The famous 1953 Drury film story
(The imagery included is from a powerpoint presentation I gave in 2005 - copyright B. Chalker)
The daylight filming of a UFO over Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (an Australian territory at the time), during 1953, became a milestone case for civilian researchers, with its official investigation and disposition engendering an enduring controversy about whether it represented evidence for a bona fide UFO, for an official cover-up or a complex milieu more indicative mishandling, misrepresentation or misinterpretation.
Interview with Tom Drury
I interviewed Tom Drury on March 3rd, 1982. He told me, “The thing I saw and actually filmed would have been the same as what you see going off the launching pads today. A lot of the newspapers at the time said it was, you know, a flying saucer and all sorts of garbage. It was not. You could see it quite clearly to the naked eye, but I had a turret-headed movie camera. I put the telescopic lens on it, and the shots came out beautifully . I handed that over to ASIO the very next morning, the film. ASIO then dispatched it via their headquarters. I think Kodak dealt with it, couldn’t get stills off it, because it was only pin-pointed. I think an article I read . Bill McMahon in a newspaper . gave a run down on my experience. He said I was to be congratulated as having see it, because they had eventually either through the RAAF and the United States Air Force taken black and white stills from the 8 mm colour movie of an object of unknown origin. But what it actually was, without any shadow of a doubt was a long silver cylindrical shaped pointed thing, that was completely noiseless, which staggered me. It made no noise and left a clear cut vapour trail, whoosh, going upwards, thousands of miles an hour, at an angle of about 45 degrees, I think I mentioned at the time, traveling roughly in a north westerly direction.”
Tom Drury indicated it was seen in a clear blue sky, but clarified that “it was making its own, as though it was orbiting, in a short distance, orbiting and generating its own cloud. Now whether that was sort of a thrust or atmospheric conditions, it was a very humid climate in Moresby of course, and it generated its own cloud I don’t know. The cloud was growing rapidly, the only one cloud in the sky, and it was growing much more rapidly than any of these natural clouds. I had been there for 10 years so I new a bit about it, the weather conditions up there.”
“Out of the corner of this thing, out of the corner of this cloud, up until then I hadn’t realized anything was there, just a cloud growing abnormally quickly by itself for no reason. Then out of the corner of this thing shot this silver dart. It appeared to me to be traveling at several thousand miles per hour. In those days I had seen Sabres and the like traveling very fast through the sound barrier, and I thought it was a hell of a lot faster than any Sabre that I had seen, but it was going upwards at an angle, but no noise, leaving a clear cut vapour trail behind it.”
“It moved in a dead straight line traveling towards the north west up at an angle of 45 degrees and didn’t deviate. It just disappeared .”
Tom confirmed to me that he got back a print of the film with a substantial amount of it missing. He said, “The film, in order to get the black and white stills from what I captured, the film I understand had to go through some special processing that left me bugger all of it.”
I asked Tom, “Did you ever actually see the full movie itself?”
“No, no, because it was an unprocessed movie. There was no way then of processing a colour movie film in New Guinea. It had to go to Kodak, I think in Melbourne . The story given to me by ASIO was that the intense processing that it took to get the object clear enough to determine what it was, or what sort of object it might have been, actually destroyed any possibility or likelihood of me getting that film back. They virtually had to destroy the film in chemical processing to get black and white stills from it. That’s what ASIO told me.” He also added, “Through a checkup I made not long afterwards through ASIO, I believe there was no military authority in the world at that stage making missiles, yet this thing, there is no doubt in my mind, was what you see going off the launch pad at Cape Canaveral today.”
While it was clear, contrary to Tom’s claimed ASIO briefing recollection, that there were missile tests going on at Woomera during 1953 and 1954, such as the Seaslug and Red Rapier (see appendix) these were clearly not capable of being the source of Drury’s “silver dart”, a point reinforced by the handwritten memo I sighted in DAFI files, which specifically ruled out Woomera as a source. But what of a sea born launch? No evidence to date has been found to support that idea. Land based Woomera launchings of the Seaslug missiles occurred in July, 1953. They were ultimately to be used as a ship launched missile. Pictures of the Woomera launches show a wide “fan” exhaust pattern that Paul Drury, Tom’s son who vividly recollected his observation with his father and mother, described to me during 2000. I showed him some of the missile firings pictures. The Red Rapier missiles were more “dart” like, but these were only launched from the base of Washington bombers over the Woomera site, and hardly had the range to make it over Moresby. While a “missile” looks like a possible candidate from the Drury “silver dart” no credible evidence to date has emerged to identify its origin.
