Analysis and Discussion of the Images
of a Cluster of Periodically Flashing
Lights Filmed Off the Coast of New Zealand
(Originally published in the Journal of Scientific Exploration,
Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 149-190. 1987 Pergamon Press, Printed in the USA.
Some modifications and additions have been made for this presentation.)
NEW ZEALAND SAFE AIR ARGOSY AIRCRAFT, 1978
The New Zealand UFO sightings of December 31, 1978 are unique
among civilian UFO reports because there is a large amount of the docu-
mentary evidence which includes the recollections of seven witnesses. two
tape recordings made during the sightings, the detection of some unusual
ground and airplane radar targets and a 16 mm color movie made with a
professional camera. Of the several unidentified light sources that were
filmed, one of the most interesting is the cluster of lights that oscillated
periodically in intensity at a rate of about once per second. An analysis
of the 279 frames of film which show about 30 cycles of the oscillation
indicates that there were three lights which formed an isosceles triangle.
The color of the light source at the apex was pale yellow or very pale
orange (the exact shade is difficult to determine). The base of the
triangle was formed by two red lights side by side. The light at the apex
oscillated over an intensity range which went from zero (no image) to such
a large value that it greatly overexposed the film. The red lights also
oscillated, but they were generally out of phase with the light at the apex
and they did not get bright enough to overexpose the film.
This paper presents some of the physical characteristics of the film
images and a discussion of the visual and radar sighting, which, it is
argued, took place at essentially the same time (i.e.. within a minute or
so) as the filming.
A number of explanations have been suggested for the film of the flashing
light. The explanations are analyzed and reasons for rejecting them are pre-
sented. As yet no explanation in terms of known phenomena has been proposed
that satisfactorily explains the film.
(Note: the above was written in the early 1980's. The statement that there
has been no satisfactory explanation based on conventional phenomena still
pertains at the time of this web publication in January, 2002.)
A number of unusual lights were seen and filmed during a series of UFO sightings that took
place off the coast of the South Island of New Zealand during the early morning hours of
December 31, 1978 (Fogarty, 1982; Ireland, 1979; Maccabee, 1981; Startup & Illingworth, 1980).
The witnesses were aboard an Argosy freighter aircraft (see above picture) and were flying
about twenty miles to the east of the coast of the South Island.
The first sightings occurred between 0010 hours (12:10 a.m.) local (Daylight Savings) time
and 0100 hours (1:00 a.m.) while the plane flew southward from Wellington to Christchurch. More
sightings occurred between 0218 and 0315 hours while the plane flew northward to Blenheim.
The sighting that is the subject of this paper occurred roughly between 0245 and 0255
(exact times will be given later in the paper). The witnesses on the airplane were the pilot
(William Startup), the copilot (Robert Guard), two TV news reporters (Quentin Fogarty from
Melbourne, Australia, and Dennis Grant from Christchurch, N.Z.), and a professional TV cameraman
An unusual radar target was detected by the Wellington Air Traffic Control (WATCC) search
radar in the apparent vicinity of the visually sighted cluster of lights. The witness to the
radar sighting was the air traffic controller (Geoffrey Causer).
These sightings are unique in the annals of civilian UFO Sightings for two basic reasons.
The first reason is that there is a large amount of available information, including tape
recordings and film made *during* the sightings. The second reason is that the sightings were
immediately publicized worldwide by major news media. They were publicized because several
of the witnesses were members of a news crew of a major Australian TV station. This introductory
section of the discussion presents a very brief history of the circumstances which led to these
sightings and the resulting publicity and then summarizes the results of the technical analysis.
Quentin Fogarty, a reporter for a TV station (formerly Channel 0, now Channel 10) in
Melbourne, Australia, was responsible for the presence of a news crew on board the plane. He
intended to obtain background film footage for a news story about previous visual and radar UFO
sightings that had occurred off the East Coast of New Zealand about two weeks earlier. (Those
witnesses had been pilots who were flying Argosy freighter aircraft and air traffic controllers
at Wellington.) Not expecting to see anything unusual himself, Fogarty planned to have most of
the background filming done in the cargo bay of the aircraft. This film, which would supplement
film that he already had of interviews of the pilots and air traffic controllers involved in
the previous sightings, would show him talking about the previous sightings. However, during the
early part of the flight, while the news crew was in the cargo bay filming the first segment of
Fogarty's planned TV program (the first "stand up"), the air crew observed a number of unusual
lights that they could not identify off the east coast of the South Island, just north of the
Kaikoura Peninsula. Coincidentally, the WATCC reported a number of radar returns that were
correlated in time and direction (from the plane) with the unusual lights. Because of these
sightings the captain, without mentioning why, yelled to the news crew in the cargo bay below
the cockpit, "You better get up here right away." The news crew, having finished the first
short segment, climbed up the ladder into the cockpit and prepared to film anything outside the
The engine noise inside the cockpit was horrendous and communication was difficult, but the
air crew managed to convey to the news crew that the lights appearing and disappearing off the
coast in the direction of the Kaikoura Peninsula were not normal and had, apparently, been
detected on radar. This was the beginning of what would be a night filled with appearances of
unknown light phenomena and anomalous radar detections.
Fogarty recorded his impressions of the sightings and radar reports as they occurred and
the cameraman, David Crockett, filmed lights as they appeared and disappeared. Because the air
crew could not identify the unusual lights (although they did identify for the news crew
numerous town and city lights, stars, coastal beacons, and ship lights) Fogarty subsequently
made the public claim that the news crew had seen and filmed UFOs.
The Melbourne TV station publicized the sightings worldwide, claiming that Fogarty had the
world's first film of UFOs. The film was the highlight of a half-hour, hastily produced
documentary that was shown completely or in part around the world. Even venerable CBS news
anchorman, Walter Cronkite, was impressed. He devoted the last five minutes of the CBS Evening
News to the sightings (January 2, 1979).
In spite of the fact that no investigation had yet been carried out and that the only
information generally available was contained in newspaper stories, scientists throughout the
world were quick to offer explanations. Within a week of the sightings, newspapers had published
explanations proposed by "experts" from many countries. These explanations included the planet
Venus (by the astronomer at Christchurch, published on the same day as the sightings), the
planet Jupiter (by the astronomer at Christchurch after he learned that the sightings took place
before Venus was visible), drug runners, secret military activities, "unburned meteorites,"
mirages or reflections of squid fleet lights, ball lightning, earthquake lights, swarms of
glowing bugs and light reflected from the breasts of flocks of birds ("mating mutton birds"). It
was also suggested that the film was a hoax by Fogarty and the cameraman or that the whole event
was an attempt by the TV station to improve its ratings in the Melbourne area.
The film contained hundreds of small, bright, reasonably-focused images for the producer of
the documentary to choose from. However, in order to create the greatest visual impact, the
producer decided to emphasize the largest images, which are round and have horizontal lines
going through them. Much later it was shown that these are defocused images. However, at the
time they were thought to accurately represent the structure of the unknown light source.
Newspapers all over the world published several of these peculiar images. One amateur astronomer
publically identified the lines as the rings of Jupiter, in spite of the fact that the film was
taken on board a vibrating airplane with lens of only 240 mm focal length. (The actual images
are about 2 mm in diameter. It would require a lens with about 10 times the focal length and a
stable platform to get images of Jupiter that were as large as these these images.) In one
newspaper story these images were also compared with images of Venus photographed by a
spacecraft from a distance of only several hundred thousand miles, images which showed for the
first time banding structure of the Venusian clouds. This comparison was completely ludicrous
since no earth telescope had ever shown any cloud structure on Venus. Certainly no camera with a telephoto lens could show details of Venus that could not be seen by the largest telescopes.
(This author was able to subsequently demonstrate that the horizontal lines across the defocused
images were caused by refractive effects due to nonuniformities in the airplane window glass.)
To add to the public confusion surrounding the December 31 sightings, a second film was
obtained from the coast of New Zealand on January 2, 1979. That film was obtained by a N.Z. TV
news crew that resented the "scoop" by the Australian TV station. The N.Z. crew rented the
largest lens available (600 mm focal length), set up its camera on the coast and waited for the
UFOs to appear. Subsequently a bright light was observed on the horizon in the east and the crew
filmed it. The film showed a large round image with a black dot in the center, similar to a
donut shape, but with no horizontal lines. Needless to say the TV crew claimed it had filmed a
UFO, and this second film was also discussed throughout the world. However, an analysis
of the sighting showed that the light was Venus rising and that the unusually large round images
were a result of the failure of the cameraman to correctly focus the large lens.
The proliferation of explanations for the December 31 sightings embarrassed the Melbourne
TV station managers because they had publicized their UFO claim without carrying out an
investigation. They had based their claim only upon the failure of the crew to identify the
lights and upon the reporter's opinion that he had seen UFOs. Therefore the management publicly
promised to investigate the sightings. The station subsequently contacted a UFO investigating
group in the USA (the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, NICAP, which closed
I had seen the short segment of the film that had been broadcast on CBS news on January 2
and had said to myself something like this: "I don't know what that is, but I suppose some lucky
person at the other side of the world, in New Zealand or Australia, will get a chance to look at
the film and, who knows, maybe he'll find something." That was Tuesday evening, January 2,
1979. Two days later Jack Acuff, director of NICAP, called while I was working in my office:
"They are bringing the film here, to Washington, DC. Do you want to see it?" I thought about
it for a few millionths of a second (or less) and responded, "Yes." That's how I got to see the
famous film only eight days after it was taken.
A newsman from the TV station in Melbourne (Leonard Lee) brought the film to the USA.
YOURS TRULY ANALYZING THE NEW ZEALAND FILM, ca. 1979
Lee also arranged for me to speak by phone with the pilot, the cameraman and the air traffic
controller. Thus began the initial investigation of the sighting which was followed by
analyses that lasted many years. I investigated the sightings by traveling to New Zealand
and Australia for a month in February, 1979, to interview all the witnesses, by analyzing the
film, and by discussing the sightings with numerous other scientists.
The main reason for the uniqueness of these sightings is the amount of information that is
available for analysis. The information that is available for most other sightings is only that
which is extracted from the memories of the witness(es). A relatively small fraction of all
other sightings involve photographs or "landing traces" and a few have radar contacts
associated with visual sightings ("radar-visual" sightings). However, there is no sighting (by
civilians, at least), other than the N.Z. sightings, which has (a) two independent tape
recordings made at the time of the events, (b) reports of unusual ground-based (search) and
airborne (weather) radar targets that were coincident with visual sightings, (c) a color movie
(16 mm professional camera and film), as well as (d) the memories of a sizeable number of
credible witnesses (five).
The unusual amount of publicity that attended these sightings and the large amount of
information which was recorded on tape and film during the sightings justifies a careful
analysis of the events to determine just what did happen. This paper reports on the results of
the analysis of one portion of the sightings. The information contained in this paper is based
on a study, carried out over a period of eight years, of the film and the testimony of the
witnesses. The main conclusion of the analysis is that whatever it was that was observed,
filmed and detected on radar has not been explained as any conventional but rare phenomenon.
As of this web presentation date (January, 2002) it remains unidentified, a TRue UFO (TRUFO).
II. The Flashing Light Sighting
The complete flight of the aircraft from Wellington to Christchurch and finally to Blenheim
and the corresponding sightings and film can be roughly divided into four parts: 1) the flight
from Wellington to Christchurch (12:15 AM to 1:00 AM, during which the initial sightings
occurred but there was only a small amount of film shot of unidentified lights), 2) the segment
of the flight from Christchurch to Kaikoura East (2:20 AM to 2:45 AM), 3) the segment of the
flight north from Kaikoura East toward Cape Campbell (2:45 AM to 3:00 AM) and, 4) the segment
from Cape Campbell to Blenheim (3:00 to 3:15 AM). These latter three segments are illustrated
in Figure 1. (It is to be noted that the film shot during the second part, the flight northeast
from Christchurch, includes the large defocused images which were shown worldwide. Not shown in
Figure 1 is the right hand turn of the aircraft toward the unknown light before the aircraft
reached Kaikoura East, and the subsequent left hand turn to resume the track toward Cape
Campbell. This sighting, sometimes called the "squid boat" sighting, is thoroughly discussed in
another report on this web site.)
