Monday, October 5, 2015

Garbage in - garbage out

Hi all,

This post concerns the recently flurry of reported sightings of orange lights in a number of Australian states.

I recall when the first spike in reported sightings of orange lights, often in spectacular formations, hit Australian UAP researchers. There were heated discussions as to whether or not, these were true "UFOs" or simply hoax hot air garbage bag balloons?

Today, dip into any current Australian UFO community on Facebook; or take a look at media sources; or check the "Lights in the sky" blog of Sydney Observatory, and you will see literally dozens upon dozens of individuals reporting observations of  "orange lights."

These sightings usually describe observations on nights where the wind is light; where these lights travel in the direction in which the wind is blowing to; and no associated noise is heard. If there more than one light, witnesses might speak of the lights "dancing" and changing position in the formation. When seen at close range observers will describe the orange light as flickering or pulsing. Sometime little lights drop off the main ones. If the light goes out, often it pulses just before it does so.

Actual research

Research by Australian groups and individual researchers as far back as the "big orange light flap of 96" (centred around Narre Warren in Melbourne in 1996) determined that these orange lights were nothing more than hoax hot air garbage bags, sent aloft by bored teenagers. Garbage bags fell onto roofs; police officers found teenagers launching such balloons and cautioned them; and so on.

What has changed?

Skip forward to September 2015. I decided to sample three groups of reported sightings from three Australian states to see if anything has changed. Please take a look at my detailed investigation reports on the Cairns, Queensland; Armidale, New South Wales; and Adelaide South Australia sightings.

I found that nothing had changed, witnesses were still describing orange lights which have all the descriptions of the classic, old time hoax hot air balloon, with perhaps the added modern Chinese lantern thrown in  for good measure.

Orange lights, garbage in - garbage out!

Preliminary investigation report - Adelaide, South Australia - 27 September 2015

Preliminary investigation report – Adelaide, South Australia – 27 September 2015

Time:            Between 1830-1900hrs CST (UTC plus 9.5hrs)
Location:      Southern suburbs of Adelaide, South Australia

Witnesses:  1. "J" and daughter, Oaklands Park, Adelaide.
                      2. “L.” A Facebook friend of J. Suburb adjacent to J.

Photo one
1. Introduction:

J reported her sighting to the Facebook community titled “Adelaide UFO sightings.” Brad Morris of Melbourne, asked J a number of questions about her sighting. I also asked questions. Between us, Brad and I checked such things as WebTrak; the Bureau of Meteorology; and details of sunset. I then engaged J via email.

Courtesy of Google maps
2. J’s account:
Object in the sky south of Brighton, going north. “Started off bright orange like a star, not flashing, went out then it was just a dark object in the sky. Light may have been the Sun shining off it as it set.” It started off in the south-west and went to the north-west of J’s position in Oaklands Park. “Where it appeared to go down over Glenelg way.” Duration was under two minutes. “Was bright about 40 seconds, maybe and then it was a dark object against the sky like in the picture.” There was no noise at all. The light “It pulses just before it went out and went dark.” J’s daughter captured two pictures on an ipad.

3. L:
There was no noise. “The light appeared to be on one side of it.” First seen to the south, finally seen to the west.

4. Weather:
Surface: I checked the Bureau of Meteorology’s latest half hour apart database. On the 27 September, at the Adelaide Airport, it was:

Courtesy Bureau of Meteorology
1830hrs Temperature 17.7 deg C; relative humidity 35%; wind was from the south-west at 2km/hr; pressure 1020.6hPa.
1900hrs 16.2C; 42%; from south-west at 7km/hr; 1020.6hPa.

Upper air:
Courtesy Bureau of Meteorology
I located a website which provides upper air readings, but only twice a day. The nearest data was for 1200 UTC which equals 2130hrs on 27 September 2015; 3 hours after the sightings. Taken at Adelaide Airport. The following table presents height above the ground and what direction the wind was blowing from (in degrees, north is 0; south 180 etc.)

Height above ground     Wind direction (degrees North =0; East = 90 etc.)          
4 metres                              165                                 
28 metres                            164
142 metres                         161
175 metres                         160
839 metres                         295
902 metres                         270

5. Sunset:
Was at 1815hrs that night.

Photo two

6. WebTrak
Both Brad Morris and I checked the Air Service Australia’s WebTrak secondary radar website. No aircraft travelled south to north over the area around J's position during the time frame 1830-1900hrs.

Courtesy of Air Services Australia WebTrak

7. Analysis:
1. A visual observation by three people in two different locations.

2. 40 second bright orange, point source, then 1m 20 sec dark object in the sky. Two photographs were taken of the dark phase.
3. Triangulation from the two locations indicates that the object was not a distant one.

