The Grange, behind a
grove of pine trees, before taking off again and being pursued by several light
aircraft in a sighting which lasted 20 minutes from 11am on April 6, 1966.
event has ever since been shrouded in mystery.
researcher Keith Basterfield, who has spent years investigating unexplained
phenomenon in Australia, said a “runaway” balloon from the HIBAL (high altitude
balloon) project was the likely answer.
test balloon lifted a 180kg payload consisting of an air sampling and telemetry
unit in a gondola and was followed by a light aircraft tasked with tracking it
and triggering its 12mtr parachute via radio signal.
after the Westall “UFO” sighting, reports emerged of Government men in suits
converging on the area and asking school officials and other witnesses to not
talk about the event.
contemporary witness reported these “suits” stated what the students saw was
part of a secret government exercise and that for national security reasons
they were forbidden from discussing it.
hypothesis is that the incident involved not a UFO, but a high altitude
balloon, it’s parachute and large payload,” Mr Basterfield said.
research paper completed this year, Mr Basterfield said a close review of all
available documentation, including that searched through Freedom of Information
laws, pointed to HIBAL flight number 292 as the real culprit.
Westall object was described as being a white/silver colour which could
describe the colour of an HIBAL balloon or parachute.”
witness account prior to the Westall sighting stated a flying object — trailing
what appeared to be a long vacuum-like hose — was seen by a couple, whose
surname was Frankie, near Smith’s Gully 40km north of Clayton South.
balloons were filled with gas through a thin tube which went to the top of the
balloon and was left in place during the balloon flight,” Mr Basterfield said.
said uncovered documents had also highlighted government concern about the
potential damage if a heavy test balloon came down in a suburban area.
Department of External Affairs files on HIBAL reveal there was considerable
discussion on possible damage to property or personnel by a HIBAL balloon,” Mr
despite government archival records showing the results of numerous HIBAL test
flights, the paperwork for the launches scheduled for the day before Westall
appear to have been lost or destroyed.
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.
we have no (official) knowledge of where flight 292 went.””
more probable answer that does not require conspiratorial inferences for the
absence of documentation about the scheduled flight 292 is that it may not have
occurred at all. There was a history of
problems and cancelled flights, with the US connections even requesting that
missed flights need not be made up for.)
A document in the Australian HIBAL files
may actually point towards the fact that no dramatic HIBAL related touchdown
occurred at Westall on 6 April 1966. The Australian
Prime Minister’s Secretary in a memo to the Secretary of the Department of
Supply dated 6 May 1966 (that is only one month after the Westall incident) indicated, “The indemnity clause was inserted in the HIBAL agreement because of
the real risk of injury from descending instrument packages.” However it
tellingly does not refer to any HIBAL event of “descending instrument packages”
coming down in populated areas let alone suburban Melbourne. Secretary Bunting for the Prime Minister
ended his memo with the following: “It
may well be that the risks have been proved by operating experience to be
negligible, or the provisions in Article VIII of the Agency Agreement are
adequate. However, this aspect should be
examined most carefully.” The
absence of any reference to a HIBAL fall or crash leading to frightened school
children and possible high risk of damage or injury to people and
infrastructure in Westall – suburban Melbourne of all things – seems to me
pretty telling and a powerful argument that a HIBAL event does not explained
The May 1966 Prime Minister's secretary letter re
HIBAL risks that give no support to
a HIBAL explanation for the Westall incident a month earlier.
The Prime Minister's secretary letter of 6
May 1966 is located in the Department of Defence file (originally classified
Secret) "Stratosphere Monitoring for Radioactivity (ASHCAN) (HIBAL)"
accessible digitally at the National Archives of Australia due to Keith
Basterfield’s diligent research work (See NAA: A6456, R190/017). Given the original SECRET classification of
the file the absence of any reference to HIBAL initiated hazard or security
concerns related to Westall during April 1966 suggests strongly that no such
incident occurred. A number witnesses of the Westall incident report a heavy
hand of what seemed like officially mediated coverup. If it was at all HIBAL related matter the
Defence file would have contained references to it or at the very least an
escalation in the security and liability fallout. Instead what is seen is a dense bureaucratic
dialogue being slowly resolved to permit the HIBAL programme to continue with
continual references to minimal risks.