The film of the sighting during the third segment is the subject of this paper. It shows a
cluster of lights which oscillated regularly in intensity throughout the 27.9 second duration of
this section of the New Zealand film. Although it is known that the film was shot between 0230
and 0315, the exact time of the filming cannot be determined independently of other events since
the camera was not synchronized with Fogarty's tape recorder. However, a reconstruction of the
sighting events using the two tape recordings (one made by Quentin Fogarty on the plane, and one
made by the WATCC) strongly suggests that the plane was at the location marked "radar-visual
(0251)" on the map (Fig. 1) when the film was shot. When it was at that location the copilot,
Robert Guard,reported to WATCC that he saw a "collection of lights" suddenly appear ahead of the
plane. Quentin Fogarty, recorded a description of several lights which suddenly appeared and
flashed a number of times. Because the tape recordings prove that other occupants of the plane
saw flashing lights ahead of the plane, because Crockett was also watching the skies ahead of
the plane for unusual lights, and because Fogarty's real time description contains features (the
colors and the number of lights) which match features of the film images, it is herein argued
that Crockett filmed lights that were described by Fogarty and Guard within a minute or so of
Fig. 1. Flight path from Kaikoura East to Cape Campbell.
A frame-by-frame analysis of the film shows that the images of the lights oscillate in size
and color. The oscillation rate is about 1.16 cycles/sec for the full 32 cycles that were
recorded. The images vary from overexposed, nearly white with a yellowish tinge (labelled
Bright Yellowish White, abbreviated, BYW, in the sketches below) to much dimmer combinations of
pale yellow/orange (PY/0) and red (R), or only red (R). Although all of the R images were made
by a source which definitely was red, the PY/0 images and the BYW overexposed images could have
been made by a single, bright oscillating source that was pale yellow or very pale orange. (The
exact color of the light which made the BYW images cannot be determined because the images are
greatly overexposed and overexposed images lose their characteristic colors and become very
The camera was held on the cameraman's shoulder because there was no room for a tripod in
the cockpit. Therefore it vibrated randomly in horizontal and vertical directions about an
average position. This vibration caused most of the images to become elongated making them
elliptical or "hot dog" shaped. However, a considerable number of frames with images (about 10%)
were obtained when the camera was not moving, for example, at or near the time when the
vibratory motion reversed direction. These are called "stationary frames" since they show what
would appear if the camera were mounted on a tripod to hold it stready. In several of these
stationary frames the individual images of the lights are arranged in a triangle, with the PY/O
image at the apex and two R images at the corners of the base. The triangle baseline is
horizontal or nearly so in all but one of the frames with triangular images. The PY/O and R
images are close together (within one milliradian) suggesting a close association of the lights
which made the images.
Shown below are a triangle image obtained at a time when the camera was not moving (a
stationary frame) and also two images in which the camera was swinging left or right and in a
horizontal direction, thereby causing horizontal smearing (stretching) of the image of the upper
orange and the lower red lights.
Image #4666 (see sketches below)
The image oscillation referred to above actually is a periodic change in size and
brightness of the PY/O and R images. Although the changes in image size could, in principle, be
attributed to actual changes in size of the PY/O and R light sources, it is argued in this paper
that the actual sizes remained constant while the intensities oscillated. This argument is based
on the fact that the photographic image of a light source increases in size with increasing
intensity whether or not the light is large enough in angular size to be resolved. (The size of
the image of an unresolved light source - a "point" source, like a star - is determined by its
intensity, a fact that is well known to astrophotographers.)
Below are tracings of many of the images to illustrate how the shape changes from frame
to frame. The tracings were made by projecting the film images, frame by frame, onto paper and
tracing around the image made by each frame on the paper. The tracings were then labelled with
with the important features such as color and brightness level, e.g., BYW, PY/O or R. In
many instances the descriptions of the colors are given without abbreviations. Keep in mind as
you look at these images that only one image appeared on a given frame.
The images are distorted by a combination of brightness changes and camera motions. The
most nearly round or most compact images are the ones which most closely represent the actual
shape of the lights and the elongated (smeared) images are the least likely to resemble the
shape of the light sources. However, the smeared images are not useless. They can provide
valueable information about the relative brightness and colors of the lights. (Note:
the placement of the images in the following sketches is unrelated to the actual placement on
each frame. These sketches are presented as if each image were at the center of the film frame,
even though most images were not at the center. The film frames are numbered from the beginning
of the film. Since there were many minutes of film before this flashing sequence the first
frame of the flashing sequence has a large number, #4609.) The Appendix contains the remainder
of the traced images. It also describes how the tracings were made, the magnification factor
that was used, and it also defines the notations used to describe the image colors. The reader
may wish to refer to the Appendix in order to understand the following discussion of specific
TRACINGS OF FILM IMAGES
The remaining images are in the Appendix (below).
A careful study has been made of the "transition images" which occur during each cycle
between the largest, brightest images (BYW) and the smallest images (R and PY/O). The study
indicates that there were no changes in the relative positions of the light which made the PY/O
images and the lights which made the R images, indicating that they maintained a triangular
arrangement. The study also indicates that the overexposed images were made by the same light
source which made the much dimmer PYIO image at the apex of the triangle. Evidently the
intensity of that light changed by many orders of magnitude (factors of ten, not astronomical
magnitudes) during an oscillation cycle.
Red images do not occur in the frames with overexposed images. In fact, there are no
red colored areas at all in the frames which contain BYW images. This could be because
either or both of the following occurred: (a) the R lights dimmed and went out as the PY/O light
increased in intensity (there is some evidence for this), or (b) as the PY/O light intensity
increased its image grew so big and overexposed that it "covered up" the much weaker red images.
Yet another possibility is the combination of (a) and (b). The red lights also oscillated in
intensity, and occasionally they "went out" at the same time that the PY/O light was "out", thus
creating film frames with no images. About nine percent of the frames have no image.
This portion of the film, which shows the oscillating lights, was not publicized by the
Melbourne TV station because Fogarty decided, without talking to the cameraman, that the
cameraman had photographed a beacon. (The cameraman subsequently told me that he had not
photographed a beacon. ) Consequently none of the publicized explanations were intended to
apply to this section of the film. However, I and others whom I have contacted have proposed, in
private communications with me and in books, eight different hypotheses to explain the film. The
hypotheses and their originators are: (1)a chance alignment of ground navigation beacons
(Maccabee; referee of this paper); (2) a reflection of light from within the aircraft cockpit
(Maccabee); (3) lights on another aircraft (Maccabee); (4) a specific marine beacon in the
entrance to Wellington Harbor (Ireland, 1979); (5) a bright non-astronomical source on the
horizon affected by atmospheric propagation (Rackham, personal communication, 1980); (6)
earthquake lights (Brady; see Pye, 1981); (7) an emergency vehicle on the ground (Maccabee;
Sheaffer, 1981); and (8) the reflection off a propellor of the red flashing beacon on the top of
the aircraft (Klass, 1983). These hypotheses are discussed in detail in a later section of this
paper. Each of these hypotheses has logical consequences which have been analyzed and found to
contradict the photographic evidence. Therefore it is argued here that the nature of the filmed
lights has not been explained. It is also argued that the visual and radar sightings have
anomalous characteristics that have not been explained. Furthermore it seems unlikely that
conventional explanations that are consistent with the photographic data and testimony can be
found. If this turns out to be true, then the lights filmed here can be logically called a TRue
UFO (TRUFO): a phenomenon for which no conventional explanation exists. The film images and
witness testimony can then be used to ascertain some of the physical properties of the TRUFO.
The following sections of the paper present technical characteristics of the lights based
on the analysis of the film, supplementary information provided by the witnesses, discussions of
the suggested explanations, and a discussion of the implications of this UFO sighting.
II. The Nature of the Oscillation
The periodicity of the overall image brightness is illustrated in Figures 2 and 3. Figure 2
shows that there is a linear relation between the cycle number and the number of the frame in
which the image size is maximum. It will be shown later in this paper that the maximum image
size corresponds to the maximum light source intensity in each cycle, assuming that the light
source itself did not change its physical size. Thus the straight line means that the number of
frames between the maximum intensity point in each cycle is constant. The slope of the straight
line corresponds to an average of 8.62 frames/cycle or 0.116 cycle/frame. The Bolex H10 EBM
electric camera was operated at the 10 frame/sec setting, which should have been accurate to
within l0%.  Thus the nominal flash rate was 1.16 cycle/sec. (Note: Information about the
sightings and the camera operation was obtained during several interviews with David Crockett.
This author personally inspected the camera and lenses during a visit to New Zealand
approximately five weeks after the sighting. Further technical information was provided by Dr.
Fig. 2. Periodicity of the Flashing Light Images
Figure 3 is a more direct illustration of the periodicity and also of the intensity
variation of the lights, assuming that the image size variations were largely caused by
intensity variations. Figure 3 is a graph of the image widths from frame to frame without regard
to the color(s) of the image(s) in each frame. The image widths were plotted, rather than the
maximum image dimensions (lengths) or mean dimensions, in order to minimize the effect on these
measurements of random camera vibration (which occurred because the cameraman held the camera on
his shoulder). (The width of an image, measured transverse to the direction of the instantaneous
camera motion or image elongation, is less unaffected by camera motion than is the length of
Fig. 3. Temporal dependence of the image sized during the oscillating
light sequence in the film.
Figure 3 shows that the maximum image width changed during the film sequence. There was a
definite overall increase during the first several cycles and a definite decrease at the end of
the series of cycles. The increase and decrease in maximum image width is consistent with either
(a) a decrease and then an increase in the distance between the camera and a light source of
constant maximum intensity in each cycle, or (b) an increase and then a decrease in the maximum
intrinsic intensity of a light source which is at constant distance, or (c) changes in the
optical transmission of the atmosphere, or (d) a combination of these. (Changes in the camera
optics could also produce such an effect but there is no evidence to suggest that any such
Figure 4 is a close-up of several of the cycles. In this figure the widths of the R, PY/O
and BYW images have been treated separately, rather than in combination as in Figure 3, in order
to illustrate the phase difference between the R (squares in the graph below) and PY/O or BYW
oscillations (circles), assuming the BYW images were made by the same light source that made the
dimmer PY/O images.
Figure 4 Comparison of the Periodicities of the Red and PY/O or BYW Images
The R images very often reached their maximum widths when the PY/O images were at their minimum
size or zero (no PY/O light). However, a careful study of the graph will show that the R and
PY/O light sources were not exactly 180 degrees out of phase since very often the R image size
reached a maximum before the PY/O image size reached zero. Moreover, there seems to have been
some irregularity in the red oscillation since in 10 of the cycles both the R and PY/0 lights
were at minimum intensity (no image on the film) at the same time. In nine other cycles the
minimum intensity frame contained only a very small, faint red image. Some of these features of
the red and PY/O oscillations are illustrated in Figure 4. (Only 23 of the 32 cycles are shown
Figure 4 shows that the PY/O light cycle was not completely symmetric: the rise to a peak
intensity (maximum image size) was generally faster than the subsequent fall to zero intensity.
Occasionally the rise to peak intensity took only two frames but usually it took three, and
occasionally four frames. On the other hand, the fall to zero intensity from the peak generally
took four or five frames, although in several instances it required only three, or even two
frames. This effect is illustrated in Figure 4.
