Its thirty years ago tonight that the Kaikoura UFO events occured, so I'd thought I'd mark the occasion by talking about it.
I tried to find a reasonable link with a precis, but even the normally reliable Wikipedia is let down in this regard by only quoting a book cover. There is a reasonable summary here (link), which I found after a quick google. Sensible discussion is hard to find.
On the night of 20-21 December 1978 a number of unusual sightings occured of lights in the sky of the north eastern coast of the South Island, and in the southern reaches of Cook Strait. They were seen by people on the ground at Blenheim, by people in the air, and on radar at both Wellington and Christchurch. The lights seen were unsual, out of place, appeared to be controlled and not random, and rare for being observed on radar at the same time as visual observations were being reported. Being the silly season, this provided good news fodder for a while, so much so that an Australian TV channel arranged for an in depth follow up story to be produced.
It was thought that footage on board one of the aircraft involved would be useful, and so a reporter and camera crew were arranged to accompany a flight along the same route where the sightings took place, the route in question being a nightly freight run from Blenheim to Christchurch and back. The filming was set up for the night of 30-31 December.
The reporter and crew got more than they bargained for, as the lights returned, at times appearing to track and react to the aircraft. Again they were also seen as radar targets, and now they were filmed. For about two hours this went on.
In UFO history this is fairly rare, to have UFOs simultaneously observed visually, tracked on radar, and filmed.
The story and film made world headlines, and attracted a fair amount of both serious investigators, and dedicated debunkers. The Air Force put a Skyhawk on standby to investigate any further occurences, and sent an Orion to explore the area a few nights later.
The New Zealand government produced two investigations, one by the Air Force, and one by the then DSIR. Both came up with conventional and prosaic explanations for the sightings, which was convenient, but in many instances the explanations simply did not account for the observations, resulting in disillusionment for the witnesses, and accusations of a whitewash.
Thirty years, two investigations and two books later, there still isn't an explanation that fits. From my own background in science, based on what I have read of both the observations and the investigations that followed, the investigative methodology used was shoddy at best, and seems designed to fit pre-determined conclusions. I'm not saying there was a conspiracy or anything (unless the government genuinely knew what was going on), more a case of investigators not being able to find answers and trying to make the questions go away.
I'm interested in a lot of things, but have always been interested in the odd and mysterious, things like ghosts, sea monsters, UFOs etc. I found out about the Kaikoura events about fifteen years ago, and have followed it ever since, mainly because it happened in my own backyard, and appears to be genuinely unexplained (unlike about 95% of UFO sightings).
At the time I was a two year old living in Hamilton, so don't remember any of it first hand. That said, at least some of the activity should have been visible from the south coast of Wellington; it was a clear night, and sometimes I imagine myself there, seeing something genuinely mysterious.
I don't hold with the idea that UFOs must be alien spacecraft, and get quite frustrated with that now seemingly automatic leap of logic. The U stands for unidentified. Thats all. By definition, if something is known or suspect to be a spacecraft, it isn't unidentified.
When it comes to UFOs I am open minded, but tend towards them being somebody's secret technology, or something science hasn't caught up with yet. The other world explanation, while possibly possible, is vanishingly remote without access to technologies we can barely imagine, let alone understand.
To mark the occasion tonight a charter flight is out there now as I write, retracing the route, with enthusisasts and some of the principals on board. I toyed with buying a ticket, but didn't for cost reasons (cost aside, it would be something interesting to do). And with the weather as it is tonight I am glad I didn't (in fact I wonder if they are flying at all).
With the strong northerly (often so endearingly described as 'fresh' by TV weathergirls in Auckland) it will be very rough going in the air between here and Christchurch tonight and not at all comfortable, no matter how curious.