4. No other observations have come to light. An exploration of the Internet failed to locate any media accounts, supporting the thought that it was a close object and not a distant object potentially seen by hundreds of people, e.g. high altitude research balloon; satellite re-entry.
5. The object appeared to be tracking at roughly ninety degrees to the prevailing surface wind as measured at Adelaide Airport. However, as can be seen from the 135 degree shift in wind direction between 175 and 839 metres above the ground, at 2130hrs, wind directions in the upper air can be substantially different from those at the surface.

6. Given all the above data, it could be hypothesised that one explanation could be a hoax hot air garbage bag balloon. The first 40 seconds was a typical bag bright orange light; then the heat source went out and the dark object was the bag floating along.

I wish to thank both J and Brad Morris for their assistance in being able to look into this report, and for Brad’s initial investigation questions. I must add that the above working hypothesis is mine, not Brad’s.

For other recent investigation reports of orange lights, on 17 September 2015 at  Cairns,  and 21 September 2015  Armidale, click on their names.


Friday, October 2, 2015

September 2015 - Australian reports roundup

Hi all,

This is the twelfth and final (in this format) listing, in a series which originated following the talk by myself, at the September 2014 VUFOA conference in Melbourne. For the last twelve months, Melbourne colleague Paul Dean and I have spent countless hours trawling through a variety of sources to bring you a listing of Australian sighting reports. In addition, we thank all the Australian groups and individuals who have directly sent us material.

Last month we advised of the reasons why we are about to change the format and length of these monthly listings.

23 August 2015 1530hrs Point Cook, Melbourne, Victoria (5-6) minutes 

1. Email:

The sighting was initially reported by email directly to Keith Basterfield, shortly after it happened. The email read:

"I was driving along Sneydes Road, Point Cook towards my local IGA supermarket when I noticed a strange object moving south to north just below the cloud line. It was a shiny, silver 'ring' or doughnut for lack of a better word, and it was flying about the same speed as a commercial airliner. It made no sound and had no vapour trail.

I quickly pulled over and stopped in a quiet side street, got my phone out of the car and began filming it. As I was filming I realised I could see the object by naked eye but it wasn't shown up in my view finder.

The 'ring' was flying vertically at a consistent speed and at first I thought it might be a balloon but quickly realised the wind was blowing in the opposite direction this object was flying in.

The object also began to rotate on an angle so that at times it appeared as a ring and then as a straight vertical line then rotate back to a 'ring.'

Google map of the area

2. Telephone interview:

Paul Dean telephoned the witness within two days and spoke to her to gather additional information. The witness was most co-operative at all times with our investigation, being very puzzled as to what she had observed.

Additional information secured by interview was:

- The first person she told about the sighting was her husband and she told him "I think I just saw a UFO."
- The object was below clouds, not in them.
- Total duration of the sighting was 5-6 minutes.
- She has excellent eyesight.
- After the object had disappeared from view, she stayed around for a while in case it returned.
- She turned off Sneydes into Florey.
Google satellite image of the area

3. Email questions:

Over the course of the next few days both authors communicated with the witness by email and asked a series of questions, to which the witness promptly responded. These questions and answers are listed below.

Q1 Which direction were you travelling in?
A1 Travelling east.

Q2 Did you initially see the object through the vehicle windscreen or another window?
A2 Initially seen through the driver's side window.

Q3 Initially was the object sighted down near the bottom of the window, near the top or at some other point?
A3 Closer to the top of the window, just above middle of window.

Q4 Did the object's apparent size change?
A4 Never changed size.

Q5 Did its brightness change?
A5 Never changed brightness. But stood out very clearly against the clouds.

Q6 How did you lose sight of it?
A6 It disappeared behind a thick bank of clouds.

Q7 What was its angular size, say compared to the full Moon when seen on the horizon?
A7 It was tiny compared to the full Moon.

The witness also advised that a more accurate track for the object was from south-east to north-west.

1. WebTrak
The Air Services Australia WebTrak secondary radar website was consulted for that day and time. The program was run between 1500 and 1600 hours on Sunday 23 August 2015, and the area around Point Cook was examined. The following screen shot is for 1530 hours.

Between 1500 and 1600 hours, only three aircraft passed near Point Cook:

1. At 1533 hrs a light aircraft tracked north-east to south-west to the north of Point Cook at 9000 feet.

2. At 1547 hrs QJE 1505 flew Melbourne to Hobart tracking north-west to south-east almost directly over Point Cook at 12000 feet.

3. At 1548 hrs another light aircraft flew north-east to south-west, almost directly over Point Cook at 3100 feet.
2. Weather

We secured weather details from the Bureau of Meteorology. The closest weather station listed is at RAAF Laverton, 5.9km from Point Cook. Station number 087031.

For 23 August 2015, the minimum temperature was 4.9 deg C; maximum 15.8 deg C; maximum wind gust was from the south-south-east at 30 km/hr at 1618hrs that day.