III. Characteristics of the Triangular Image Cluster
The locations of the images on the film usually shift, sometimes by a rather large amounts
(several millimeters), from frame to frame. The shift from frame to frame is attributed to
random camera motion that occurred because the cameraman held the camera on his shoulder. The
camera generally vibrated randomly up, down, left , right, etc., over an angular range of
several degrees. Whenever the shutter was open to create a frame of the film the camera motion
during that time caused the true image shape to be elongated or "stretched" by an amount that
depended upon the speed and direction of the motion of the camera. Furthermore the random
vibration caused the image position (relative to the frame boundaries) to shift from one frame
to the next, with the amount of image shift depending upon the speed of the camera motion
between frames. The random vibration caused most of the image positions to shift from one frame
to the next and it caused most of the images to be elongated. However, the camera vibration
was relative to an average pointing direction (the direction the camera was looking). Any
vibration about an average position must have short periods of time when actual motion ceases.
These are short periods of time during which the direction of motion is reversed, i.e., the
camera pointing direction is getting too far from the mean direction so a force is applied (by
the cameraman) to return the camera to the average pointing direction. This is analogous to the
pauses in motion at the ends of the swing of a pendulum. The images obtained during these short
times were only slightly distorted or elongated. The minimally distorted images were located
using the following criteria: (a) there should be little or no image position shift in
successive frames and (b) in a series of images with varying amounts of elongation, the
minimally distorted images are those which are the most compact. About 10% of the total number
of frames were found to have images that are consistent with these criteria. As mentioned
previously, the frames which contain minimally distorted images are called "stationary frames"
and the images in these frames are called "stationary images" since they are the most like what
one would obtain with a stationary (tripod-mounted) camera. Although many of the non-stationary,
elongated images are important for a complete understanding of the film, the most important key
photographic results are based on the analysis of stationary images.
Many of the stationary images are overexposed and a few are properly exposed or slightly
underexposed. The overexposed images will be discussed in a later section. This section presents
a discussion of some of the properly exposed or underexposed images in the stationary frames. It
also includes a discussion of a few of the images in the non-stationary frames.
Of particular interest are each of the stationary frames which contains three small round
"dot" images arranged in a triangular cluster. These frames are numbered 4666, 4752, 4804, 4806,
and 4838 in the numbering scheme of the sketches above and those in the Appendix. Non-stationary
frames which are also worthy of study are those which contain a pale yellow-orange (PY/O)
elongated image that lies parallel to and above a similarly elongated red (R) image. These frame
numbers are 4613, 4638, 4639, 4673, 4674, and 4699, 4717 and 4725.
A straightforward interpretation of the triangular cluster of "dot" images in frame 4838,
for example, is that the cameraman filmed a triangular cluster of lights (!) and that the camera
and film resolved the spacings between the lights. In frame #4838 the spacing between PY/O
round "dot" image at the apex of the triangle and the center of a line joining the lower two R
"dot" images is about 0.084 mm (84 microns). The center-to-center spacing between the R images
is about 0.049 mm (49 microns). Since the focal length of the camera lens was 100 mm the angular
separations of the images were 0.84 mr (milliradians) and 0.49 mr, respectively. The actual
separations cannot be determined unless the distances of the lights from the camera are known.
What can be determined from the angular separations are the spacings as projected onto a plane
perpendicular to the line of sight (i.e., parallel to the film plane) if the mean distance to
the lights is known or assumed. Assuming that they were all at the same distance, i.e., lying in
a plane parallel to the film plane, and assuming that they were 10 km away then the
separations would have been 8.4 m and 4.9 m respectively. If they were at the distance of the
radar target that was reported at 0251 (see map), that is. at 20 nm (37 km), the spacings would
have been about 30 m and 18 m respectively. (The radar target will be discussed later.) Of
course, if not all of the lights were at the same distance from the camera then the
separations would be greater than calculated here.
The first triangular cluster in the film appears in frame #4666. This is presented above
in color. In this frame the PY/O and R images are not distinctly separated, as they are in
later clusters. From the center of the PY/O image to the center of the baseline joining the
centers of the R images is about 0.07 mm (70 microns). The spacing of the centers of the R
images is also about 0.07 mm. The nexttriangular cluster is found in frame #4804. In this frame
the vertical spacing is 0.085 mm and the horizontal spacing (of the R images) is 0.065 mm. The
most clearly resolved cluster is in frame #4838. It was described in the preceding paragraph.
Each of the non-stationary frames listed above contains a horizontal or nearly horizontal
elongated PY/O image above a similarly elongated R image. These elongated images are consistent
with what would be expected if the camera line of sight (the pointing direction) moved laterally
(i.e., the camera rotated sidways) while the shutter was open and if the camera were filming a
triangular array of lights with a PY/O light above two R lights (forming a horizontal base). The
first such frame is 4613. In this frame the vertical center-to-center spacing of the elongated
images ("streaks") is about 0.058 mm. The next frames are #4638 and 4639 which have been
presented previously in full color. In these frames the vertical spacing is about 0.056 mm. The
next frames are #4673 and 4674, for which the vertical spacing is about 0.07 mm. Finally there
are parallel (bent) streaks in frames #4699. 4717 and 4725 in which the vertical spacing is
estimated at 0.077 mm.
Figure 5 illustrates the changes during the filming of the vertical and horizontal spacings
of the images based on the measurements given above. The graph in Figure 5 shows that the
vertical spacing of the PY/O image from the R images (circles; upper line) increased as time
went on, while the horizontal spacing of the R images decreased (squares; there are only three
FIGURE 5 The Temporal Variation of the Sizes of the Triangle Images
The increase in angular separation between the apex and the base of the triangular cluster
is consistent with the testimonial information which indicates that the plane was approaching
the lights, assuming that the vertical spacing of the lights was constant. The fact that the
vertical and horizontal spacings changed differently suggests that there may have been a slight
change in the viewing aspect. If the three lights were attached to a single object, the decrease
in spacing between the R lights could be attributed to a slight rotation of the object about a
vertical axis. Another possibility is that the light cluster remained fixed in space and the
distance decrease (as the plane approached) was accompanied by the rotation of the line of sight
to the lights, such as would happen if the plane did not fly directly toward the cluster.
Unfortunately the film does not provide sufficient information to determine whether the viewing
aspect changed or the light cluster itself rotated. However, the descriptive information on
Fogarty's tape, which will be discussed in a later section, suggests that rotation of the
cluster itself could have actually occurred.
A general discussion of proposed explanations will be presented in a later section of this
paper. However, a brief discussion will be given here of those explanations which to apply to
the triangular image clusters.
The initial explanation for this section of film was proposed by Quentin Fogarty when he
first saw the film: the cameraman had filmed a flashing beacon. Therefore this author studied
the official New Zealand government handbook of nautical information to determine whether or
not there were any nautical and aircraft beacons within view of the airplane at any place along
its flight path that has the appropriate basic characteristics (a triangular arrangement of one
white and two red lights and a flash rate of about once per second). The handbook listed beacons
which flash red and white, but the periods of these beacons are four seconds or longer and each
such beacon flashes with only a single color, red or white, at any one time. Also there is no
beacon with two red lights side by side. This author then considered the possibility that there
was a chance alignment of beacons, say a rapidly flashing (i.e., once per second) bright white
beacon aligned with two rapidly flashing red beacons. This sort of coincidence could explain the
periodicity, although it would be difficult to explain the synchronism (i.e., maintaining a
phase difference of about l8O degrees) during 32 cycles by independently flashing beacons. If
the red beacons did not flash, the synchronism between the bright white and the red images could
be explained if the white beacon got so bright that its image increased in size and blotted out
the red beacons once per cycle. However, again no such alignment was found. Then this author
investigated the possibility that there were flashing lights on another aircraft. However, the
air traffic controller stated that there were no other aircraft anywhere near the Argosy
freighter. Finally this author considered the possibility that some emergency vehicle near
Blenheim had been filmed. However, the pilot (who lives in Blenheim) checked with the local
police and fire departments learned that there were no emergency vehicles out that night.
Furthermore, it was learned that emergency vehicles in New Zealand use blue lights. Thus no
conventional explanation was found for the triangular image clusters.
IV. Discussion of the Transition and Red Images
The previous section contains a discussion of the frames with triangular clusters and
parallel elongated R and PY/O images. The frames with bright overexposed PY/O images will be
discussed in the next section. This section contains a discussion of those frames in which the R
and PY/O colors are mixed within a single, usually distorted, image. These are the "transition
images" which lie between the minimum and maximum intensity images in each cycle. This section
also contains a discussion of the frames which contain only R images.
A study of the transition images shows that the PY/O light and the R lights remained
adjacent to one another (at least from the point of view of the camera) throughout each cycle.
The study also shows that the PY/O source intensity decreased uniformly from the maximum value
in a cycle, generally taking four or more frames to reach zero, but that it increased
from zero very rapidly, generally taking only two frames to reach a value close to the maximum
(see, for example, Figure 4). Thus the intensity did not change discontinuously, such as would
happen if the light had been quickly switched on and off, like a strobe light, or abruptly
occulted by some opaque object. Instead, the intensity "pulsated," similar to the brightness
variation of an ordinary lamp bulb that is controlled by a dimmer switch that is turned up and
down rapidly. The transition images also show that the R intensity increased and decreased
uniformly rather than discontinuously (see Figure 4). Unfortunately the camera motion distorted
most of the transition images making a more detailed interpretation quite difficult.
There are also a number of frames with only R images. These occurred when the PY/O
intensity was zero. At their brightest the R light sources were much dimmer than the PY/O light
at its brightest. At their dimmest the R lights either barely made images (as in frames #4606,
4623, 4624, 4649, 4658, 4676, 4684, 4685, 4709, 4735, 4762, 4770, 4787, 4796, 4797, 4812,
4820, and 4839) or were not even bright enough to make detectable images on the film (as in
frames #4597, 4598, 4630, 4631, 4632, 4633, 4650, 4659, 4710, 4736, 4788, 4813, 4814, 4821,
4822, 4823, 4829, 4830, 4831, 4847, 4848, 4849, 4854, 4855, 4856, 4857, and 4858). A study of
the above frame numbers will show that the frames with faint red images or with no images
at all occurred most often at the end of the film sequence, and next most often at the beginning
of the sequence, when the maximum brightness in each cycle of the overexposed images was lower
than the maximum reached in the middle of the sequence of cycles. Referring to Figure 3 we see
that the tendency for the red images to be very dim near the beginning and end of the film
correlates with the tendency for the maximum image brightness to be lower at the beginning and
end of the film.
V. Estimates of the Maximum Intensities of the PY/O or BYW and R Light Sources
The PY/O or BYW images present the greatest possible range in film exposure, varying from
zero (no image) to completely overexposed. The central portions of the bright images are
completely devoid of color (overexposed) and appear to be "white" or the color of the
incandescent projection bulb. Around the central portion of each image is a highly exposed, pale
yellow band or annular region. Surrounding the pale yellow annular region is a very narrow (10
to 20 microns wide) "color gradient region" (CGR) which forms the boundary between the highly
exposed area and the surrounding unexposed (black) area. The CGR exists because of the
variations of exposure level in the three layers of film emulsion. It is visible around
the edges of overexposed images of known incandescent light sources (e.g., airport lights that
cameraman Crockett filmed as the plane was taking off and landing) as well around the edges
of the overexposed images of the unknown flashing light(s). The width of the CGR is roughly
independent of the image exposure level, growing to a maximum of about 20 microns wide around
overexposed images that are about 200 microns in diameter. The CGR is surrounded by "perfect"
blackness (no exposure). (A discussion in Section VII shows that this fact by itself is
sufficient reason to reject the anticollision beacon hypothesis that has been proposed to
explain the unusual flashing light images.)
Because the central portions of the images are overexposed it is difficult to determine the
exact color of the PY/O light source. It could have been pale yellow or very pale orange, hence
the notation PY/O. In the image sketches above and in the Appendix the notation used is BYW
(bright yellowish white), rather than PY/O, to convey in words the impression one gets from
looking at the images. When the overall image is relatively dim, the PY/O portion of the image
is found at the apex of a triangular cluster of images (described in Section III). At this time
it looks pale orange or pale, very slightly reddish, yellow. By way of comparison, the R images
which form the base of a triangular cluster are "pure" red and none of them are overexposed.
