Monday, April 21, 2014

WESTALL, HIBAL & the balloon explanation

Keith Basterfield has been researching the HIBAL balloon hypothesis as an explanation for the 1966 Westall case:

I posted the following contribution to the discussion:
Of course the HIBAL Westall hypothesis is a worthwhile exercise, however context, detail etc should inform the debate.  While high altitude is required the balloon to be perhaps mistaken for a classic "flying saucer" (theres a good telescope picture of one at 40 km altitude in the 1976 NRC document "The Use of Balloons for physics & astronomy" - hardly would qualify for a close encounter!), at launch, low altitude, the balloon would be comparatively deflated.  The size relationship of the payload and the balloon decreases with altitude.  If the payload was in descent, to precipitate a "close encounter" then you would expect it would be attached to the deployed parachute.  Continued attachment at low altitude would create a crash situation, I would suspect, hardly accounting for sighting observations over a small geographical area like Westall, that lend support to a UFO observation, let alone a close encounter at ground level, where the UFO takes off again.  I would suspect if HIBAL was the culprit, it would have been blatantly obvious, and little need for a coverup.  No one died, to the best of our knowledge, and the incident did not have catastrophic consequences at the state or national level.  HIBAL was being summarised in the Australian government Year Books.  It seems difficult to reconcile the sighting observations with HIBAL unless one disregards the many elements that seem more supportive of a UFO explanation. 
Still HIBAL has utility as a possible explanatory data base for "UFO" sightings.  I was looking at it as a possible explanation for the "UFO" seen in my "angel hair" experience, although I cannot for one moment see it explaining my ground level handling and apparent sublimation effects of the material in my hands.  Anyway to this end I noted a HIBAL ASHCAN launch from Mildura on August 29, 1969, one day before my "angel hair" experience. The Kyogle area also had sightings on August 30, which some suggested was a high level balloon, but it was allegedly ruled out by some authorities.  It now seems a likely explanation. Sadly NO DATA on landing point or if failure involved. 
While the actual purpose of the balloon flights were often secret (eg. ASHCAN was nuclear air sampling), the balloon flights were not so much, other than deploying "weather balloon" as the standard response.  In conclusion I would think a low level HIBAL "landing" or "hovering" etc would be readily obvious to most observers and the level of "coverup" reported seems totally disproportional to the possible sensitivities of the payload. 
On balance I don't see HIBAL as being a good fit for Westall, but maybe for the "UFO" seen by others, not me, at Grafton and Kyogle on 30 August 1969.  This doesn't explain my "angel hair" experience, with apparent sublimation observed, which seemed to me to take it out of the ballooning spider web category.  That was the explanation I had as I paddled over to the "web fall", but that explanation evaporated quickly (pardon the pun) when I began handling the material. 
My "retrieval team project" informant emailed me with the following info per this discussion: "I do not concur with Keith Basterfield’s working hypothesis in relation to Westall. "For what it’s worth, my own verbal enquiries made today into the matter have revealed
 little : "DOS Hibal flight 292 was not launched from Mildura . 292 did not terminate in
 Melbourne. "Series records were destroyed as stated. "I was not able to glean any other factual information. "My people tell me that American personnel were indeed present in Victoria in 1966.
 "Some in connection to Hibal, other personnel were involved with classified military projects around Australia. ( Westall?)"As per our previous correspondence, I still believe that the Westall incident was tied in with other UAP sightings preceding and shortly following April 6, 1966."Unfortunately, as discussed, so much stuff was selectively “lost” or “destroyed” by military & government agencies during project transition."If you are in touch with Keith Basterfield, I have no objection to you passing on any information. Your call…... although the above doesn’t reveal all that much.
Same with Shane Ryan and Rosie Jones."So thats my informant's take on HIBAL & Westall.
Anyway I still think HIBAL has utility as a database for explaining some UFO events as suggested by my discussion of my 30 August 1969 experience.  I didn't see the "UFO" in question, but my mother did, some other Grafton residents and a host of Kyogle resident also saw something, which may well have been a HIBAL balloon. It would have been an impressive sight.  My mother described a sort of undulating shape which may well have been a good fit for a HIBAL balloon.

I was struck by the following image:
This was a HIBAL Genetrix launch from the USS Valley Forge apparently in the 1950s.
See Steve Blank's fascinating "Balloon Wars" post:
Now consider the following image from investigation notes of an investigation done by David Buching & Michael Smyth in my case file for an apparent "solid light" case that occurred on the 25 October 1974 in Lismore, northern NSW, Australia.  