At 9am the temperature was 10.9 deg C; 91% relative humidity, cloud cover was total; and the surface wind was from the north-west at 9km/hr ; pressure was 1020.ohPa.

By 3pm that day, the temperature was 14.9 deg c; 64% relative humidity; cloud cover was 1/8th; wind was from the south-south-east at 17 km/hr; pressure 1019.0hPa.

As we checked within three days of the event, we were also able to obtain weather details at half hour intervals for Laverton that day.

Laverton details for the time of the sighting, 1530hrs were:

13.5 deg C;70% relative humidity; winds from the south-east at 19km/hr; pressure 1019.1hPa.

Upper air soundings:

We located a website which provides twice daily upper air soundings, measured at Melbourne airport. Here we find details which include the wind speed and wind direction for various heights above the ground. These are taken at 0000hrs UTC (1000hrs Melbourne time) and 1200hrs UTC (2200hrs Melbourne time.)

The following screenshot shows this data for 1000hrs 23 August 2015. Surface wind is from the north at 5 knots. Compare this to Laverton at 9am where wind is coming from the north-west at 5 knots, very similar data.

The next screenshot shows the data for 2200hrs that night, 6.5hrs after the Point Cook sighting. The surface wind is from 170 deg, almost south at 9 knots. Compare this with Laverton at 1530hrs wind from the south-east at 19kms/hr, similar data.

Primary radar
Paul Dean has submitted a request to Air Services Australia for primary radar data for the area on that day. It will take up to 30 days to process.
In summary

An observation was made at 1530hrs Sunday 23 August 2015 from Sneydes Road, Point Cook, a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria. Initially it was seen at about 30 degrees elevation to the south-east. The object travelled south-east to north-west. The object, according to the witness was at all times below clouds and seen against the clouds. The object never changed size, colour or brightness. After a total duration of 5-6 minutes it was lost to sight behind a thick band of clouds to the north-west. Angular size was tiny compared to the full Moon. In appearance it looked at times to be a shiny silver 'ring' or doughnut shape. At other times it appeared to be a straight vertical line. The witness stated that it was travelling against the prevailing surface winds.
The initial impression gained from all this data, is that the object was probably wind borne debris of some kind. The weather data, contrary to the witness' assertion, indicates that the object was moving with the surface wind direction. The small angular size, no change in size, colour or brightness, but changing geometry from 'ring' to vertical straight line, also, in our opinion supports this hypothesis.
Comments by Keith Basterfield
1. Recently, I was at a local shopping centre, when my attention was drawn to an object in the sky. It seemed to be reflecting the sun in a cloudless sky. I watched it for a while and had time to photograph it twice before I lost sight of it. When examining the photographs on my computer, I could make out an apparently round, small angular sized, white/silver light. However, there was no way from the photograph that I could have determined what I already knew it was. I had initially seen it at a closer range, and saw that it was a transparent plastic bag of some kind. Below are my two photographs I took.



2. An excellent video, shot by Brad Morris of Melbourne appears on the Facebook page for "Melbourne UFO sightings." It captures an object at 1240hrs on 30 August 2015. It shows a silver/white semi transparent object heading north at high altitude. Brad's thoughts as to what it was were "I think it is safe to assume its a balloon."
3. My impression, from watching a number of videos of this kind, is that there is far more wind borne debris around in the sky than you would think. I have in the past, also seen cardboard boxes and plastic dry cleaning bags drifting through the air for several minutes. You can only be certain of what they are, by either having seen them at one point from a relatively close distance; or by the use of binoculars.
In conclusion
We welcome comments from blog readers on our analysis, and hypothesis that this sighting was of wind borne debris. Naturally, if there is radar confirmation of the object by Air Services primary radar, this may well change our preliminary conclusion.

September reports
3 September 2015 0230hrs Pontville, Tasmania. Facebook with follow up. 60 mins IFO - ground light.
Witness noticed a light coming through the glass in the front door. Going outside it was all dark except above the tree line by the nearby church west to south-west of the house. There seemed to be an orange light beyond the trees that was visible through a misty sky. The light never moved but had disappeared after about an hour. Investigation suggests this was a ground light reflecting in the mist.
4 September 2015 125hrs Brisbane, Queensland 3m 56secs Raw
Barry Taylor filmed an object in the sky.
 6 September 2015 1815hrs Cambridge, Tasmania. Facebook. IFO - aircraft
Witness reports that while travelling east near Hobart airport he noticed an object moving quickly through the air at low altitude. It appeared to be a disc with flashing blue lights. The object then flew off as the witness continued on his journey. It was then visible as a small light in the distance. Follow up with Hobart Airport revealed two aircraft took off at the time indicated by the witness.
6 September 2015 1930hrs Varsity Lakes, Gold Coast, Queensland ?mins Raw
Tarina Callihan said the appearance of lights above her home was out of this world...'Its colour changed from green to yellow and finally to red and my housemate and I saw what looked like a plane going down and watched for news of a plane crash but nothing came,' she said." The light appeared a s bright as Venus "...and flashed again before disappearing...I believe in UFOs."
"No reports of unusual activity within local airspace were made to Gold Coast airport, Air Services Australia or the Civil Aviation Safety Authority."