There are several possible explanations for the periodic changes in the sizes of the PY/O
or BYW images, only two of which are worthy of some discussion. These are (a) periodic changes
in the size of the light source while the intensity remained substantially constant or (b)
periodic changes of intensity while the size remained constant or (c) a combination of these.
(The variations in image brightness could also be attributed to rapid and extreme variations in
the distance to the light source, all else being constant. But the distance changes required
per flash cycle would be many kilometers toward and away from the Argosy aircraft,so this
explanation seems much less reasonable than the other possibilities.) The reason for (a) above
is that the size of an image increases with increases in the size of an object, all else being
constant. The reason for (b) is, as mentioned previously, that the size of an image on film
increases with increasing intensity of the light source, all else being constant. (This is
a fact well known to astrophotographers.) More specifically, the image size generally increases
beyond the geometric size, with the amount of increase (the image "growth") being proportional
to the logarithm of the exposure level (Mees, 1944). This author has conducted numerous
experiments which confirm that color reversal film of the type used by the cameraman obeys the
logarithmic image growth law over a wide range of exposure levels starting with the lowest
level which will produce a visible image and ranging upward for four or more decades in exposure
level. (The size of the geometric image [I] of an object of some brightness level is equal to
the actual size of the object as measured transverse to the line of sight [O], that is,
projected onto a plane parallel to the film plane, divided by the range [distance] from the
camera to the light source [R] and multiplied by the focal length of the lens [F]: I =
OF/R.) Therefore, since the exposure level is proportional to the intensity (all else being
constant) the amount of growth in the size of the image is generally proportional to the
logarithm of the intensity.
Although the first possibility (a periodic size change by a factor of ten or more) cannot
be positively ruled out, it seems much more reasonable to assume that the intrinsic size of the
PY/O light source remained constant. Therefore the following analysis assumes that the PY/O
and R lights which form the triangular arrangement were effectively point sources of constant
size and that their intensities changed periodically.
One can calculate the luminous intensity, in lumens/steradian (lm/st), or candelas (cd), of a
point source at range R from the observer or camera using the following equation:
Q R^2 e^(bR)
I = -----------------, cd (=lm/st). (1)
(This equation can be found by inverting standard photometric equations which give the image
exposure in terms of the source intensity.) In this equation, Q (lm sec) is the photometric
energy deposited within the boundary of the image (within the CGR) and t (sec) is the exposure
duration (the "frame time"). The value of Q is determined from the image in a manner to be
described. R is the range from the camera to the light source in meters (m), b, is the
atmospheric extinction coefficient (a combination of absorption and scattering) in 1/m, T is the
transmission of the camera lens and the aircraft window, and A in cm^2 is the area of the lens
aperture. The area is given by the following equation:
A = (Pi/4)(F/f#)^2. (2)
where Pi= 3.1416, F is the focal length of the lens (10 cm in this case) and f# is the aperture
setting on the camera (f# = 1.9 in this case).
Of the quantities in the above equations only R is completely unknown. Since R is
completely unknown the procedure for using the photographic data is as follows: (a) for a given
image determine Q in the manner to be presented; (b) using Q along with the camera coefficients
(t, A, T) and an estimate for b (see below), calculate a set of intensity values corresponding
to various R values and produce a graph of I versus R; (c) choose a value of R and read from the
graph the light intensity which is required at that distance to make the film image. Besides
providing intensity levels that correspond to various assumed distances this graph allows one to
compare the intensity of a known light source at known distance with the intensity at that
distance as required by the film image.
The quantities in Eq. (1) that are determined by the camera settings are t = 0.044 sec (0.1
sec/frame with a rotating shutter efficiency of 44%: 0.1 x 0.44 0.044) and A = 0.00196 m^2
(from Eq. (2) using F = 100 mm and f# = 1.9). The transmission factor, T, is estimated to be 0.8
The atmospheric extinction, b, has been estimated from weather data which include upper
altitude data on temperature, wind direction and the relative humidity. Unfortunately these data
were measured several hours before the sighting and at a location about a hundred miles from the
sighting area. Nevertheless, using atmospheric models ("LOWTRAN" computer program code), using
knowledge about the weather patterns preceding the sighting (e.g., a cold front passed through
the area several hours before the sighting) and using estimates of the aerosol content of the
atmosphere, it has been possible to estimate reasonable maximum and minimum values of b at the
time and location of the sighting. (An unpublished paper on the estimate of the extinction
coefficient at the time of the New Zealand sightings is available from the author.) Values of b
were found for a slant (visual) path from 4 km (the airplane altitude) to the ground and for a
horizontal path at 4 km. The reason for considering a slant path to the ground is to compare the
calculated maximum intensity with the maximum intensities of various (ground level) beacons.
There are two reasons for considering a horizontal path. One is that the witnesses claimed that
the unusual lights were above ground. The second reason for considering a horizontal, or even
an upward, path is that the film shows no lights other than the flashing light, although at
ground level there were numerous lights, both flashing and steady. The absence of other images
therefore implies that the field of view of the camera was totally above the horizon (ground
The range of reasonable values for b for the slant path to the ground runs from 1E-4/m to
5E-5/m. (Note: "E" is exponential notation: 1E0 = 1, 1E1 = 10, 1E-1 = 1/10, 2E1 = 20,
2E-2 = 2/100, 1E-4 = 1/10,000 etc.) The estimated value for the horizontal path is b = 1E-5/m.
If the visual path had been upward from the plane the value of b would be even lower (Menat,
1980) but not zero (b = 0 corresponds to no atmospheric absorption or scattering, i.e., the
situation with no atmosphere). Because the value of b is not precisely known there are three
curves of I versus R corresponding to the range of values of b. Since the intent is to
estimate the light source intensity necessary to create the brightest images, one should
use the graph (Fig. 6 below) as follows: first choose a reasonable value for b and then use the
curve for that value of b to find I at some chosen value of R.
The final quantity needed to calculate the source intensity is the quantity Q, which is the
spectrally weighted (according to the color response of the film) energy collected by the camera
lens and deposited within the boundary of the film image. Q is the product of two other
quantities which can be measured or estimated: the film exposure level, H, in lm sec/cm^2,
and the image area, A in cm^2. More accurately, Q is the summation (or integral) of the product
of H and A over small subareas of the image. Unfortunately densitometry equipment that would
conveniently measure H in a large number of small subareas of the image was not available for
use in this investigation. Therefore the summation has been approximated by using an estimate of
the average H over the whole image.
The average value of H has been estimated in two ways. The first way is the "traditional"
method which makes use of the empirical relation between the image density and the exposure
level, H, for the particular type of film. The second method, which provides a very convenient
way to estimate H values, makes use of the image size to estimate H. Since both methods yield
the same value of Q only the traditional method will be discussed.
The relation known as an "H & D" curve is provided by the film manufacturer. On this curve
(or family of curves) image density, D, the negative of the logarithm to the base ten of the
film optical transmission, is plotted as a function of the logarithm of H. For positive
transparency (color reversal) film, such as slides and movie film, the density is high in
unexposed regions and low in exposed regions. A densitometer is a device which directly measures
D. A scanning densitometer was used to measure the average densities of overexposed images on
Crockett's film. Then the H & D curves for the film (Fujicolor 8425 color reversal type) were
used to find the corresponding H values. Since the curves supplied by the Fuji Film company
do not provide accurate information about the density of overexposed images, the curves were
supplemented by experimental data obtained by this author.
A large number of overexposed images are candidates for this type of analysis. The
densities of these images lie in the range 0.12 to 0.16, with the clear leader having a density
of about 0.10. A conservative choice that leads to a lower bound on the maximum image exposure
is D = 0.16. The choice of this value rather than 0.12 or some value between 0.12 and 0.16 is
"conservative" because it results in a probable underestimate of the exposure level and
ultimately an underestimate of the light source intensity. D = 0.16, according to the
commercial H & D curves as supplemented by experiments carried out by the author, corresponds to
an exposure level of about 5E-5 lm sec/cm^2. If a lower density value were assumed, say
0.12, the exposure level would be considerably greater since, in the region of overexposure
(film saturation), the relationship between exposure and density is highly nonlinear. For
example, D = .12 might correspond to an exposure level as much as ten times greater than 5E-5 lm
The maximum intensity of the PY/O light source can be estimated by combining the above
value of H with the area of the largest overexposed image which has a density of 0.16 (or less)
and which was not smeared by camera motion. (Smearing can increase the area of the image and
cause the image to have a distorted shape, while decreasing the exposure level slightly, making
it difficult to calculate Q). Assuming that the light was a point source (or a finite sized
source that is much, much smaller than its distance from the camera, e.b., a 30 m source at 37
km), an unsmeared, overexposed image should be round. Therefore, only images which are round or
very nearly so have been considered for this calculation. There are many large images of very
similar areas which are nearly round (in sketches above and in the Appendix for frames #4618,
4628, 4636, 4644, 4645, 4646, 4652, 4653, 4662, 4694, 4748, 4774, 4775, 4782, and 4792). There
are also two large images that are almost perfectly round (in frames #4687 and 4758). Although Q
could have been calculated using the area of any of these, it has been calculated only for #4758
because of its simple round shape. It has a diameter inside the CGR of about 250 microns so its
area, A, is about 4.9E-4 cm^2. Multiplying this by the average value of H given above yields Q =
H A = 2.5E-8 lm sec. This is actually a lower bound on Q since the exposure level used
corresponded to a film density of 0.16, whereas some of the large overexposed images had
densities as low as 0.12.
Figure 6 has been created using this value of Q along with the previouslylisted values of
the other quantities in Eq. (1). The figure shows that for any assumed distance greater than
5 km the source intensity needed to make an image as large and bright as #4758 must be greater
than 1E4 cd. Similarly, if the source were at a distance greater than 50 km the intensity would
have to have been greater than 1E7 cd if the PY/O light were on the earth's surface, or greater
than 1E6 cd if the source were at the altitude of the plane. Similar estimates of the maximum
intensity of the red light source show that it was, at its brightest, about one one thousandth
as bright as the PY/O light at its brightest.
Figure 6 The required light source intensity to make the BYW
overexposed images for various assumed distances and atmospheric extinction levels for
horizontal and downward slant paths
The importance of this graph for analyzing the suggested explanations for the flashing
light will become apparent in the discussion following the witness testimony.
VI. A Discussion of the Witness Testimony
The discussion thus far has been restricted to analysis of the "hard" photographic data.
This section presents a summary of the "soft" information supplied by the witnesses. This
information is worthy of serious consideration because it comes from tape recorded statements
made at the time of the sighting supplemented by the recollections of the witnesses. Thus,
unlike the situation with most UFO sightings, it is not necessary to totally rely on the
memories of the witnesses.
The exact time (to within half a minute) of the visual sighting, which, it is argued here,
was coincident with the previously described film, has been determined from the tape recording
made at the Wellington Air Traffic Control Center (WATCC). (A copy of the wellington Air Traffic
Control Center tape record events was supplied to this author by Geoffrey Causer, the air
traffic controller who was on duty that night.) The tape shows that, about five minutes
previous to the sighting, the plane turned westward at Kaikoura East and headed toward Cape
Campbell (see Fig. 1). The time was about 0246:30 (30 seconds after 0246). In the following two
minutes the WATCC gave a weather report for Blenheim which included the statements that the
visibility was 60 km, the wind was 10-15 nautical miles per hour from the west and that the
cloud coverage was 1/8 of the sky up to 4,000 ft over the Blenheim airport.
The WATCC also reported several radar returns (radar "targets") near the South Island which
were showing on the search radar that was monitoring the flight of the plane. The WATCC reported
the these radar targets because in several instances earlier that morning there had been
correlations in the appearance, disappearance and apparent location of visual objects (lights
seen from the plane) and radar targets. However, the crew on the plane did not see lights
associated with the radar targets that were reported between 0246 and 0248.