Tom Drury told me in 1982, “In retrospect it looked to me as though it was a missile where something had gone wrong in it, and its planned path wasn’t being achieved. Its orbit would have been in a very tight circle to make this cloud. then it was recovered, flies back out from this cloud as though someone was remotely controlling from there. It wasn’t your general run of rat bag flying saucer story here. It was something deeper than that. I still think today it was a missile of some sort, but by christ it traveled!”
When I told Tom that I had seen in the RAAF files prints (rather negatives) apparently taken from individual frames of the film, he replied, “Well, you’ ve seen more of it than I have.” I told him I would ask DAFI to take copies for him. I did write to them on that basis and I understand Tom did eventually receive the 5 prints that remain - this, after almost 30 years!
Tom Drury also reminisced about some of the treatment he encountered in the wake of the UFO incident. For example the “Drum” column in the South Pacific Post reported that rumour had it he may have seen the flying saucer through the up turned end of an empty rum bottle. Tom demanded an apology from the paper. They said no, it was only meant as a joke, you know. When Minister of Air Bill McMahon’s statements about the incident appeared in a Sydney paper months later reporting that Tom Drury was a reliable, credible observer, an honest citizen, Tom said to the South Pacific Post would you print what Mr. McMahon said about him. They said they would. Drury also said, what about the apology. They said they would apologise in the next edition. They did. They again referred to the original slight re the rum bottle, then indicated they wished to make an outright apology to Mr. Drury, indicating they were quite sure did not see it through the up turned end of an empty rum bottle. They mentioned the rum bottle twice in the apology!
A 1955 RAAF UFO file indicates that DAFI had sold prints of the 1953 UFO pictures “at 4/9 a pop” to civilian researchers. Pioneer researcher Edgar Jarrold (founder and president of Australia’s first civilian “flying saucer” group, based in Sydney, New South Wales) and Fred Stone (an early researcher based in Adelaide, South Australia) were among those who secured copies of these prints.
Edgar Jarrold’s own publication, the Australian Flying Saucer Magazine (Australia’s first “flying saucer” magazine, stated in its February, 1955, issue that “94 prints examined reveal conclusively the existence of a shiny, disc-like object whose behaviour could by no wildest stretching of the imagination be attributed to a bird, balloon, orthodox aircraft, hallucination, piece of windblown paper, natural phenomena, or a meteor. The cloud from which the silvery object ... emerged is distinctly visible. On emerging from it at a right angle with no other clouds apparent in a clear sky, still pictures reveal vivid confirmation of Mr. Drury’s report that an object, looking at first like a tiny brilliant sun, dashed rapidly from the cloud, heading north-west. The object flashed brightly in the sun as it made an abrupt right-angle turn soon after emerging from the dark cloud, zooming straight up with no reduction in speed. Upon reaching a greater altitude, it leveled off again, with another abrupt right-angled turn (Jarrold’s emphasis - B.C.), resuming its northwest flight thereafter until out of camera range altogether.... On effecting such turns, a greater expanse of the object’s upper surface becomes visible, causing it to present a featureless, disc-like appearance, which is in sharp contrast to first glimpses showing an object somewhat blurred in focus, and shaped like a theoretically fast moving, very bright star.”
Jarrold wrote years later (April 1st, 1972) to researcher, Frank Wilkes, “...I was able to view blown up still pictures made from this film before it left Australia due to the American request and am still, I think, the only civilian ever to have seen them. The pictures show what could only be accepted as an extra-terrestrial object, the flight path and behaviour of which, rule out any man made object or meteor. The film was made about midday against a cloudless sky and unfortunately the object was filmed from a distance, thus providing little real knowledge of the object’s shape and composition, main importance being attached to it’s most unusual actions and behaviour.”.
It should be noted that Drury himself observed no discontinuity in the UFO’s flight path. Whether the claims of 90o turns were legitimately recorded on the film, or were due to camera movement, or were artifacts of processing, analyses or just plain extravagant interpretations based on limited or poor data, we may never know. The references to 90o turns all stem from Jarrold. No one else, who either saw the film or prints, made such claims. The limited prints I have make any analysis impossible. They are very poor in quality.
The official files also records a letter from DAFI to Mr. Wiggins of the DCA dated 12/7/54 which states, “The “Flying Saucer” film taken by Mr. T.C. Drury, at Port Moresby in 1953 and forwarded by you on 22 Sept. is returned here with. We have subjected the film to detailed study and processing but have been unable to establish anything other than the blur of light appears to move across the film. In spite of this disappointment we would like to thank you for your co-operation in this matter.”