7 September 2015 1940hrs Tasman Peninsula, Tasmania. Letter & telephone
The witness noticed some bright flashes of light at high elevation to the north-west. A torch was flashed at this area and a golden light flashed back. The light then moved into some mist. Three seconds later an oval yellow mist shot out of the cloud heading south, it was gone in an instant. The witness has seen similar lights on previous occasions and will continue to observe the night sky.
7 September 2015 1928hrs Beckenham, Western Australia 2m37s Raw
"2 objects travelling in tandem in the N+E, the first object was very bright and it caught my attention as I was looking about. As I was filming I noticed another small orb moving with the bright object which appeared to stay at the same magnitude and brightness."
9 September 2015 Time? Sunshine Coast, Queensland ?mins Raw
Joshua Ross, using his mobile phone, filmed an object in the sky. He said it was moving "...from side to side" and "...up and down." It was described as a yellow/white glow "floating" above houses. On Channel 7 TV news he said "It was just going side tom side up and down, round and round, it would go up in one direction and then shot back the other direction. And then it just went under a tree and that was it."

9 September 2015 1745hrs Toongabbie, Sydney, New South Wales 1min Raw
Rick Kronberger, while driving, saw "...a very bright light hovering about 100 metres above the ground over Winston Hills." It appeared oval in shape, had some angular size. Moved slowly eastwards, then separated into three parts which took off to the north, and disappeared within a second.

10 September 2015 1944hrs Bundoora, Melbourne, Victoria 12.5mins Raw
Brad Morris took a video of a pulsing object which was 20 degrees elevation to the west.

11September 2015 1530hrs Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 1.5mins Raw
Ben reported that he "...noticed a vertically long dark grey shape like a cylinder come up slowly and diagonally from behind the mountains south-south-west of Canberra." It stopped for 45-60 seconds, moved left and then took off at speed. It was gone from sight within 2-3 seconds.

12 September 2015 1845hrs Bundoora, Melbourne, Victoria 5m43s Raw
Brad Morris filmed a pulsing object east of Bundoora. Filmed with two cameras. Panasonic HC-V520M and Nikon P900.

15 September 2015 2305hrs North Bellingen, Central Coast, New South Wales 2mins Raw
Keith Reynolds and family watched, at 45 degrees elevation, a "phenomenon." It grew bigger as if approaching, travelled east and disappeared at 15 degrees elevation. Overcast sky.

15 September 2015 2000hrs Byron Bay, New South Wales (3-4)mins Raw
A storm was approaching from the west, when Jim Christou saw, to his north, "...a red light flashing and stationary...for 3-4 minutes." Then it flashed white and red. "Suddenly it moved towards the south almost above my head before making a semi circle turn towards north-east. " It stopped, flashed white and red then sped off over the ocean."

17 September 2015 2100hrs Bentley Park, Cairns, Queensland 5mins IFO?
Four people saw " orange light, which then divided. The lights were just floating or hovering in the distance" in the west. "...2 more arrived. They moved very smoothly weaving in and around each other. Two then disappeared and then the final two did a bit more dancing and then also disappeared." (email from witness directly to Keith Basterfield.)

Keith posed the following questions to the witness who contacted him. The witness' responses are also shown below:

Q1. What direction were they moving in?
A1 "They were just kind of moving calmly around and hovering. Not closer or away."

Q2 What was their apparent size?
A2 "They were about a star size and about as bright as Venus."

Q3 Was there any associated noise?
A3 "No."

Q4 What was the total duration?
A4 "I watched them for about 5 minutes."

Q5 Was there any variation in brightness?
A5 "No they were consistent. They did twinkle, just a solid light."

Q6 How did they disappear?
A6 "Just disappeared. Vanished. There was nothing to hide behind."

Q7 What was the weather at the time?
A7 "Perfect clear night."

The witness then added:

"Some others on Facebook said they saw them and people replied saying they were lanterns. I don't know how they could be lanterns because they wouldn't emit that much light."

Keith checked the weather details for 2100hrs for Cairns international airport, some 9 kms to the north. These were:

Temperature was 20.4 deg C; 90% relative humidity; wind was from the West at 6km/hr. Pressure was 1016.5hPa. No rain since 9am.

Another witness from an adjacent suburb contacted Keith and advised an additional detail, being that the light was concentrated at the bottom of the lights.