Then, at 0251, the copilot contacted the WATCC to report a visual sighting. The portion of
the tape transcript which is pertinent to this sighting is given below. Times are given in 24
hour notation, with seconds following the colon, and directions are given in "clock notation"
with 12:00 straight ahead, 3:00 at 90 degrees to the right, 9:00 at 90 degrees to the left, etc.
Words in parentheses have been added by this author for clarification.
0251 -(plane) wellington. do you have (a target) in my 12:00
position (i.e.. straight ahead), probably somewhere near
Grassmere or perhaps a little east of Grassmere? (see Figure 1)
-(WATCC) Affirmative. I have a strong target at (2:00 to
you at 20 (nautical) miles and, uh, that's 2 miles off the
coast. 10 miles south of Cape Campbell
-(plane) Roger. we have that one, also. and quite a good
visual display at the moment.
-(WATCC) It's showing lights?
-(plane) Say again?
-(WATCC) It's showing light, is it?
-(plane) Affirmative. It looks like a collection of lights.
I wonder. can you establish (contact) and ask the flight service man (at
Blenheim airport) to turn his rotating beacon off just in case we're
mixing it up with that?
0252 -(WATCC) OK
-(At this point the WATCC called Blenheim and asked for
the beacon to be shut off.)
0252:20 -(WATCC) The beacon is going off now.
-(plane) Thank you.
0253 -(WATCC) Two further targets showing well on radar, one
at 9:00 at 8 miles and one at 10:00 at 10 miles.
0253:20 -(WATCC) The one just south of Cape Campbell is now gone
off the radar.
Although the statements by the copilot give only a frustratingly brief, description of the
events occurring at the time, a significant amount of information can be derived from the above
transcript. First and foremost is the apparently simultaneous appearance of a radar target in
the same direction from the plane as the visual display. Figure 1 shows that the location of the
radar target was in the same direction as the copilot indicated (toward Lake Grassmere) but
about 10 miles closer to the plane. The copilot's error in estimating the distance is not
surprising since this was a nighttime sighting of lights of unknown intrinsic size.
The copilot described what he saw as a "collection of lights." This implies several lights
in close spatial association. The copilot then asked for the Blenheim Beacon to be turned off
"in case we're mixing it up with that." This was a reasonable precautionary measure since the
direction to the Blenheim beacon (see Figure 1) was close to the direction to Lake Grassmere.
The beacon is a single white light that flashes once every 3.5 seconds so that the implication
of this request is that the lights he saw were flashing. In a tape recorded free-recall
statement made four days after the sighting the copilot recalled seeing "two big orange lights"
as the plane headed toward Cape Campbell. "One of them was flashing a little, so we got a
message through Wellington to Blenheim flight service to turn the aerodrome beacon off. We were
told it was off, but this thing was still flashing." (Subsequently the unusual flashing light
did disappear, as will be described). In this statement, which was made before he heard the
WATCC tape, the copilot inadvertently combined some details of the sighting of the "collection
of lights" with the details of a subsequent sighting of two bright lights that appeared in the
sky ahead of the plane after the flashing "collection of lights" had disappeared. (Crockett
remembered seeing these two lights appear but he was not able to film them because the airplane
started turning into an orbit at about 0258 to lose altitude in preparation for landing before
he could align his camera properly. So these lights are not on the film.)
It is interesting to note the copilot's statement that the "collection of lights" was still
flashing after the beacon went off. It is interesting because, according to the WATCC tape, the
beacon went off at about 0252:20 or 0252:30 and about 45 seconds later the large target south of
Cape Campbell disappeared from the radar screen. Thus when the WATCC tape is compared with the
copilot's statement it appears that the flashing "collection of lights" and the radar target
disappeared at about the same time, perhaps even simultaneously, although simultaneity cannot be
proven with the available information.
The second major source of testimonial information is the tape recording made by reporter
Quentin Fogarty. (A copy of the tape recording made during the flight by Quentin Fogarty
was supplied by TV Channel 0 (now channel 10) in Melbourne. This author transcribed the tape and
Quentin Fogarty reviewed and corrected the transcription.) Fogarty had tape recorded his
impressions of the previous sightings that night. He had taped several descriptions of what he
saw during the sighting that took place between about 0218 and 0235 while the plane was within
about 50 miles of Christchurch (the famous "squid boat" sighting discussed elsewhere on this web
site). After that sighting was over Fogarty, along with the air crew and the other passengers,
continually scanned the skies for unusual lights. A few minutes after the plane passed Kaikoura
East (see Figure 1) he recorded the following statement:
"We've now just passed Kaikoura East and, uh, there's been no further
activity. There are pinpoints of light in the sky but nothing's been
confirmed on radar. I, for one, am hoping really that, uh, we've seen
enough, and, uh, the rest of our journey back to Blenheim will be
uneventful. I've had just about enough of UFOs for one night."
Fogarty's next taped message is reproduced below. It is broken into individual statements
to facilitate the following discussion. Elapsed times, accurate to within a second or so, are
given in parentheses.
1. "About 30 seconds after that last message and, of course, we've got
another one ... right in front of us (8 sec)
2. very bright ... it seems to be quite a long way away (12.5 sec)
3. and another one flashed just to the left of it. (14 sec.)
4. That one flashed extremely brightly. (17.5 sec)
5. They've now both faded. The other one's flashing again. (20 sec)
6. It's ... giving off... an orange flashing light (25.5 sec)
7. It looks like an aircraft beacon ... and it's moving ... off (32 sec)
8. It's extremely bright. (34.5 sec)
9. It fades and it's dropped. (37 sec)
10. It seems to have just dropped at an incredible speed and it's... (40 sec)
11. It seems to be rolling and turning. (41 sec)
12. In fact there's one light, there's another light beside it. (46 sec)
13. Oh, I don't know ... I really don't known what is going on. (53.5 sec)
14. It appears to be over the hills. (58 sec)
15. There appears to be a whole cluster of them in fact. (In the background
Crockett yells "I can't see anything.") (65 sec)
16. You can see orange and red among the lights. There's one particular one
that keeps flashing to the right hand side of it. (74 sec)
17. You can see three distinct lights ... In fact it looks very much like
the same sort of pattern we saw... when we came down over the Kaikoura
coast on the way down, but, um, there wasn't quite as much flashing.
It really is, uh, . . . quite strange," (98 sec)
Because Fogarty did not keep track of the exact times of his taped messages, the time of
the message quoted above can only be determined by correlation of its content with the content
of the WATCC tape. Since it is very likely that Fogarty saw what the copilot reported directly
ahead of the plane at 0251 (the sudden appearance of a collection of lights), it is the
contention of this author that this message describes the 0251 sighting. This contention is
supported by the comparison of Fogarty's next (and last) message, which reports what happened
after the beacon was turned off, with the copilot's statement at 0255, as recorded on the WATCC
tape. First consider Fogarty's last recorded statement (elapsed times are measured from
the beginning of this statement):
18. "Well, you can't be right all the time. It appears that the last
flashing light that we saw was a beacon at Blenheim and they asked...
the pilots asked for the beacon to be turned off and we're no longer
seeing that light. (15 sec)
19. But at the same time as they turned the beacon off, Wellington radar
told us that he had targets coming over to the left of us. In fact,
as I speak now, we have another one right above Blenheim. Extremely
bright. (30 sec)
20. And that's not a beacon because it's not in the same positions as the
lights were before and these sightings at the moment are right in the
position were Wellington radar says they should be" (46 sec)
To recapitulate, according to the Wellington tape the Blenheim beacon went off at about
0252:20, but, according to the copilot the "collection of lights" was still flashing. At about
0253 WATCC reported "Two further targets showing well on radar" at the left of the plane (9:00
and 10:00). (These do not appear to have been related to the sighting. They may have been
weather "angels," spurious temporary ground returns caused by atmospheric refraction of the
radar beam. Such spurious returns are common along the Kaikoura coast and had been reported
earlier in the evening.) At about 0253:30, the "strong target" south of Cape Campbell
disappeared from the radar screen. Presumably the "collection of lights" disappeared at the
same time as the "strong target," but this is only conjecture. About 45 seconds later Wellington
reported four targets at 9:00, 9:30, 10:00, and 10:30 to the plane (probably more spurious
returns). Then, shortly after 0255 the copilot reported as follows:
"We had a pretty bright light. We have it again now. It appears to be
behind Woodbourne from where we are. Probably towards, uh, between us
and Nelson North in that direction. Do you have anything at all in
Woodbourne is the name of the airfield at Blenheim and Nelson North is a non-geographic
aircraft reporting point somewhat north of the town of Nelson (logical!), so the copilot was
indicating that the "pretty bright light" was also in the direction of Blenheim. Although the
WATCC had no target that would correlate with the copilot's report, the light described in
Fogarty's last message does correlate:"... we have another one right above Blenheim. Extremely
bright." (statement 19 above). Thus it appears that Fogarty's last message was taped at about
0255. It is therefore quite likely that the previous message, which describes the orange and red
flashing lights, was recorded at 0251, as claimed by this author.
In his last taped message Fogarty identified the "last flashing light" (statements 6
through 12) as the Blenheim Beacon (see statement 18). When thinking about the sighting
afterward Fogarty told this author that he then realized that this identification was clearly
erroneous (Fogarty, 1982). He could see coastal beacons and the city lights of Blenheim, so he
had numerous fixed reference points by which he could judge azimuthal directions, movements of
lights and also the depression angle (the angle below horizontal) of the horizon. (At the4 km
altitude of the plane the horizon was about 242 km away, including atmospheric refraction
effects, at a depression angle of about 10 degrees. The lights of Blenheim were about 93 km away
at a depression angle of 3.6 degrees, or slightly below the true horizon.) He was therefore able
to determine that a light seen "above Blenheim" was considerably above ground level. The
unusual light which had been "rolling and turning" (statement 11) was apparently in the sky
above ground level and perhaps "over the hills" (see statement 14 above) east of Blenheim (see
Figure 1). Fogarty realized that no beacon could suddenly be "moving off' (statement 7), then
drop downward "at an incredible speed" (statement 10) and then go into a "rolling and
turning" maneuver (statement 11). (Fogarty described this maneuver as being a rotation in space,
roughly like a ball tied to a string and swung about a center point, except that the rotation
was in an elliptical rather than a circular orbit.) Furthermore, he realized that there are no
orange beacons (statement 6). Therefore he realized that his last message (statement 18) was
Considering all of these reasons why it could not have been a beacon, Fogarty (1982)
explained his immediate "identification" in the following way. In the "heat of the moment" he
was impressed by the fact that the flashing light went off at about the same time that he was
told that the copilot had asked for the beacon to be turned off. He therefore accepted the
beacon explanation for lack of anything better at the time, and went on to describe the next
sighting which he knew could not have been the beacon because the beacon was already off
Thus far the relationship between the WATCC radar targets. the copilot's sightings and
Fogarty's tape recorded statements have been discussed. The relationship between the film and
the visual sightings will now be discussed.
Crockett's camera was not synchronized in any way with Fogarty's tape or the Wellington
tape. Therefore it is impossible, without resorting to the testimony of Fogarty and the copilot,
to show that Crockett filmed the lights reported at 0251. However, it is quite reasonable to
assume that he did film these lights for two important reasons. First, it is very difficult to
imagine that he would not have seen the unusual lights which appeared directly ahead of the
plane. Considering his state of mind and alertness it is extremely likely (certain?) that he
would have seen them and tried to film them. Second, there are clear similarities between the
lights described by Fogarty and the images on the film. The similarities are between the
triangular cluster images on the film and Fogarty's description (statements 15, 16, and 17
above). Fogarty reported seeing a "cluster" of lights, that he saw "orange and red among the
lights" (i.e., orange and red lights), that he observed flashing and that he could see "three
distinct lights." (Note that the latter part of statement 17 refers to sightings that occurred
several hours earlier as the plane flew from Wellington to Christchurch.) The descriptive terms
"cluster," "orange and red," "flashing," and "three distinct lights" can also be applied to the
images in Crockett's film. Therefore this author claims that Crockett filmed what Fogarty saw.
