Repeated sightings that began in late 1966 and recurred for many months, arousing widespread interest, were identified as a jet aircraft engaged in aerial refueling training practice.
During late 1966, mysterious lights began to appear over the central part of an agricultural valley in the South Pacific. Local residents soon began to report them as UFOs, and the resultant publicity led eventually to investigation by NICAP and this project. These sightings, instead of reaching a peak and tapering off, continued for many months. By summer of 1967 interest was intense. Most of the sightings were witnessed from a site near a foothills town located at the eastern slope of the valley.
The key witness in the area was a resident (Witness I) of the town. He and his wife had observed, logged, and photographed UFOs on numerous occasions during the preceding months. He also coordinated an UFO surveillance network using Citizens Band radio which covered a radius of approximately 80 miles. As principal contact in the area, he provided background information that included names of witnesses, taped interviews, and photographic evidence. This material proved invaluable in preliminary assessment of the situation.
Sightings, General Information
The sightings fell into two groups: one (hereafter referred to as the primary group) was highly homogeneous and comprised approximately 85% of the total number of sightings. Objects in the primary group appeared as orange-white lights above the valley at night.
These lights moved, hovered, disappeared and reappeared, and sometimes merged with one another. This report deals with the primary group of sightings.
Sightings from the smaller group will be reported separately, as they form a heterogeneous assortment that is clearly discontinuous with the primary group.
The high frequency of primary-group sightings provided Witness I with numerous opportunities to take pictures with a tripod-mounted Rolleiflex camera. The resulting photographs, while providing no answers to what the objects were, did constitute firmer evidence than the unsupported testimony of witnesses.
After detailed discussions with local NICAP people, including Witness I and his wife, project investigators decided to try to observe the UFOs themselves. On the night of 12 August they saw nothing unusual. On 13 August, however, the following events occurred:
At 10:30 p.m. a light appeared low in the southern sky, travelling
approximately 10°/sec. After about 10 sec., more detail became visible and the object was identified as probably an aircraft with conventional running lights and an anti-collision beacon.
Meanwhile, another light had appeared to the east of the presumed aircraft, travelling west at a similar angular rate. This light was not obviously an aircraft, but appeared as a dull orange light that varied somewhat in intensity as it moved. The object could have been an aircraft. Witness I, however, said that it was exactly the kind of thing that had been reported frequently as an UFO. He was disappointed that it had not been as near and bright as he had observed on other occasions.
After about 15 sec., the UFO, which had been travelling horizontally westward, seemed to flicker and then vanished. The original object continued eastward, disappearing in the distance in a manner consistent with its identification as an aircraft. Duration of both observations was less than a minute.
On 14 August Wadsworth and Witness I drove to a village 20 miles south of the sighting area, where several sightings had been reported, and west and northwest toward towns A, B, and C. This area, had been most frequently indicated by observers as the apparent location of the UFOs. However, interviews with area residents disclosed no significant information.
Another sky watch that evening by Wadsworth, Witness I and his wife (Roach had gone) yielded nothing unusual until midnight. At 12:00 a.m. and again at 12:42 a.m. on 15 August UFOs were observed. They hovered, moved horizontally, and vanished. They appeared as bright orange lights showing no extended size and varying in intensity. Wadsworth thought they might be low-flying aircraft on flight paths that produced illusory hovering, but they could not be identified as such. Witness I described the lights as "good solid sightings," typical of the recurrent UFO sightings in the area. One of the sightings was later confirmed in all essentials by two women, who lived nearby.
The Monday night sighting was reported by telephone to the base
UFO officer at a nearby Air Force base. He stated that no aircraft from that base had been in the air at the time of the sighting.
Project investigators then instituted a surveillance plan for the night of 15-16 August. About 9:00 p.m., Wadsworth drove to a fire lookout tower atop a mountain near the sighting area. This lookout, the highest in the area, afforded an optimum view over the entire valley. He carried a transceiver to communicate with Witness I in the town of sighting for coordination of sighting observations, and was accompanied by a local NICAP member. Also present were the resident fire lookouts at the station.
At midnight orange lights appeared successively over the valley in the direction of towns A, B and C (see map, figure 3). These lights, observed simultaneously by Wadsworth and Witness I, appeared to brighten, dim, go out completely, reappear, hover, and move about. Sometimes two of them would move together for a few moments and then separate. This behavior continued for an hour-and-a-half.
The mountain vantage point afforded a much more comprehensive view of the phenomena than did the valley town site. It was possible to observe a general pattern of movement that could not have been seen from below, because the north end of this pattern was over Town C, which was not visible from the sighting town. Even with binoculars Wadsworth had to study the pattern for more than an hour before he could begin to understand what was happening.
Essentially, the lights made long, low runs from Town C toward Town B, which was not visible from the sighting town. Even with binoculars Wadsworth had to study the pattern for more than an hour before he could begin to understand what was happening. At other times they appeared to hover, flare up, then go out completely. Witness I believed that the lights flared up in response to signals he flashed at them with a spotlight. Many of his flashes were followed by flare-ups of the UFOs, but to Wadsworth these flare-ups appeared coincidental.
Observations lasting about two hours convinced Wadsworth that the lights were aboard aircraft operating out of an Air Force base in Town C. He was finally able to see the lights move along what was apparently a runway, then lift off, circle southward, and go through the behavior previously described before returning to land at Castle. It should be pointed out that none of this pattern was obvious, even to the NICAP man some thirty miles away, and visibility was limited by haze. In checking further with the base, it was learned that most of the aerial activity there involved tankers and B-52s in practice refuelling operations. Between 400 and 500 sorties were launched each month, day and night. These planes carried large spotlights that were switched on and off repeatedly during training. This feature explains the flare-ups and the disappear-reappear phenomena, that had been observed from the town. The apparent hovering is accounted for by the fact that part of the flight pattern was on a heading towards the observer. The closing behavior followed by separation was the refuelling contact. Maps supplied by the AFB showed flight patterns consistent with these sightings as to the objects' locations, motions, and disappearance-reappearance-flare-up behavior. (See fig. 3, p. 514) Since these objects were essentially identical to those seen the previous night, it was assumed that the UFO officer had been in error when he stated that no aircraft activity had originated at the Air Force base.
Summary and Conclusion
The sightings were of interest for two reasons. First, the phenomena were strange enough to defy simple explanation. Second, they were on a large enough scale to arouse widespread interest. Sighting frequency was high and did not decline with time.
However, the sightings were not individually spectacular, being essentially lights in the night sky. This case is an example of conventional stimuli (aircraft) that, by their unusual behavior, lighting, and flight paths, presented an unconventional appearance to witnesses.
Before the project investigation, observers had become loosely organized around Witness I, who logged sightings, taped interviews
with witnesses, and obtained photographs of the objects. He also called on Los Angeles NICAP for further assistance. But one thing that apparently no observer did was to drive across the valley to the Air Force base while sightings were occurring. There may have been two reasons for this omission. First, Witness I had phoned the base on several occasions to report sightings, and had been erroneously but authoritatively informed that the sightings could not be accounted for by planes based locally. Second, few observers were seeking a conventional explanation that would dispel the intriguing presence of UFOs. Even when the sightings were identified by Wadsworth, Witness I was loath to accept the aircraft explanation. Thus a solution was not forthcoming from the local situation, which had reached a kind of equilibrium.
After examining the previously compiled information, project investigators decided a more direct approach was needed. The methods of inquiry and observations that they used resulted in the discovery of a pattern of behavior readily identified with aircraft activity originating from the local air base.