I undertook the on site field enquiries at Lismore in the UFOIC investigation at the time.  I pondered a sort of nocturnal mirage explanation at the time, but this didn't seem tenable on the evidence.  The drawing on the left hand side came to mind when I saw the above HIBAL aircraft carrier photo - a striking likeness, but certainly not sufficient as an explanation in the Lismore case.  In that incident 2 truck drivers driving near to each other (friends) saw a UFO from various vantage points, which seem to project a long beam  - a "transparent glass like tube", "like honey dripping from a spoon." The "beam" or "tube" apparently retracted back into the UFO with "something" attached.  The UFO apparently was over a railway yard.
As indicated I am not suggesting a HIBAL balloon as an explanation of the 1974 Lismore event. My enquiries with police at the time revealed an uneventful night, with only one call, it seems. 
Still HIBAL is an interesting source of possible UFO reports, more likely for high level events, but less likely with low level close encounter events, where one would think a balloon, parachute or payload, would tend to direct a witness or investigators quickly to a relatively prosaic explanation.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Science, Skeptics & UFOs - the ball lightning connection

Do yourself a favour if you are at all interested in the serious scientific study of UFOs. Get a copy of Dr. Tim Pennington's book “Science, Skeptics and UFOS: A Reluctant Scientist Explores the World of UFOs”. 

Check out my earlier posts on it. He had me re-contemplating my brush with "ball lightning" as he and I seemed to have that in common along with both being into UFOs & science, being chemists ("Its all about the chemistry"), and we were both caught up as witnesses and participants of intense localised UFO flaps peaking in 1973 (his in the Mississippi and mine around Tyringham, near Dorrigo, in OZ). Here is my take on the ball lightning connection lifted out of my up coming OZ Files column in the online magazine UFO Truth:

Dr. Pennington witnessed from a distance of about 90 feet ball lightning in March 2005 – a blue-green transparent outer sphere about the size of a beach ball, with white inner “spokes” which seemed almost too bright to look at. It came drifting down “from the sky with no thunder or lightning to be heard or seen.” It dropped steadily to the ground from about 40 feet in about 6 to 8 seconds, leaving no mark on the ground.

Tim Pennington liked the explanatory model of Tore Wessel-Berg’s atmospheric ball lightning, but he highlights that there are probably 2 or 3 separate phenomena grouped under ball lightning. Dr. Pennington writes, “The glowing balls of energy that have been seen in a few instances travelling along electric power lines, actually appearing to be in contact with the power lines, is probably not the same phenomena as atmospheric ball-lightning. I believe these power-line phenomena usually only exist in contact with the power line and do not usually float away from it. In any event, it is very doubtful that true ball-lightning can come from power lines.”

I’m inclined to agree, but my own experience suggests that the answer might be more messy and complicated than current models. I have always felt that keeping a eye on the natural phenomena data and literature is a useful calibration tool for the UFO experience. Also many cases of a natural origin often find their way to UFO researchers. That dynamic makes the UFO research field a very useful compliment to research into other anomalies that already engage with science. Yet another reason for scientists to engage with UFO research.

My own experience with ball lightning occurred in about late 1973 or early 1974. The uncertainty about the date I owe to incorrectly thinking at the time that the nature of ball lightning was relatively well understood. I know I immediately thought what I saw was natural and most likely ball lightning.

It was already lightly raining and I was riding a motorbike at speed trying to make it to the safety of Armidale, which I was just approaching from the Grafton Road direction.

It was late afternoon and the approaching intense storm front seemed pretty intense and laden with intermittent lightning. So it was not something I wanted to be caught in. I could smell ozone in the area. In the corner of my eye, behind me to the left I noticed the approach of something very bright. I made it out to be a basket ball size ball of intense light, first seen seemingly rolling along power lines, then it seemed to be bouncing along the lines, until it seemed to collide with the cross beam of a power pole.

At that point things happened very quickly so while extremely vivid in my recollections I can only describe what I thought I saw play out. I was kind of preoccupied with self-preservation at this point. I noticed arcing between the handlebars of the motorbike. With the apparent contact of the ball with the power pole, it seemed to descend quickly down the pole in a tight spiral, then seemed to leave the pole, at about half to two thirds of the way down in my general direction. It seemed to dive towards the ground, thankfully near the pole, but then seemed to break up into multiple small pieces kind of like sodium behaves when thrown onto water, namely fizzing or igniting like crazy in all directions.