There are three possible objections to this claim. One objection is that Crockett could not
see what Fogarty saw. This objection is based on Crockett's recorded statement (in a voice
sufficiently loud to be heard over the noise of the airplane engines, indicating frustration on
his part) "I can't see anything" (see statement 5 above). However, this statement probably
refers to the difficulty he was having in keeping his camera pointed at the lights while looking
through his 100 mm lens because of the rapid relative motion between the lights and the camera.
Crockett had made a similar statement during the earlier sighting near Christchurch when he
and all the other witnesses were watching a bright light as the plane turned toward the unknown
object (near the end of the "squid boat" sighting). The turning created a rapid apparent motion
of the object relative to the plane. At that time Crockett had trouble keeping the camera
pointed at the light while he was viewing through his lens and, shortly after the plane started
turning, he yelled "I can't see it." Yet there is no doubt that the light was clearly visible to
all of the other passengers on the plane. (Moreover, analysis of that portion of the film
suggests that Crockett actually did film that light during the turn.)
Even if Crockett had not started filming the flashing lights until as much as five seconds
after he yelled "I can't see anything," he still could have obtained the 28 seconds of film
before Fogarty ended his taped description (see the elapsed times). If he had not started
filming until more than five seconds after he yelled, then his filming would have continued
after Fogarty stopped recording. However, if the flashing light cluster actually was the cause
of the large radar target that appeared at 0251 and disappeared at about 0253:20, then he would
have had about a minute to film it after Fogarty ended his message. Thus the fact that Crockett
yelled that he could not see the lights does not mean that he could not have started filming
them immediately after he yelled.
Another objection to claiming that Crockett filmed what Fogarty saw is based on the
possible color difference between Fogarty's "orange flashing light" and the PY/O images in
Crockett's film. However, as pointed out previously, the exact color of the light which made the
PY/O and especially the BYW images is difficult to determine from the photographic data. A
sufficiently pale shade of orange could appear orange to a viewer and at the same time cause
images on color reversal film, especially overexposed images, to be pale yellow.
The third objection is based on Crockett's failure to recall, in an interview about five
weeks later, exactly when he filmed the flashing light cluster. However, the final portion of
the film clearly shows the landing at the Blenheim airport (Crockett filmed all the landing
and takeoffs of the airplane that night). The unusual flashing light cluster was not part of the
landing field display of lights. Therefore the film proves that the cluster was filmed at some
time before the landing, and the most likely time was at 0251 when the others on the plane saw
the unusual lights which have been discussed above.
Thus, in spite of the above objections, it appears to be very reasonable to conclude that
Crockett saw and filmed the lights that Fogarty described in his tape recording.
If one accepts the claim that the copilot and Fogarty described the lights which Crockett
filmed, then the following technical information can be added to that which has already been
gleaned from the film: (a) the light source which made the PY/O or BYW images may have been
tinted more toward orange than the film indicates, (b) the unusual lights were considerably
above the ground (this is consistent with the film which shows no ground lights during the
flashing light sequence of frames even though various ground lights, at great distances, could
have been in the field of view of the camera), and (c) the lights moved rapidly at times, even
dropping downward and "rolling and turning." It may be impossible to determine whether or not
some of the motion of the images on the film is related to actual motion of the lights because
the camera rested on Crockett's shoulder and not on a stable tripod. However, there is a short
section at the begining of the film in which the image motion seems difficult to ascribe to
random camera motion alone. The image undergoes a rapid cyclic motion that requires about four
frames to complete each cycle. The image motion describes a very narrow ellipse with the major
axis being nearly vertical. The motion lasts for at least five cycles with an oscillation period
of about 4 frames/cycle, corresponding to 2.5 cycles/sec. The peak to peak amplitude of the
motion is about 11 mr (0.6 degree). This motion is similar to what Fogarty meant when he said in
his taped message that the one of the lights he saw dropped downward and went into a "rolling
and turning" maneuver.
If the light cluster that was filmed was also the cause of the radar target reported at
0251, then the distance to the cluster would be the distance to the radar target, 20 nautical
miles or 37 km. At that distance the maximum intensity of the PY/O light (see Figure 6) would
have had to have been greater than 5E5 cd if it had been at the altitude of the plane and
greater than 2E6 cd if it had been at ground level. Also, at that distance the spacings between
the triangularly arranged light sources, projected onto a plane perpendicular to the line of
sight, would have been as follows: about 30 m between the PY/O source at the apex and line
joining the red lights and about 18 m between the red lights themselves.
VII. Discussion of The Suggested Explanations for the Film
Eight hypotheses have been offered to explain the film by itself. These hypotheses
essentially reject the idea suggestion that Crockett's filming was correlated with the 0251
radar target and visual sighting. Instead, they assume that the film can be explained
independently of the visual and radar sightings. Therefore this section will therefore
concentrate on proposed explanations for the film alone and treat the visual and radar sighting
information only tangentially.
Fogarty was the first person to "explain" the film because he was the first person to see
the it after it had been developed (Crockett did not see it until a week or more later). Because
the images flashed at a steady rate his immediate impression was that Crockett had filmed a
beacon. He therefore ignored this section of the film and publicized, instead, the section of
film shot earlier (between 0218 and 0235) while the plane was still near Christchurch. Had he
spoken to Crockett before deciding that it showed a beacon he might not have been so hasty
because Crockett was certain that he hadn't filmed a beacon at any time during the flight.
Crockett stated that whenever he saw a light which he thought might be worth filming he asked
the copilot to identify it, thereby avoiding beacons. The copilot confirmed that he had
repeatedly been asked by Crockett and the other passengers to identify navigation beacons, stars
and other ordinary lights.
In spite of Crockett's claim that he did not film a beacon the most obvious hypothesis is
that he did film a navigation beacon or a combination of beacons. This hypothesis requires that
there was, at some point along the known path of the aircraft, a navigation beacon or a
combination of beacons that was within view of the aircraft and that had the flash rate and
color structure of the film images. The hypothetical beacon or combination of beacons could be
placed, for purposes of explanation, at any point along the flight path between Kaikoura East
and the Blenheim airport because Crockett did not remember exactly when he filmed the
flashing light cluster. (Hence the argument, presented above, that he took the film at the
time of the visual sighting of the flashing light.) The New Zealand Nautical Almanac (1979)
lists all the marine and aviation beacons and gives the intensities (in cd) of the marine
beacons. There are no yellow or orange beacons. There are beacons which flash white only,
beacons which flash red only, and beacons which alternate white and red, with the white color
being much brighter than the red, but both colors are not visible at the same time. Allowing
for the possibility that an incandescent white light source could make the white images in
the film, a search of white-red flashing beacons was made. The fastest white-red flashing marine
beacon that could have been seen from the plane flashes at a rate of 4 sec/cycle (1/4 Hz). It's
peak white intensity is only about 1E3 cd which is much too low for the beacon to have
created overexposed images even at the closest distance of the airplane to the beacon, according
to the graphs in Figure 6. All the other, more powerful, white-red flashing beacons flash much
at slower rates. Furthermore, each of these beacons has only a single red light, not two side-
by-side. Hence these beacons are rejected because they flash too slowly and are not intense
enough to make overexposed images such as the BYW images on the film.
To give the beacon hypothesis its "best shot" this author has suggested that perhaps the
red images were made by two steady red lights that at one time during the flight happened to be
aligned with a bright white beacon in such a way as to produce the triangular arrangment (a
highly unusual, and perhaps impossible alignment from the point of view of the plane). The
pulsation of the red images would then be a photographic artifact of the large change in size of
the image of a white beacon as its intensity oscillated. However, as Figure 4 shows, there are a
number of frames (labelled "B") in which there is neither a PY/O nor an R image. This means
that decrease in the brightness and size of R images could not always have been caused by
increases in the PY/O intensity. Instead the pulsation of the R images must have been caused by
pulsation in the red lights themselves, and this violates the starting hypothesis that the
red lights were steady (not flashing).
The only beacons that flash at rates around 1 Hz are strictly red or strictly white "quick
flashing" lights. Therefore the following possibility was investigated: at some point on the
aircraft flight path there happened to be a triangular alignment of one white and two red quick
flashing marine or aircraft beacons. However, no such configuration was found. Furthermore,
the New Zealand Nautical Almanac (1979) indicates that the quick flashing beacons have
intensities lower than 1E4 cd. These intensities are too low because at all times during
the flight the airplane was so distant from each quick flashing white marine beacon that even
the intensity of the closest beacon would have had to have been greater than 1E6 cd to
produce the overexposed images, according to the analysis summarized in Figure 6. Only the quick
flashing lights which are part of the Blenheim airport lighting would have been close enough to
the airplane, during the landing, to cause overexposed images of the sort found on the film.
However, there is no triangular arrangement of white and red lights at the airport, nor was
there any possibility of a temporary trianglar alignment that could explain both the flash rate
and the duration of the film segment (28 seconds). Furthermore, because of the several degree
field of view of the camera lens, any film of those lights would also have shown numerous other
airport lights and even some city lights of Blenheim, because the landing pattern took the
airplane directly over Blenheim. So, for the reasons just given, incorrect flash rates and/or
insufficient intensities at the distances of the plane from the beacons, the beacon hypothesis
is ruled out.
The possibility that an internal (in the cockpit) flashing light caused the images was
considered and ruled out because (a) there are no such flashing lights in the cockpit, and (b)
the pilot turned off all the lights except steady dim red panel lights to make it easier to see
lights outside the plane.
The possibility that the flashing lights were on another airplane in the area was ruled out
by the WATCC radar operator who stated that there were no other scheduled aircraft in the
vicinity of the sighting area, nor were any unscheduled aircraft detected by the search radar.
The only conventional aircraft radar target detected at WATCC during the sighting period was
that of the Argosy freighter which carried Crockett, Fogarty, and the other witnesses.
Ireland (1979) suggested that while the plane was at the location indicated by 0251 on the
map Crockett filmed one particular quick flashing white beacon in the entrance to Wellington
Harbor (see Fig. 1). In making this suggestion Ireland completely ignored the red images in the
film, he did not fully appreciate the implications of the degree of overexposure of the PY/O or
BYW images, and he did not consider the consequences of the fact that the camera had a field of
view ofabout 4 degrees by 6 degrees. The light suggested by Ireland flashes white about once
every second, which is the proper rate. Nevertheless, it can be ruled out for several reasons.
First, there are no adjacent red flashing lights which are bright enough to make images on film
at the distance of the airplane from the harbor entrance. Second, within the field of view of
the camera there were numerous other flashing and steady white lights, including some city
lights of Wellington and some lights at the Wellington airport. These lights should have made
numerous faint images, but there are no images on the film except those of the flashing light
cluster discussed in the previous sections. Third, at the distance of the plane at 0251 from the
beacon its intensity would have had to have been greater than 1E9 cd in order to saturate the
film, but according to the New Zealand Nautical Almanac (1979), the actual intensity is rated at
about 7E3 cd, which is much, much lower than required. Even at the distance of closest approach
of the plane to the beacon, about 60 km, (when the beacon was not in front of the aircraft) its
intensity would have had to have been about 2E7 cd in order to produce overexposed images. (See
Figure 6 for b = 0.05/km, since the beacon was at ground level.)