Keith's view, based on the details provided above, was that there was nothing inconsistent with either hot air garbage bags or Chinese lanterns. For a detailed investigation report click here.

20 September 2015 1930hrs New Town, Tasmania Facebook. IFO - ISS
A bright, large light was observed moving from north-west across the sky towards the south-east. It disappeared after a few minutes in the distance.

21 September 2015 (Between about 2120 and 2150)hrs Armidale, New South Wales 20mins IFO? Balloons/lanterns?
Two groups of people reported sighting two amber/orange lights, travelling eastwards. For a full investigation report by Keith Basterfield, click here.

27 September 2015 (Between 1830-1900)hrs Southern Adelaide, South Australia 2mins IFO - balloon
Three people in two adjacent suburbs reported seeing an initial bright orange light, which then pulsed and went out, leaving a dark blob in the sky. Two photographs were taken of the dark phase.
("Adelaide UFO sightings" Facebook page, and investigation by Melbourne researcher Brad Morris, and Keith Basterfield.)

30 September 2015 Evening Melbourne, Victoria Minutes IFO - blimp
Numerous reported observations from a variety of suburbs.
"Melbourne UFO Sightings" Facebook page.

 Older reports

24 August 2015 1900hrs Kingsville, Melbourne, Victoria 30secs Raw
Two people, one named Sue, travelling by vehicle, "spotted a ball of fire with a fiery our right." It was travelling horizontally. "I saw the fiery trail got 'swallowed back' into the ball. The bright ball hovered in the sky a little, then it disappeared about half a minute later."

Australian groups contributing to this issue
Tasmanian UFO Investigation Centre

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Recent Australian sightings - investigation summary

Hi all,

In my September 2015 talk "UFOs-An Anfractuous Phenomenon," prepared for a recent conference, which is available as a three part blog post series, here, here, and here, I mentioned the value of actually investigating local UFO reports. This is as opposed to simply sitting endlessly on Facebook and re-posting unverified videos, and dubious claims of alien bodies. Now, investigating local sightings may not be as exciting as this but it does have some real value.

In order to "walk the talk," since March 2014, Melbourne researcher Paul Dean and I have been doing just this. Apart from undertaking these investigations, which today can be done for a modest input of time and finance, via email, Skype and the occasional phone call, we have made the time to widely publish our findings.

One of the reasons we have done this is to encourage Australian UFO groups, Facebook communities, and interested individuals to conduct and publish investigations of their own, instead of simply writing up the raw data they get from electronic input forms on their websites; and incoming unverified telephone calls on their hotlines. These are of little value, in an un-investigated form.

What reports have we investigated and what have we found?

The following cases have been investigated by Paul and I with the assistance of a few associates. You can read the full investigation report by clicking on the location of the event.

19 March 2014 Perth international airport, WA
The pilot of a commercial aircraft had to make a sudden manoeuvre to avoid a cylindrical object which passed close by his aircraft. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau listed the object as an "unknown."

29 May 2014 South Coast, NSW
A fascinating, complex close encounter with unusual lights, a "scanning device" and other mysterious lights.

21September 2014 Armidale, New South Wales
Multiple witnesses report a close distance, nocturnal light.

2014/2015 Kairi, Queensland
Multiple observations of a strange "sting ray" object at night.

11 May 2015 Blue Haven, NSW
A daylight observation of a black/grey object hovering near power lines.

29 May 2015 Townsville, Queensland
A visual observation, with photographs, of lights circling in clouds.

12 June 2015 Oakey, Queensland
Two observers each took photographs of a strange cloud-like object.

10 July 2015 Chinderah, NSW
Multiple witnesses to two bright lights, with a structured object reported at close range.

23 August 2015 Point Cook, Victoria
A woman reported a strange object in  daylight.

17 September 2015 Cairns, Queensland
Multiple lights seen by a number of observers.

21 September 2015 Armidale, New South Wales
Two sightings of two sets of two nocturnal lights.

What can YOU do?

I urge Australian blog readers to consider undertaking their own investigations. Reports are constantly being made via Facebook Australian UFO communities; via the media and to Australian UFO groups.

If you see a report in the media, why not contact the reporter of the story, ask  them to put you in touch with the witness; talk to  that person, take note of what they say; and forward the details to myself at I will be happy to assist you either investigate, document or publish your findings. Your work will be fully credited, and will contribute to Australian research.

If you belong to an Australian UFO group, but do not feel  confident to undertake an investigation, I am happy to work with you to enhance your investigation skills. Please take a look at my post on investigation tools.

Paul and I welcome comments on our investigation reports.

Full report - near collision - "unknown object" - Perth - 19 March 2014

Near collision between an Australian aircraft and an "unknown object" near Perth, Western Australia on 19 March 2014.

A report by Keith Basterfield and Paul Dean.