I was immediately concerned the ball or its “remains” was going to earth on me, or the bike, and that I was sitting on a petrol tank! I veered across the road to the right laying the bike down as I rolled off it into an area on the side of the road in as low profile as possible. All this took several seconds, then I carefully put my head up and looked in the direction of the pole. All seemed relatively calm with no apparent ball or bits of it evident, but the storm was almost upon me, with the rain starting to intensify. I immediately righted the motorbike, starting it again, fortunately without any problems, and gunned it out of there, finally reaching cover and safety in Armidale.

This experience, at least to my mind, was ball lightning in action – intense ball of light, storm, lightning etc. I didn’t think the light ball was created by the power lines. And I was certain it wasn’t a UFO. Rather it was nature unbound in wild form.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The 1966 Burkes Flat "bent headlight beams" case revisited - followup

From my detailed retrospective investigation of the Burkes Flat incident. The above imagery collection shows a number of aspects of the case and its investigation. I am pictured on site at Burkes Flat pointing to the tree that Gary Taylor's car collided with, causing his death. VUFORS investigator Paul Norman recovered a headlight from Gary Taylor's car and passed it onto my friend & colleague Dr. Geoff Stevens, then working with the Australian Atomic Energy Commission at Lucas Heights. Geoff showed me the work he did, including tracing with chalk marks the directions of lines of magnetic force on the headlight. The picture shows my hand on the headlight for size reference. The relatively random directions of lines of magnetic force ruled out evidence for exposure to a strong magnetic field. That would have caused all the lines to be running in the same direction. A contemporary photo, shown in the documentary, reveals the investigation undertaken by police and the coroner at the site of Gary Taylor's fatal car crash. A photo from 1984 shows me interviewing Ron Sullivan, the witness to an extraordinary bending of car headlight beams at the same locality.
In my 1984 research article "The Bent Headlight Beam case revisited" (published in the "UFO Research Newsletter" (UFORAN magazine) Volume 5 No. 3 May-June 1984, and republished later in the British magazine FSR - Flying Saucer Review) I wrote:
"Ever since I became deeply involved in investigating and researching UFO events in Australia, one remarkable event has held a particular fascination for me, namely the incident that became known as the "bent headlight beam case."  It took place on April 4, 1966, at Burkes Flat, Victoria."
You can have a look at some of my work on this extraordinary case at the following links:
CLASSIC "COLD CASE": 1966 Burkes Flat - the "bent headlight beams
The classic 1966 Burkes Flat case case on my OZ Files page

The "Close Encounters" series first aired early this year on Discovery Canada (and now airing on the US Science channel) included coverage of the Burkes Flat case, as per my Facebook page comments of 26 February, 2014:
I recently caught up with the double Australian case episode of the Discovery Canada series - Episode 11: "Saucerful of Secrets" (1966 - Tully) and "Lights Out" (1966- Burkes Flat) - in which Shane Ryan and myself are commenting on each case. Once again the "recreations" are dramatic and entertaining and hopefully will encourage enquiring minds to dig into the actual data about the case. As I have extensively researched and investigated both cases I have issues with the fidelity of the "dramatic recreations" with the facts of both events. In both cases I know I supplied extensive material which gave detailed illustrated and photographic evidence and data, so some of the "recreation" deviations from the actual facts of each case are puzzling to me. But given the entertainment format I am consoled by the likelihood that the shows may encourage interest in these striking cases.
For the uninitiated some of the more obvious "deviations" (i.e. thats not the way it happened) in each are:
"Saucerful of Secrets" (1966 Tully): George Pedley was driving a tractor, not a jeep; there seems a marked separation of viewing the UFO and the "saucer nest" - in this case an "under-dramatisation" of the facts. George first saw the UFO directly above the lagoon at a very low level, virtually at head height, rising up. In other words there was a direct visual correlation with the location of the nest and the UFO - a definite "close encounter" - In the "recreation" there is a disconnection; The "nest"! Well in the "recreation" it is virtually a floating, slowly spinning birds nest in appearance, which is far from its original appearance. Both George and Albert entered the water of the lagoon, not just George. I did to, years later, but got out pretty quickly when one of Albert Pennisi's sons, (Shane Pennisi told me he thought it was probably him in the early 1970s) told me about the taipan snakes. Probably more accurate to say I launched myself out of the lagoon, but didn't make it as high as George's UFO back in 1966. The dynamic between George and Albert wasn't too bad from my perspective.
"Lights Out" (1966 Burkes Flat): Not sure where the reference came from with regard to Ron Sullivan seeing something behind him just before the encounter. In the "recreation" he avoids colliding with the tree and come to a stop off the road and gets out of the car. That didn't happen according to what Ron told me. The direction and nature of the bend of the "headlight beams" was incorrect.
Ben Hurle and the VUFOA team will be shortly coming out with their retrospective doco on the case which will be an excellent description of the events along with new information. I mention their work in early postings.
Anyway enjoy the Close Encounters "takes" for what they are: creative takes and commentaries from two lads from down under about two extraordinary classic cases from Australia that deserve your deep attention, beyond the 22 minutes in total afforded to them. I've been exploring and researching both cases for decades and they are still mysteries to me - each are powerful examples of the UFO mystery.