Jarrold outlined the behaviour of the Drury object to Fulton, in a letter dated July 25, 1954, claiming the Department of Air still regarded as “unexplained”. “The object’s behaviour alone rules out that of any conventional terrestrial object, including a meteor.” He made the drawing below, specifying “the object as recorded on the film itself, behaved thus, - as it emerged from a small, suddenly formed cloud, disappearing off the edge of the film as it raced from sight.” Given that none of the photos were numbered, it is difficult to see how he could be certain about the right angle turns he indicated. The cloud would have been the only reference point in an otherwise clear sky, and apparently Jarrold indicated that the cloud had disappeared off the edge of the film.
On 16th October, 1999, I visited the Australian Archives in Canberra. The main reason for my visit was that I had confirmed via an internet data base search, the presence of the file 114/1/197, with a data range of “Oct.53-Apr55”. This I immediately realised was the long missing first part of the DAFI/RAAF UFO files. 114/1/197 Part 2 was recovered under the 580 series Part 1 started in 1955. Searches by DAFI itself in 1966 & 1969 failed to locate the missing part 1. It was not found during my file access during 1982 - 84, so it was a real surprise to see it turn up in the Australian archives.
Attached to the inside front cover of file series 114/1/197 Part 1, were 3 pages of handwritten points on minute sheet stationary. A number of these refer to the handling of the Drury footage: (Right)
The Bluebook file (case 2689} on the Drury case is scant and the cover form contradictory. Initially it has Photos with “No” typed over (XX - presumably to indicate photos were involved), then in texta “Yes” is “X-ed over with the annotation “Not recd”. (ie. not received). (Page 7 Top Left)
Comdr ATIC requested a copy of the Drury footage dated 21 1430Z SEP 53 with replies to be referenced to TIC-5209. Lt. Col. H.C. Johnston, USAF, chief, Electronics branch authorised the request for the film, which was originated by A/lc Max G. Futch. There was a 10 Sep 53 telex apparently from Col. John Sullivan, USAF US Air Attache, Melbourne, to Lt. Col. George Uhrich, ATIC WPAFB re the Drury footage.
Recently via my review of RAAF DAFI files in Canberra I found Sullivan’s 5th March 1954 communication to DAFI which stated “Returned herewith is the 8mm film belonging to Mr Drury which you were so kind to lend this office (The Foreign Service of the USA -Office of the Air Attache American Embassy -BC). It would be very much appreciated by my Headquarters if you could obtain for this office a copy of this film for permanent retention in Washington.”
DAFI responded 24/2/54 (sic? Must be 24/3/54): “Extensive enquiries in Melbourne reveal that possibly the only country in the world which is capable of making a copy of the film is the United Kingdom, and therefore some difficulty would be experienced in getting a copy made for your Headquarters. This would explain the apparent oversight by your own people in not making a copy when they had the film available.”
Stills were offered instead. It seems astonishing that while in the USA a copy may not have been made? This confirms the footage left Australia in the last week in November, 1953, and was sent to Headquarters, USAF, by “normal USAF service channels.” So this establishes the film, or a copy of it, was in US hands from end November, 1953 through to 5th March, 1954.
The remaining film is examined and considered
On September 27th, 2000, Tom Drury’s nephew, Bill Drury, made available to me a copy of the print of the film Tom received back from authorities during 1954. The colour film shows the native spear fisherman, a speedboat on the harbour and then immediately cuts to about 5.8 seconds of footage, apparently the end of the filming of the UFO/contrail. This section resembles, or is, a thin contrail-like image that is continuously moving up at about a 45 degree angle, just as described by Tom Drury. It seems clear that this remaining footage is a composite from the original. Paul Drury, Tom’s son, was present during the incident. He recollects that his father had started filming with a fresh 8 mm roll of film, with the native spear fishing, the speedboat on the harbour. Tom then started filming the cloud and the object that shot out of it until it was in the distance. He feels certain that his father ran the whole role of film out during the incident. This suggests that there may have been a significant amount of footage present on the “missing section”. Tom and his son are certain that the cloud was filmed. Even Jarrold claims that he saw the cloud on some of the 94 prints he received from authorities in 1954. We don’t know if they were sequential frames, but Jarrold came up with his trajectory, which included right angles movements, that no one else reported, including Tom Drury.
While a definite identification has not been confirmed, the object Tom Drury filmed on August 23rd, 1953, over Port Moresby, might have been a “missile”. Until certainty is determined the Drury “silver dart” remain an unidentified flying object - a UFO that has commanded extraordinary attention from official and civilian circles, been cultivated as “the holy grail” of ufology, and been the centre of an extraordinary controversy. I hope this study has revealed a clearer perspective on this fascinating affair.