In Australia, according to the website (click here)  of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, the ATSB " Australia's national transport safety investigator...The ATSB is Australia's prime agency for the independent investigation of civil aviation, rail and maritime accidents, incidents and safety deficiencies."

On the ATSB website is a listing of "Aviation Safety Investigations & Reports." (Click here.) The listing provides details of incidents such as near collisions between aircraft. One of the authors (PD) noted that one of the March 2014 near collision reports involved an "unknown object."

ATSB report number AO-2014-052 read as follows:

"The ATSB has commenced an investigation into a near collision with  an unknown object involving a De Havilland DHC-8, VH-XFX near Perth Airport, Western Australia on 19 March 2014. Whilst passing 4,000ft on descent the crew observed an unknown object tracking directly towards the aircraft. The crew manoeuvred the aircraft to maintain separation. As part of the investigation the ATSB will interview the aircrew. A report will be released within several months."

This ATSB preliminary report goes on to provide general details as follows:

Date: 19 Mar 2014
Time: 0913 WST
Location: Perth Airport, NNE 23km
Investigation type: Occurrence investigation
Occurrence class: Operational
Occurrence category: Serious incident
Report status: Pending
Expected completion: June 2014
Aircraft details: de Havilland Canada
Model: DHC-8-314
Registration: VH-XFX
Serial number: 313
Type of operation: Charter
Sector: Turbo prop
Damage to aircraft: Nil
Departure point: Kambalda, WA
Destination: Perth, WA.

On 26 May 2014 the ATSB released their four page report on the incident (click here.) The first page was simply  a cover sheet; page two was ATSB information; page three was headed "Near collision between an unknown object and a De Havilland DHC-8." It read:

"What happened

On 19 March 2014, at about 0913 Western Standard Time (WST) a de Havilland DHC-8, registered VH-XFX was on approach to Perth Airport from Kambalda, Western Australia. When about 23km north-north-east of Perth, at about 3,800ft above mean sea level (AMSL), the crew sighted a bright strobe light in front of the aircraft. The light appeared to track toward the aircraft and the crew realised that the light was on an unknown object, possibly an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV.) The pilot took evasive action turning towards the west to avoid a collision with the object. The object passed about 20m horizontally and 100ft vertically from the aircraft.

The pilot reported that the object was cylindrical in shape and grey in colour. It was at about 3,700ft AMSL and in controlled airspace. The crew did not receive a traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS) alert. The airspace below 3,500ft AMSL was military restricted airspace and the Australian Defence Force was not operating UAVs and was not aware of any UAV operations in the area at the time of the incident. The ATSB was not able to confirm the details of the object or identify any UAV operator in the area at that time."

General details:

Occurrence details
Date and time: 19 March 2014 - 0913WST
Occurrence category: Serious incident
Primary occurrence type: Interference from the ground
Location: 23km NNE Perth Airport, Western Australia
Latitude 31 deg 44.62min S

Aircraft details:
Manufacturer and model: De Havilland Canada DHC-8-314
Registration: VH-XFX
Serial number: 313
Type of operation: Charter-passenger
Persons on board: Crew-4 passengers-unknown
Injuries: Crew - nil.  Passengers - nil
Damage: Nil.

About the ATSB:

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is an independent Commonwealth Government Statutory Agency. The ATSB is governed by a Commission and is entirely separate from transport regulatory, policy makers and service providers. The ATSB's function is to improve safety and public confidence in the aviation, maritime and rail modes of transport through excellence in independent investigations of transport accidents and other safety occurrences; safety data recording, analysis and research, and fostering safety awareness, knowledge and action."

The ATSB is responsible for investigating accidents and other transport safety matters involving civil aviation, marine and rail operations in Australia that fall within Commonwealth jurisdiction, as well as participating in overseas investigations involving Australia registered aircraft and ships. A primary concern is the safety of commercial transport, with particular regard to fare-paying passenger operations.

The ATSB performs its functions in accordance with the provision of the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003 and regulations and, where appropriate, relevant international agreements.

The object of a safety investigation is to identify and reduce safety-related risk. ATSB investigations determine and communicate the safety factors related to the transport safety matter being investigated.

It is not a function of the ATSB to apportion blame or determine liability. At the same time, an investigation report must include factual material of sufficient weight to support the analysis and findings. At all times the ATSB endeavours to balance the use of material that could imply adverse comment with the need to properly explain what happened, and why, in a fair and unbiased manner.

About this report:

Decisions regarding whether to conduct an investigation, and the scope of an investigation, are based on many factors, including the level of safety benefit likely to be obtained from an investigation. For this occurrence, a limited-scope, fact- gathering investigation was conducted in order to produce a short summary report, and allow for greater industry awareness of potential safety issues and possible safety actions."

The following photograph shows a Skippers DHC-8 aircraft, similar to the one involved in the event (photo courtesy of FlightAware.)