As of 18 March 2014 with the release of "The Burkes Flat UFO Incident - The Tale of Two Men" Ben Hurle and the Victorian UFO Action team have done an excellent job in this fascinating documentary, which brings so many memories back to me.  I interviewed Ron Sullivan & Hugh Hunter back in 1980 and undertook a site investigation at Burkes Flat. I recommend this outstanding "cold case" investigation:

Here are some screen grabs from the excellent VUFOA documentary:

Ben Hurle interviewing Ron Sullivan

VUFOA recreation

Ron Sullivan explaining the sighting sequence

Ron Sullivan's drawings of the UFO sequence

Ben Hule interviewing Peter Vanrennan, who as a 
tennager was the first person in the group who found 
Gary Taylor at the car crash site after Taylor's friend
Lawrence Boyle sought their help.

A photo of the ground trace supplied by the Saints

Ben Hurle with Ron on site at Burkes Flat

Ben Hurle interviewing Sheryl Saint, owner of 
the paddock in which the UFO was seen.

VUFOA team member Ivan Rigoni attached a plaque 
at the site with Ben Hurle watching on

Lawrence Boyle recollecting his friend Gary Taylor

Ben Hurle interviewing Lawrence Boyle with my on site 
photo of the now missing impact tree at Burkes Flat

A wealth of information on an extraordinary event that needs to be remembered and better understood.  Something extraordinary occurred at Burkes Flat in April 1966, which sadly led to the death of a young man.  What did Ron Sullivan see? A UFO with a "solid light" display which interacted with our own light in a very striking way; did Ron encounter some sort of bizarre nocturnal mirage effect? Did he encounter an extraordinary Earth Light display?  Ron Sullivan's 1966 experience is a remarkable example of a UFO event with very striking interaction on its surroundings. Thank you Ron for your determination and courage in coming forward with your experience, which allows us to contemplate and research an incredible mystery, with profound implications for our understanding of reality.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

"Hair of the Alien" and "Ancient Aliens"

From the History channel (H2) programme "Ancient Aliens" (Season 6 Episode 19: "Alien Breeders") just aired in the US some frame grabs - "Hair of the Alien" & "Ancient Aliens" come together in some highly speculative discussions? From the "Ancient Aliens" web site: 
Premiere Date:March 14, 2014 - 09:00-10:00PM ET
Demonic seduction… hybrid offspring… and strange abductions. In cultures throughout the world, there are tales of intimate encounters with otherworldly beings. But could these stories be more than just mythology? Scientific deconstruction of human genetic makeup has revealed that our origins are not what we once believed. Biologists have determined that early humans mated with several other species of intelligent hominids. Neanderthals, Denisovans, and a third–as of yet unidentified–species may also be represented in our DNA. Is it possible that tales spanning from fallen angels to Greek gods, medieval incubus and succubus to today's extraterrestrial sexual encounters are all one in the same? And if so, is it all part of a greater agenda? Might examining these experiences provide not only evidence of extraterrestrial sexual intervention in the remote past, but also reveal the true nature of mankind's origins?

Monday, March 03, 2014

Science, Skeptics and UFOs - A reluctant scientist explores the world of UFOs

I'm reading this at the moment on Kindle. My initial quick read through suggests this book is well worth getting. There is much that recommends this book.  I was impressed enough to order the hardback version of the book - looks like a keeper, which will no doubt get looked at in considerable more detail.  