No references to a crisis at Westall caused by a messy HIBAL containment
and retrieval suggest a logical conclusion: There was no HIBAL event at Westall
on 6 April 1966.
Examining the HIBAL
Westall hypothesis is a worthwhile exercise, however careful consideration of context,
detail and evidence should inform the debate. Keith Basterfield’s research certainly told
me a lot about the HIBAL project, but it confirmed for me, on the current
information, that it may provide intriguing information about high altitude“UFO” sightings
, but nothing about the Westall incident being caused by a HIBAL
flight gone wrong.
A scenario like the
HIBAL hypothesis might take flight if you ignore or reject a lot of impressive
eyewitness testimony or only utilise suggestive fragments of the fuller story
rather than consider the general convergence or coherency of much of the
Westall testimony, some of it revealed in 1966 and 1967, and much more since
then, particularly in the last decade, primarily through Canberra researcher
Shane Ryan’s focus of the Westall story.
Ken McCracken was
involved in HIBAL as a scientist from Adelaide University from at least 1965 to
1968. In his memoir "Blast Off -
Scientific adventures at the Dawn of the Space Age" (2008) Professor
McCracken wrote a chapter entitled "Little
Green Men and other Weird Tales" where he tells of "the most famous occasion"
when flying saucers or UFOs factored into his scientific adventures. It was a
HIBAL launch and it wasn't Westall in 1966. In fact it was 1968 and Sydney was involved.
This was only about sightings of a high level HIBAL balloon gone astray,
certainly not the result of a low level sighting of HIBAL.
The Sunraysia Daily from Mildura with a 1965 story
including a picture of Professor Ken McCracken on the right.
My point - if the
events described at Westall in April 1966, even if we limit it to evidence
gathered in 1966 and 1967, were due to a HIBAL balloon, payload or parachute
(or variations of those combinations) we would have had a spectacular example
of misinterpretation and hysterical contagion, that would have far outstripped
the 1968 Sydney event as a contender for "the most famous occasion"
of HIBAL "flying saucer" fallout.
The fact that Ken McCracken
cites a high altitude HIBAL event as an example of HIBAL creating flying saucer
hysteria is particularly telling, because I suggest that a low level HIBAL
event, while possibly creating some hysteria, would have been obviously
identifiable, not as a UFO but as an obvious IFO - identified then and not a
big deal, other than containing it from causing injury, damage and retrieving
the payload and its attachments. Photos of HIBAL parachute/payload
configurations about to touch down make it pretty obvious that at low level people
would easily confirm a parachute and payload.
(left) HIBAL ascending (right) HIBAL at high altitude, looking rather "flying saucer" like - the stuff of Ken McCracken's "most famous occasion" that HIBAL spawned "flying saucer" sightings
(below) HIBAL in "close encounter"landing phase, looking decidely "parachute/payload" like
- a poor inspiration for a striking UFO close encounter
(images: 1976 NRC document "The Use of Balloons
for physics & astronomy")
What a HIBAL ground mishap might have looked like
- Melbourne Sun 13 April 1961 - rather non-UFO like?
Mind you the alternative, parachute and payload
(the bottom half) is even less inspiring as a UFO imitator.
The suggestion, for
example, that Westall school student Joy Tighe’s 1966 description of 2 separate
circular UFOs (shaped like “upright domes”) “flying in varying directions”
“faster than some light aircraft in vicinity” then turning on edge and
disappearing fast, recorded on a Victorian Flying Saucer Research Society
report form in 1966, supports a sighting of a parachute connected to a heavy payload,
weighing up to 200 kg seems like an incredible force-fit to me. Even with some wind about it is a big stretch
to suggest that winds were causing a HIBAL parachute and payload to come down
low then go in varying directions, at times faster than light aircraft in the
area, then turn and disappear fast.