The investigation:

The authors:

1. Secured secondary radar data on the event.
2. Secured primary radar data on the event.
3. Obtained weather details.
4. Interviewed the command pilot.
5. Located similar events of this type in this area.
6. Obtained additional information from the ATSB.
7. Checked previous ATSB reports involving UAV.

1. Secondary radar data:

The "Webtrak" website (click here) is run by Air Services Australia and allows a view of secondary radar data superimposed over a ground map. It shows the location of aircraft near major Australian airports. You can view an area up to 50 kilometres from selected airports. Only aircraft carrying transponders show on the screen. For each aircraft you can find details such as its flight number; originating and destination airports; an aircraft's moment to moment height (AMSL), plus the type of plane. Time wise, you can check from 40 minutes to three months into the past.

One of the authors (KB) went to the "Webtrak" website and set the system for 19 March 2014 beginning at 0904WST. At 0909WST a DHC-8 aircraft , shown as flying from YKBL appears on the radar replay, near the locality of Chidlow. This was the aircraft described in the ATSB report.

The following screen capture is from Webtrak at about 0913WST on 19 March 2014. The DHC-8 aircraft is the smaller red aircraft middle top of the screen.

The DHC-8 aircraft is shown following flight VOZ1432, registration VH-YIU, a B738 flying Darwin to Perth. Some 20 kilometres behind the DHC-8 plane was flight QFA485 Melbourne to Perth, an A332 at 6243 feet. The crew of this aircraft would have had the DHC-8 to the front of them. Close to QFA485 was a general aviation aircraft, a C82R at 8186 feet. However, the direction of flight of this aircraft was facing away from the DHC-8 plane.

The radar replay shows VOZ1432 landing at 0916 WST, the DHC-8 landed at 0919WST and the QFA485 at 0920WST.

Zooming in on the secondary radar image reveals that at about 0913WST, the DHC-8 aircraft was shown at a height of 4124ft. Looking at the track of this aircraft as displayed, there does indeed seem to be a slight direction change at the reported time of the near collision with the "unknown" object.

There are absolutely no other aircraft shown, near the DHC-8 on the radar replay. However, it should be remembered that secondary radar only shows returns on the display when an aircraft is carrying a transponder which provides identification to air traffic controllers. If the object was an aircraft not using a transponder, then it would not show up on this type of radar.

2. Primary radar data:

Primary radar shows returns of any kind. In theory it should show only objects reflecting the generated radar waves. Perth international airport shares a primary radar system with the RAAF (Pearce base.) The authors therefore sought copies of primary radar data from both the Department of Defence (KB) (DOD) and Air Services Australia (PD) (ASA), using the Freedom of Information Act.

The length of the DOD FOI process exceeded the length of time that the RAAF holds its radar data for (apparently 30 days) and thus this was unsuccessful. However, ASA did provide us with a DVD with a replay of radar data for that location, date and time. An air traffic controller who looked at this DVD for us, confirmed that it showed both primary and secondary radar data. What did it show? It showed all the aircraft which Webtrak had shown, but absolutely nothing near the DHC-8. Whatever, was seen visually by the pilot, did not appear on radar.

3. Weather:

Weather details:

The Bureau of Meteorology's website provided the following weather information for Perth international airport. Daily minimum temperature 18deg C; daily maximum 32.4degC. Nil rain. Evaporation 6.6mm. Sun 11.0hrs. Maximum wind gust south-west 37km/hr at 1445hrs. At 9am temperature was 24.5degC; relative humidity 51; nil cloud; wind from the north-east at 13km/hr. MSLP 1021.0.

4. Interview with pilot in command:

Both authors independently communicated with Skippers Aviation, the company who owned VH-XFX and sought their permission to interview the main pilot. One of the authors (PD) also spoke by telephone to a number of Skippers' employees to achieve the same aim. After several months, one of the authors (PD) was advised that he had permission to speak to the pilot, and did so on 2 and 3 July 2014. The following dot points were recorded, from the conversation:

* The pilot, male, age 26 utterly ruled out the possibility of the object being a weather balloon
* The object was travelling in the opposite direction to him, not merely hovering or floating
* He and the co-pilot registered "complete shock"
* Air Services Australia confirmed that no other flight crew reported seeing the object (via ground radio when he landed)
* When he thought the object might collide with his plane, he sought a heading change from ATC, but this was denied. He therefore changed course himself
* The object was still going "up," as well as travelling horizontally when it passed his aircraft
* He estimated it was only 100m from his aircraft at most, he said it could have been as close as 30m
* It had the ratio dimension wise of a cigarette, i.e. long and thin
* He said it was green in colour, military green actually, even though the ATSB report cites the colour as grey
* The strobe light on front had a flash frequency of a second interval at most. It was whitish in colour, and not red, or blue, or any other colour
* The total duration of the event did not exceed 15 seconds
* A very rough estimate of the speed of the aircraft at the time was perhaps 450km/hr, despite being on a landing approach
* No other aircraft crew reported seeing anything. There was no radar image of the object. ASA staff saw nothing on radar
* It definitely went past the aircraft on the left hand side
* The pilot undertook a voluntary drug, urine test upon landing
* He has no idea what it was, and didn't want it to happen again
*There were 53 passengers on board at the time
* No one told him, not to discuss the incident.