As a fellow physical chemist I admire his approach. He has much to say about the approach of science to the subject.  Most of what I have read so far I would agree with.  :
Science, Skeptics, and UFOs
A Reluctant Scientist Explores the World of UFO
By B. Timothy Pennington PhD

From B. Timothy Pennington's book:
"I have been saddened as I came to understand the irrational response of the scientific establishment to the UFO phenomena. I have come to understand the scientific establishment's UFO paradigm. The paradigm is belief driven ....""Never have I seen so many fallacies strung together as in the the scientific and skeptical responses to UFOs and other unexplained phenomena. It is the Emperor's New Clothes in reverse."
From the publishers:

On a farm in central Mississippi in the 1970s, the author and his family were surprised to find themselves in the middle of a hotbed of UFO activity. In 1977 the author, a scientist, turned to the book UFOs Explained by Philip J. Klass looking for answers, but found the explanations did not really fit. For years he drifted in indecision unable to fully come to grips with what he and his family had experienced. Knowing that UFOs were a taboo subject to most mainstream scientists, he was quite reluctant to come forward on the subject of UFOs during his career. Abandoning his concerns after retirement, the author takes the reader on a journey of full disclosure and discovery. During this journey, the author discovered that his family sightings and a number of well-known Mississippi sightings were clearly related phenomena. Further findings ultimately led the author to explore the wider world of UFOs and to discover some insights never brought to light before. B. Timothy Pennington was born in Jackson, Mississippi on September 2, 1948, the second of three children. He grew up in Polkville and Morton in central Mississippi and attended East Central Community College in Decatur before entering the University of Southern Mississippi where he went on to earn a Ph. D. in chemistry in 1974. He completed two years of postdoctoral research at the USDA Eastern Regional Research Center near Philadelphia, PA as a National Research Council Research Associate and one year as a Robert A. Welsh postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Texas at Arlington before accepting a teaching position at Navarro College in Corsicana, TX. After teaching and writing scripts for chemistry videotapes for two years as part of a National Science Foundation grant, he joined the chemical industry in the Lake Charles, LA area in 1979 and stayed in the industry for 30 years. A member of the American Chemical Society for over 35 years, he has seven publications in refereed scientific journals, two trade industry publications, and 21 US patents as inventor or co-inventor. In 1970, he married the former Esther Kennedy of Forest, MS and has three adult daughters.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The historical evidence that Birmingham had a "UFO vision" in the 19th century

Since my earliest investigations into the 19th century Birmingham Parramatta "UFO vision" I concluded that the document I had since 1975 was a 1950's copy of Birmingham's "memorandum book."  I was able to tracked it back to the people who gave it to Tasman Homan who created the copy and interviewed them.  Now because of some on-line digital newspaper archive detective work by Chris Aubeck we now have firm historical evidence of the 1868 vision story via a letter written by a well known horticulturalist and local history researcher Hebert John Rumsey published in at least 2 papers - originally published the Sydney based farmers newspaper "The Farmer and the Settler" on 21 November 1911 and in "The Richmond River Herald" on 5 December 1911 (the latter, which Chris Aubeck published in his new report "Birmingham's Ark", has the rather uninformative headline: "Surveyed Melbourne and Grafton.  Some Ancient History."  Chris did not publish the"The Farmer and Settler" account, which I have reproduced here.  It at least has a much more interesting headline: "An Early Day Surveyor thought he had discovered the secret of flying").  The importance of the Rumsey letter is that it clearly refers to Birmingham's "vision" of July 1868, by both referring to the word "vision" and the date and year described in the only document we have so far - the copy I received in 1975 from Fred Phillips (honorary president of UFOIC).  There can no longer be doubt about the general nature of the story revealed in the 1950s copy of Birmingham's "memorandum book", lending further hope that something of an earlier vintage, perhaps Birmingham's original material or more contemporary copies, may yet be found, and even better still, Birmingham's diary and "flying machine" drawing.:

 This earlier item originally located by Chris refers to Birmingham's return to Parramatta from America and his "flying machine" - the date 26 August 1887.

I was amazed to see the Grafton connection in Birmingham's life, particularly as I was born in Grafton - an extraordinary link - I come to Sydney in 1975.  That year I was given the Birmingham "memorandum book" copy and now in 2013 we find a circular link back to Grafton!
These developments have unleashed the "historical detective" in me, so once again I'm on the trail again of this striking story. 
In the 145 years since it took place it has caught the attention of a number of people - Herbert Rumsey (who wrote about it in 1911), Parramatta mayor Frederick Cox (who described his memory of the story in 1932 just before he died, Marjorie Esling who told me about it in the late 1970s - her mother acquired apparently the original "memorandum book" from a local school teacher - Wallace Heywood (or Haywood?)) and Tas Homan, who got it from Mrs. Esling.  Homan made a typed copy, a copy of which was handed to me in 1975 by Fred Phillips - a long convoluted journey for a strange document, now confirmed via old newspapers, long before the onset of the modern UFO era.