That’s a pretty impressive performance for a balloon and payload at low
altitude. In this forced scenario it would be a wonder that the school children
and teachers would be able to stand upright in the wind conditions needed to
keep the balloon/payload up in the air, defying the forces of gravity, and
gyrating around the sky low over Westall school, and still at times fly faster
than light aircraft despite being at a low altitude.
I was able to do a
video interview with Joy (Tighe) Clarke at the 2006 Westall reunion event. I found her to be a compelling witness. I also videoed her 2006 drawing of the UFOs
she saw. I was left with the same
general impression with all the Westall witnesses I met at the reunion. They told their stories of their
recollections and didn’t seem to be embellishing their narratives.
Joy and Jeff at the 2006 Westall '66 reunion.
Jeff was the author of the student account
in the Westall High school magazine.
Joys 2006 drawing of what she recollects seeing at Westall in 1966
(photos: Bill Chalker)
Sure, there are
problems with testimony gathered decades after an event, but I was impressed
with the general coherency and consistency of the individual stories I heard. Collectively they appeared to support an
event that goes way beyond what a HIBAL incursion might have generated.
Given that I had a
long time focus on physical trace (UFO landing) accounts I was pleased to be
able to eventually interview Victor Zakry who described
witnessing, as a Westall school student, 2 identical objects, like Joy did, but
strikingly initially at ground level, that were connected directly with ground
traces. The reports of ground traces did
not get the careful attention they deserved at the time. There are accounts of clandestine attention,
but nothing has surfaced, other than witness descriptions and a Victorian
Flying Saucer Research Society photo of a grassed area suggestive of a trace,
but also may have been due to prosaic factors.
We just don’t have certainty in that area, but there are plenty of
On 5 July 2008 I was able to undertake an
on site detailed investigation and interview at Westall in Melbourne with
Victor Zakry. I videoed the interview
and got him to do a rough layout map of the events he witnessed. His account was consistent with a number of
interviews he had given to others and to me.
Victor Zakry with his rough on site sketches
during our 2008 meeting at Westall
(Photo: Bill Chalker)
Victor indicated he was able to walk up
close to one of the objects, while 3 other students stood around in close
proximity to the other object. A teacher and at least a dozen other students
crowded along the high fence to get a view. Victor contemplated touching the
object but thought better of it. The two
objects suddenly rose up from the grass and took off, one to the west, the
other flew up and orbited a small plane before flying down to the south west
Grange reserve area, with students in pursuit.
The UFOs were described as about 1.5 metres in height and approximately
5.4 metres in width. They left behind two circles of burnt grass.
Victor went home for lunch straight after
this extraordinary experience which swept up much of the rest of his school. This
initially to me seemed a strange thing to do given the unfolding events, but he
explained that at the time he felt he didn’t
need to see any more that day (6 April 1966) because he had seen the exact same
object a few years earlier. He was
trying to take a wooden pallet from a factory site near the Westall Grange area
during the early hours of the morning. His escapade was interrupted when a UFO
flew over. It was the same looking object he would see during daylight at
Westall in 1966 along with many in his school, but it was flying on edge – an
appearance captured in the polaroid photo taken at the nearby suburb of Balwyn only
4 days before the Westall incident. There were other similar encounters during
this period of the 1960s in the area around Westall and neighbouring isolated
suburbs of Melbourne, which in those days was the outer edge of the city.
Pockets of this area still have something of an isolated, almost country, feel
The Balwyn UFO - 2 April 1966
(Photo: courtesy of the witness)
Victor also impressed
me as a compelling witness giving consistent testimony. While like Joy, he spoke of seeing 2 objects,
Victor saw them at ground level and then watched them take off and go off in
different directions. Like Joy he
described one of them flying faster than a light plane. Indeed he described it as orbiting the plane,
then taking off and apparently heading down to the Grange area.
Victor later told me
that he had a meeting with the school headmaster, who encouraged him not to
talk of the event because it might hurt his future chances of a career in
art. The headmaster gave him that advice
because he himself had witnessed something similar during the war and he had
experienced the pressure of being told not to talk about such things. Victor followed the headmaster’s advice, but
with the growing tide of witnesses coming forward since 2006 he now felt more
comfortable with reporting his own experience.