Since the publication of his paper Ireland (private communication, 1984) has claimed that
by the time of the sighting in December 1978, the beacon in Wellington Harbor had been replaced
with a quick flashing strobe with a rated candlepower of 1E6. However, as pointed out above,
even this intensity would not be bright enough to create overexposed images if photographed from
the point of closest approach of the aircraft to the beacon. Furthermore, a strobe creates very
short flashes of light, so one might expect to have PY/O images created by the strobe in one or
at most two frames per cycle, not the six to eight frames per cycle in which they actually
appear. Moreover, this still does not account for the presence of red lights below the white or
BYW image (there are no red lights that could appear as below the quick flashing beacon
mentioned by Ireland) and this does not explain the lack of images of other lights that would be
apparent if the camera were pointed toward the Wellington harbor. Thus, in spite of Ireland's
more recent claim, the harbor beacon hypothesis still fails for the above reasons.
T. W. Rackham at Jodrell Bank Observatory in England (private communication, May 15, 1980)
has suggested that atmospheric turbulence and extinction effects modified the light from some
distant source on the surface of the earth. He made this suggestion because, as an astronomer
he was aware that atmospheric refraction and turbulence effects can slightly distort a distant
light source both spatially and spectrally. He pointed out that, for example, elongated and even
multiple images of Venus have been photographed (through telescopes). The elongated images tend
to be whitish on top and red at the bottom, which is very roughly similar to the triangle images
in the film. Rackham did not suggest an astronomical source for the light, and in fact he ruled
out the brightest astronomical source, Venus, because it was at or below the eastern horizon
at the time, it would not have been bright enough to make images as large as the overexposed
images on the film, and its intensity would not have pulsated in a regular manner.
In order to make Dr. Rackham's suggestion compatible with the film one would have to assume
either a distant pulsating light source, or a steady source which was distorted by a steady
pulsation of atmospheric refraction. Aside from the beacons discussed before, there were no
distant pulsating sources. There were, however, in the Tasman Bay, two to four intense steady
light sources that might have been in view of the plane at the time, if they were not obscured
by the known cloud cover. These sources were Japanese squid boats which carry large numbers of
steady incandescent light bulbs to lure squid to the surface where they can be netted. Using
information about the nature and number of the lights used on the largest squid boats one can
calculate that the largest intensity expected from such a boat would be 5E5 cd. However, at the
distance of closest approach of the plane to the squid boats, about 100 km, the intensity
required to create overexposed images on the film would have been more than 1E8 cd (see Figure 6
for b = 0.05/km). Thus, they could not have made the overexposed images. If one nevertheless
assumed that these boats somehow did create the overexposed images, then one would still have to
explain the large amplitude periodic oscillation of the boat intensity and the color change.
Periodic (and even transient) atmospheric effects of the magnitude required by this hypothesis
are completely at odds with theory and experience related to atmospheric optics. Atmospheric
turbulence causes minute refractive index variations in the atmosphere and these refractive
index variations can create very rapid intensity pulsations (scintillation) and slight changes
in color, but turbulence is known to be random rather than periodic. Moreover there is
neither observational nor theoretical support for the idea that atmospheric reddening, which is
a result of frequency selective extinction as light travels over long paths (100's of km) in the
atmosphere, could "convert" white light to red over a path of only 100 km. Therefore, for these
reasons atmospheric effects on distant lights can be ruled out.
Because there are geological faults running through New Zealand, Brady (Pye, 1981) has
suggested that the witnesses saw earthquake lights caused by the geological stress along a fault
line. Traditionally such lights are associated with imminent earthquakes. However, there were no
earthquakes immediately, or even for a long time after the sighting discussed here.
Unfortunately the earthquake light hypothesis is not sufficiently well developed to allow one to
make quantitative predictions as to the size, color, luminosity and dynamics of any small
glowing regions that might be created by earth stresses. Therefore this theory (and similar
"ball lighting" theories) cannot be tested against the photographic data. However, it seems
highly unlikely that this hypothesis, or a "ball lightning" hypothesis, could explain the steady
pulsation of the filmed lights, the extreme intensity of the PY/O light, the presence of the red
lights, and the triangular arrangement. (Note: as of 2000 there had been no earthquakes of
note in the area.)
During the initial search for known flashing lights this author considered the possibility
that an emergency vehicle or police vehicle was filmed. Sheaffer (1981) independently advanced
this hypothesis. Sheaffer claimed that "almost any object on the ground such as an emergency
vehicle could conceivably be responsible for the UFO that was captured on film but not noticed
at the time." (Of course, it was noted at the time!) For example, one might imagine an
ambulence with a flashing white light on top and two flashing red tail lights. One might further
imagine that the red and white flashes were accidently out of phase and flashing at the rate
1.16 Hz. If such a vehicle were filmed from directly behind, it might make images similar to
those on the film. A rather detailed analysis of the consequences of this hypothesis showed
that there are several problems related to distance of the vehicle from the plane, the alignment
of the vehicle with respect to the flight path of the plane, the probable presence of other
lights near the vehicle, etc. However, all of these analyses became moot when pilot Bill Startup
contacted Blenheim police. He was told that there were no police or emergency vehicles on the
roads around Blenheim during the early morning of the date of the sighting and, furthermore,
that emergency and police vehicles in New Zealand have flashing blue lights.
The most recent explanation is that Crockett filmed a reflection of the red flashing
anticollision beacon (AB) which is on the top of the aircraft (Klass, 1983; Sheaffer, 1981).
(Note: Sheaffer (1981) discussed the hypothesis of P.J. Klass that the anti collision beacon
light was reflected off a mist around the airplane or off a propellor. but provided
counterarguments for that hypothesis. Instead, he proposed the emergency vehicle explanation
mentioned in the above paragraph.) Klass suggested AB as a source of the light because it
flashes at a rate compatible with the flash rate of the filmed light. (There is also another AB
at the bottom of the aircraft. It is not considered here, but the arguments presented apply to
the lower beacon as well as the upper.) This hypothesis was published (Klass, 1983)as being an
acceptable explanation in spite of the following facts: (a) the overexposed images were clearly
made by a very bright, pale yellow or pale orange light, not by a red light, (b) the single red
AB could not simultaneously create red and PY/O images, and (c) the single red AB could not
produce a triangular arrangement of images. The reasons for rejecting the AB hypothesis are made
explicit in the following paragraphs.
Crockett did film the upper AB about six hours before the 0251 sighting. At that time the
plane was on the ground at Blenheim airfield and had not yet taken off on its historic flight.
The AB film shows (a) that the AB is red, as expected, (b) that the AB is intense enough to
overexpose the film when it is shining directly at the camera from a distance of forty feet or
so, and (c) that it flashes at a rate of 1.3 Hz. This flash rate is quite accurately known
because Crockett filmed the AB with the camera running on crystal control at 24 fr/sec.
It is of great importance in evaluating the AB hypothesis to know the following facts: (a)
each properly exposed image of the AB is "pure" red, as is expected, and (b) each overexposed
image of the beacon has a bright pale yellow center that is surrounded by a wide annual region
or "fringe" that is red. The width of the fringe is generally comparable to or larger than the
width of the central area.
Crockett's filming of the upper AB was a fortunate byproduct of his desire to "run in"
his camera and film before the airplane trip began. Thus he performed, unintentionally, a very
important experiment with the type of color reversal movie film he used (Fuji 8425): he
allowed a red light to make images over a wide range of exposure levels on the film. This
author has conducted numerous similar experiments with other types of color reversal (slide)
film. In these experiments a red light was photographed at various high exposure levels. The
resulting overexposed images always have red fringes around the pale yellow central areas. The
fact that the color of the annular fringe is the same as the color of the light which made the
image is expected since the fringe is made by light which difuses sideways within the film
material. As the light diffuses radially sideways from the intensely illuminated central region
of an overexposed image, eventually, at some distance from the edge of the overexposed region,
the intensity is reduced to a value that is too low to overexpose the film. Beyond this distance
the diffusing light properly exposes the film and creates a fringe that is the color of the
light source. Eventually the sideways-diffusing light intensity reaches a value so low that the
film is not exposed at all. At this distance, and beyond, the film is unexposed (black). The
clear result of these experiments is that if a red light overexposes a film, then there will be
a red fringe around the overexposed region. Conversely, if there is no red fringe then the light
was not red.
The first step in comparing Klass' proposed explanation with that film images is to
consider out that the flashing cluster of lights was filmed when the camera was running without
crystal control at a speed of about 10 fr/sec. The accuracy of the speed control when the camera
is operated without crystal control is about (+/-) 10%. Therefore the 1.16 Hz flash rate,
calculated previously for the cluster by assuming a frame rate of exactly 10 fr/sec. could
actually have been as high as the 1.3 Hz rate of the beacon. Hence there is agreement in flash
rate between Klass' explanation and the film.
The second step is to point out that there is no way of knowing, independently of other
information that could be compared with the film (e.g.. Fogarty's taped description), exactly
when Crockett filmed the cluster or where he was looking when he filmed it. Nor is there any way
of knowing in which direction the camera was pointing during the filming. Hence one cannot
refute Klass' claim that the cameraman filmed out the right hand window simply by looking
at the film.
The third step is to study Klass' suggested "mechanism" by which Crockett could have filmed
light emitted by the AB. His initial suggestion was that light from the AB was reflected off a
mist surrounding the airplane (Sheaffer, 1981). However, this was ruled out because such a
reflection would be highly diffuse and very weak. Klass then claimed (and published) the
following explanation for how the cameraman filmed the flashing beacon: light from the beacon
was reflected off the rotating propellor blade and through the side window into the cockpit
where the cameraman filmed it (Klass, 1983). To make such a suggestion Klass had to assume,
without independent evidence, that such a reflection might be sufficiently specular (mirror-
like, as opposed to diffuse) to create a very bright reflection of the AB. However, even
granting that a sufficiently bright reflection might occur, this hypothesis fails on physical
grounds for the reason cited above: the overexposed PY/O or BYW images have no red fringes
around them even though, as pointed out above, experiments have shown that the overexposed
images of red lights always have red fringes around the overexposed central areas.
The only way to explain the lack of red fringes is to assume that the red light was in some
way "converted" to bright PY/O or BYW light as it travelled from the beacon to the camera lens.
The only way for the red beacon light to be "converted" from red to BYW is to have the color
spectrum changed. Such a change is possible to accomplish, in principle, because the red beacon
light is not spectrally "pure" red, but is actually a broad continuum of colors that is
strongly biased, or "weighted," toward the red end of the color spectrum. (The beacon uses a
red filter to "convert" incandescent white light by selectively transmitting colors at the red
end of the spectrum while absorbing other colors.) The spectrum could be changed by a filter
that would be (nearly) the inverse of the filter that converted the white light to red light in
the first place. However, since the airplane window is clear glass it could not have filtered
the red light. Moreover, although the reflection of the red light off the metal of the propellor
might change the spectrum very slightly, it would not change the spectrum suffiently to convert
red light to PY/O or BYW light. In short, there is no way that the spectrum could have changed
in traveling from the beacon to the camera by way of the propellor blade and window. (Nor is
there any other way the spectrum could have changed under the circumstances of the sighting.)
The AB hypothesis also fails to explain the two-colored triangular images that consist of a
PY/O "dot" image above two red "dot" images. Neither reflection off one (or two) blades of the
propellor, nor passage through the window glass, could cause light from a single red beacon to
split into three parts, triangularly arranged and of different colors (PY/O and R).
This discussion is summarized in the following illustration. Note in particular in the
sketches below that there is no red fringe around the overexposed (BYW) images.
In short, this hypothesis fails completely on physical grounds to explain the overexposed
images and the triangular image clusters. It also fails because of testimonial evidence. This
hypothesis also requires it to have been possible for Crockett to film in the direction of one
of the propellors. However, the size and shape of the cockpit and the locations of the backs of
the seats of the aircrew would have made it very difficult, and perhaps impossible, for
Crockett, who supported the camera on his shoulder, to film one of the propellors. In order to
film out the right (or left) window along a sighting line about 115 degrees from straight ahead
(to film a propellor) he would have had to sit in the copilot's (or pilot's) seat. He couldn't
do this without actually displacing copilot (or pilot) from his seat. However, no such
displacement occurred at any time during the flight. The following illustrations show the
complexity of the cockpit where Crockett was sitting in a middle ("jump") seat (not shown; just
below the bottom of the picture) between the pilot at the left and the copilot at the right.