His artistic abilities also provided us with some striking drawings of
the objects he saw.
Victor Zakry's drawings of the UFO
he had an extremely close encounter with
His drawings and our
site interview and reconstruction of the scene allowed me to generate a
“forensic” style drawing of his experience.
My "forensic" drawing of Victor Zakry's recollection
of his 1966 Westall UFO encounter,
based on our onsite reconstruction during 2008
(drawing: Bill Chalker)
While Victor’s story
has only been revealed recently he still impressed me as a witness telling a
I don’t think the
evidence that witnesses like Victor share with us, should be diminished simply
because they were described decades after the original event. Instead, when
they are told with apparent compelling conviction of witnesses like Victor and
Joy, we should accept them for what they seemed to be – genuine attempts at recollections
of past events - and try to see how they fit into the daunting jig-saw puzzle
that the large body of testimony of Westall ’66 testimony represents. There is a measure of coherency but many
aspects remain confusing.
It’s the kind of
situation that fits in with Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s
“black swan” concept. I wrote about this
perspective back in 2009. Its an
interesting way of looking at things.
“I am interested in how to live in a world
we don’t understand very well –in other words, while most human thought
(particularly since the enlightenment) has focused us on how to turn knowledge
into decisions, I am interested in how to turn lack of information, lack of
understanding, and lack of “knowledge” into decisions –how not to be a “turkey”. My
last book The Black Swan drew a map of
what we don’t understand; my current work
focuses on how to domesticate the unknown,” writes Taleb.
It could also be used to help understand
and address the UFO mystery. The UFO
mystery we know so little about and have so little control over, is like one of
Taleb “Black Swans”, a thing that “lies outside the realm of regular
expectations”, “it carries an extreme impact” and “human nature makes us
concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable
and predictable.” These are key attributes of Taleb’s “black swans”, events of
rarity, extreme impact, and retrospective predictability.
It is with the third attribute that
mainstream science and media have let us down. They tried to explain the whole
phenomenon away, but it is exactly the phenomenon’s ability to remain highly
improbable to mainstream perceptions, but to have high impact in incredibly
mysterious and profound ways, which should guide us. We have to learn to
“expect the unexpected” and learn to understand it and learn from it.
The HIBAL parachute/payload
combination seems an unlikely explanation for the events at Westall in April
1966. There is no clear documented evidence
of one coming down in the Melbourne on 6 April 1966 to date.
There is sufficient
counter evidence (the Prime Minister’s Secretary memo of May 1966 and a key
scientist involved in the HIBAL programme both before and after April 1966 not
citing the Westall event as "the
most famous occasion" of HIBAL "flying saucer" fallout) to conclude
that the HIBAL explanation is a non-starter.
testimony gathered over decades powerfully argues that the Westall incident may
well be a legitimate UFO mystery.
Back in 1996 I concluded in my account of
the events in my book "The OZ Files - the Australian UFO Story": "There is little doubt that something
of an extraordinary nature was seen over the Westall school area and that at
least one (UFO) appears to have landed and apparently left behind some physical
traces. Numerous witnesses confirm these basic details. Other more exotic
details vary in credibility ..."
DVDs of the excellent documentary
"Westall '66 - a suburban UFO mystery"
(Rosie Jones (director) & Carmel McAloon (producer))
Skeptical and debunking players may
uncritically embrace a HIBAL explanation for the Westall mystery but the
impressive nature of much of the Westall testimony deserves far better. I don’t think the answer for Westall ’66 is
blowing in the wind. I suspect it may be
providing us with an extraordinary insight into the impact and nature of the
UFO mystery if we have the skills, determination and insights to go beyond the
curtains of the UFO theatre and reveal the real UFO mystery being played out in
our little place in the cosmos.
Thank you to all the Westall witnesses who
have had the courage and interest to share their experiences and recollections.
Thanks also to all the researchers,
investigators and people, trying to understand the mystery. It all helps stir this fascinating melting
pot that is the UFO mystery and might yield great insights.
Reseachers Shane Ryan, George Simpson & Bill Chalker
in Westall for the 2006 reunion