Also shown are pictures taken out the right window showing the propellor blades and scenery.
To summarize, the only support for the AB hypothesis is the apparent coincidence between
the flash rate of the unusual light cluster and the rate of the AB. On the other hand the AB is
contradicted by photographic image data and other information and therefore fails for the
following reasons: (1) neither a reflection off a propellor nor passage through the clear glass
window would convert the spectrum of the red AB light to a PY/O color; (2) there is no way to
explain how red light from a single beacon, after reflection from a propellor blade (or two such
blades at the same time) and subsequent passage through a clear glass window, could make a
triangular cluster of three images such as appears on the film; and (3) Crockett probably could
not have filmed any of the propellors even if he had wanted to because of the structure of the
cockpit and the locations of the side windows.
In his description of the film images Klass (1983) ignored the problem of explaining how a
red beacon could make PY/O images without making red fringes as well. Instead, he concentrated
on trying to explain the changes in shape of the images from frame to frame. He argued that the
only way to explain the image shape changes was to assume that the light (from the AB) was
reflected off a propellor. According to Klass one can "readily" explain how the film images
change rapidly from large round or oval blobby shapes to "banana shapes," to thin parallel
streaks ("string bean shaped") and back to round blobby shapes in a periodic manner if one
assumes that there was a lack of synchronization between the AB flash rate and the propellor
rotation rate. In making this argument Klass has ignored the much more likely explanation that
the natural tendency of the camera, which was held on Crockett's shoulder, to vibrate randomly
would cause image shape changes similar to what he describes. Such changes are evident in all
portions of Crockett's film, including portions of the film which show landing field lights.
(Should one imagine that Crockett filmed the reflection of landing field lights off the
propellor?) Random camera motion combined with the intensity pulsation of the cluster of lights
can explain all the image shape changes in the film.
Some other explanations in terms of "natural" phenomena have been proposed for the New
Zealand sightings, but these are far more bizarre than the ones mentioned already. One person
suggested that a portion of the sun's corona or plasma had somehow gotten into the atmosphere
where it glowed. Another suggested that volcanic vapors had something to do with the sightings.
These and other bizarre hypotheses (a miniature black hole, an "antimatter meteorite") are
completely untestable. However, the photographic evidence of the flash rate and the triangular
structure would seem to rule out any conceivable natural phenomenon.
The New Zealand UFO sightings of December 31, 1978 are unique in the annals of "ufology" in
that they are multiple witness sightings that are supported by two tape recordings made at the
time of the sightings and by a 16 mm color movie film. Several of the visual objects reported by
the crew and passengers were correlated, in terms of the times of appearance and the directions
from the plane, with radar targets reported by the WATCC. One of the unusual objects, a very
bright source of light that was seen between 0218 and 0235, was also correlated with an airplane
radar target (the aforementioned "squid boat" sighting).
The sighting discussed here is particularly interesting because of the definite triangular
shape of the images, the two colors of the triangle images (red and pale yellow or pale orange),
and the regular flash rate. Moreover, it was the only sighting that was not discussed
publically. The initial news stories mentioned the sightings which occurred during theflight
from Wellington to Christchurch and concentrated on the sighting which took place just after the
plane left Christchurch because Crockett had more film of that unusual light than of any of the
other unusual lights. There was no mention of the periodically flashing light. After the initial
news stories appeared, explanations were offered by numerous experts in the fields of astronomy,
meteorology and geophysics (e.g., Venus, Jupiter, atmospheric refraction of squid boat lights,
earthquake lights, unburned meteors, etc.). However, these explanations, none of which was
correct only applied to the 0218-0235 sighting and not to the sighting discussed here (Fogarty,
1982; Startup & Illingworth, 1980).
This paper has presented a discussion of some of the technical data derived from Crockett's
film and of the tape recorded descriptions by Fogarty and the copilot. It has been argued that
Fogarty and the copilot saw the same "collection of lights" that Crockett filmed. The
coincidence between the radar target at 0251 and the visual sighting has also been discussed.
Explanations for the film itself without reference to witness testimony, have been presented. It
has been argued that, when confronted with all of the technical details derived from the film,
each explanation is found to either fail completely (e.g., the anticollision beacon hypothesis)
or to be highly unlikely (e.g., the earthquake light hypothesis).
The only suggested explanation for the visual sighting reported by Fogarty and the copilot
is that the witnesses failed to recognize ordinary flashing navigation beacons and city lights
in the area (Ireland, 1979; KIass, 1983; Sheaffer, 1981). However, this explanation is not
convincing. To accept this explanation one has to assume that the air crew did not recognize the
usual navigation beacons in spite of years of flying experience in the area. Nor does this
explanation account for Fogarty's description of a flashing light which suddenly appeared high
in the sky "over the hills," dropped to a lower altitude and then went into a rapid rolling and
turning maneuver. Obviously no navigation beacon could move in such a manner. To accept this
explanation one also has to assume that Crockett did not film the cluster of lights that was
reported by Fogarty and the copilot in spite of the high probability that Crockett did see what
the others saw and that he would have tried to film it.
This author is not aware of any explanations which have been suggested for this particular
sighting other than the ones listed here. If there are any other reasonable explanations which
are consistent with the data the author would appreciate learning of them. Since this sighting
falls into the general category of "UFO" sightings it can be compared with other reports. One
does not have to search very far in the UFO literature to find reports of multicolored objects
moving through the skies (Fowler, 1974; Story, 1980; Hall, 1964). The colors red, white
and orange or yellow/orange are frequently reported, sometimes along with other colors such as
green and blue. Furthermore, triangular shapes are reported, although not as often as other
Fowler (1974) lists a number of sightings of lights in geometric arrangements, including
triangular. Of particular interest is the sighting late in the evening of March 9, 1967 of a
triangular "cluster" consisting of a white light and two red lights with the white light at the
apex above the red lights. The lights were steady in this sighting. The report of a multiple
witness sighting during the late evening of April 19, 1966 states that the witnesses saw a
"large disc shaped object which was accompanied by two smaller objects of the same shape. They
flashed red and white lights, hovered and swung back and forth like a pendulum."
In some UFO reports the dynamical characteristics (movements) of the UFO have suggested
intelligent control and even sometimes reactions to the witnesses and crude "communications."
The crudest form of communication is mimicry. The cluster of lights flashed steadily at a rate
comparable or equal to the rate of the anticollision beacon. Was it mimicking the flashing anti-
This brief comparison with other UFO reports does not prove that the flashing cluster of
lights discussed here are in fact related to whatever phenomena have been reported as UFOs in
the past. However it does establish the similarities.
It has been the intent of this paper to demonstrate that, at least to the present time,
there is no satisfactory explanation based on known phenomena for the lights that Crockett
filmed. (There has also been no satisfactory explanation for what Fogarty described, whether or
not it was what Crockett filmed.) Therefore it appears that the sighting was of something truly
unknown to science, i.e., it remains "unidentified." Furthermore, the verbal descriptions
suggest that this phenomenon was actually an object that was moving or "flying," in which case
it was a true UFO (TRUFO).
Fogarty, Q. F. (1982).
Let's Hope They're Friendly. Melbourne: Angus and
Fowler, R. (1974).
Ufos, Interplanetary Visitors. Jericho, NY: Exposition
Hall, R. (Ed.). (1964).
The UFO evidence. Chicago: Center for UFO Studies.
Ireland, W. (1979). Unfamiliar observations of lights in the night sky
(Report #659). Lower Hutt, New Zealand: Physics and Engineering Branch
of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.
Klass, P. J. (1983).
UFOs, The Public Deceived. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus
Maccabee, B. S. (1981). What really happened in New Zealand. Unpublished
Mees, C. E. K. (1944).
The Theory of the Photographic Process. New York:
Menat, M. (1980). Atmospheric phenomena before and during sunset. Applied
Optics. 19. 3458-3468.
New Zealand Nautical Almanac. (1979). Wellington: Department of Transport.
Pye, M. (1981, March 29). Mother Earth's flying saucers. The Sunday Times
Sheaffer, R. (1981).
The UFO Verdict. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.
Startup, WE., & lllingworth, N. (1980).
The Kaikoura UFOs. Auckland:
Hodder and Staughton.
Story, R., Ed. (1980).
The Encyclopedia of UFOs. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
Tracings of Images in the Flashing Light Sequence of Film
This appendix presents a sample of the 279 frames within the flashing light sequence of
Crockett's film. Not all frames of the film actually have images that are visible to the naked
eye. Frames without visible images are marked "gone" in this set of hand sketches of the images.
Visible images were projected onto white paper and traced. Thus they are presented as the
viewer would have seen them while looking out through Crockett's lens if there had been no image
position shift from frame to frame caused by the camera vibration. When the film is viewed at
the filming speed, 10 fr/sec, the images are blurred by the motion from frame to frame and by
the persistence of vision. What is most obvious under these circumstances is the pulsation of
the PY/O or BYW images, which change from "zero" brightness to very bright at what appeares to
be a high rate (actually about 1 Hz). The red images are also visible when the film is run at
full speed but they are not as impressive as when the film is run at very slow speed or frame-
by-frame. Of course, one does not detect any structure in the images when the film is viewed at
The images are depicted here as if they had infinitely thin outer boundaries, but in fact
the boundaries are very slightly diffuse. The "thickness" of the boundary of overexposed images
(the "Color Gradient Region") is about 20 microns. The thickness of the boundaries of images
with lower exposure is about 10 microns.
Regions of different color Within a single image are indicated by clear and crosshatched
areas as appropriate. However, the use of a single color designation for a particular area of an
image does not necessarily mean that the color is constant throughout the area. In fact, there
are generally gradations of color and brightness within any particular area of an image.
Color notations are as follows: BYW = bright yellowish white, R = red, Y = yellow or pale
orange, etc. BYW areas of images appear to the naked eye to be the brightest, being very pale
yellow or "pure" white (the color of the clear film base, which is maximally overexposed film).
R areas are red and Y areas look pale yellow, or they could be very pale orange. Other color
notations have straightforward interpretations. However, one should remember that the color
rendition of the film is not perfect, since it is made up of layers that respond differently to
different intensities of a particular color light. For example, tests of color reversal film
show that when an incandescent white bulb is photographed at good exposure the color could be
called a slightly greyish white. At high exposure the same light will cause a "pure" white image
(the color of the projection bulb), but at very low exposure it will have a very slight reddish
hue. A red light, on the other hand, always produces red within the film image, although when
the light is so bright it overexposes the film the center of the image becomes bright yellow,
and there is a wide red fringe around the central area.
These images were magnified 71 times during the projection onto the tracing paper. A length
scale corresponding to 0.14 mm (140 microns) on the film plane is illustrated along with the
tracings. The widest image (image width is measured transverse to the direction of maximum
extension for non-round images) is about 0.25 mm (250 microns) wide and the smallest images are
around 0.014 to 0.028 mm wide. The smallest images are about 2 to 4 times the film grain size,
which appears to be about 0.005 to 0.010 mm.
The camera was held on the cameraman's shoulder because a tripod would not fit within the
cockpit. The resulting random motions of the camera caused most of the images to be elongated
and also caused the image positions to shift from frame to frame. Elongated images are a result
of camera motion in the direction of elongation during the time the shutter was open. The
random motions of the images from frame to frame are not apparent in the sketches, which are
presented as if all the images had been shifted to the center of the frame. Since the camera
vibrated randomly about a mean pointing direction there were times when the camera moved very
little while the shutter was open. Thus there are several instances for which two or three
successive frames have very little or no the image position shift from frame to frame. The
images in these frames, "stationary images," are not distorted by camera motion and they are
what would have been obtained if a tripod had been used. Most of the analysis in this paper is
based on these stationary images.
TRACINGS OF FILM IMAGES