Perhaps the single most important difference between the pilot's account and the ATSB report is that the ATSB said the object was grey in colour, whereas the pilot said it was green, military green, in colour.

5. Similar events in the area:

A check was made for similar events from this area. Two were found:

a. In 1998, as part of a response to an FOI request to the ATSB, one of the authors (KB) received the details of a 1998 incident. At 1515hrs on 8 November 1998, an aircraft was 28kms NW of Perth airport. The pilot reported that an unidentified flying object, bright red/orange in colour, passed 30 meters below his aircraft. It was travelling very fast, as the aircraft passed 9,000 feet. The object was estimated to be approximately 2 metres across. The pilot said he believed that the object might have been a model aircraft.

b. The "West Australian" newspaper of Saturday, 18 April 2009, on page 7, ran the headline "Toy plane crashes into jet." The story was that a radio controlled model aircraft had collided with a jet, either a Virgin Blue or Qantas aircraft. Two young men had been observed operating the model, some 500 metres from the runway thresh hold. A more detailed account appeared on page 9 of the Tuesday 21 April 2009 issue of the same paper. At 0800hrs on 17 April 2009 a model aircraft "...came within seconds of colliding with the 160 seat 737 aircraft..." The model plane was said to be 88cm long with a one metre wingspan and weighed 850g. A video taken by the operator is available for viewing on You Tube (click here.)

6. Additional information from the ATSB:

One of the authors (PD) communicated with the ATSB seeking additional information. Part of the ATSB's email response read:

"In this incident, the primary source of factual information was the flight crew of the aircraft involved. The aircraft had tracked from IFR waypoint ROLOB to WOORA, a heading of about 285 degrees, or WNW. After the aircraft passed WOORA, the next intended waypoint was HAIGH, a track of about 234 degrees (south-west). As the pilot in command commenced the turn, the crew sighted a strobe light tracking directly towards the aircraft. The pilot elected to turn onto a heading of 270 (or west), rather than continue the turn to the SW, to avoid the object which was on a reciprocal track. The object then passed down the left side of the aircraft.

The ATSB attempted to identify the object and its operator. However, as stated in the report, was unable to verify what the object was, where it had been launched from, or the identity of the operator. The incident was reported to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and the Australian Defence Force."

7. ATSB UAV reports:

A check of the ATSB's database located two previous reports involving UAV.

a. AO-2014-056. Near collision between an unmanned aerial vehicle and a Bell 412 helicopter, VH-WSB, near Newcastle Westpac base (HLS) NSW on 22 March 2014. 2200hrs and climbing to 1200 feet, observed a steady white light. Helicopter then descended. Pilot noted the light made an abrupt right turn and tracked towards the helicopter. The object's rate and radius of turn indicated it was not an aircraft. "...more likely to be a small unmanned aerial vehicle..." The UAV was seen as close as 100m away and level with the helicopter.

b. AO-2013-167. Aircraft separation issue involving an Ayres S2B VH-WBK and an unmanned aerial vehicle 37km SSW of Horsham aerodrome, Victoria on 12 September 2013. At about 0930hrs EST aerial agricultural operation was occurring on a property. An operator of a UAV sensefly eBee 178 was conducting aerial photography. The operator radioed his intention to launch a UAV. Flight of UAV was at 390 feet AGL. The UAV came near to the aircraft.

Discussion and analysis:

1. The "unknown" object was not picked up on primary or secondary radar from the ground. It also did not activate the aircraft's TCAS. This all suggests that the object was not an aircraft. The pilot's visual observation confirms this.

2. Was it an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) as suggested in the ATSB report? Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) Australia Advisory circular AC101-1 (click here) provides that UAVs are permitted only up to a height not exceeding 400 feet AGL, and there are tight controls if flown in controlled airspace. Recall that the aircraft at the time was near 4,000 feet. Recall also that the Department of Defence is cited as saying that it was not operating UAVs at the time itself, and was not aware of any UAV operations at that time. In addition, the ATSB was not able to identify any UAV operator in the area. Thus if it was a UAV, it was an illegal operation.

One of the authors(PD) contacted two Perth based UAV operators, namely "Coptercam" and "Altitude Imaging." Neither company was aware of any current UAVs shaped like "cigarettes" i.e. pencil shaped.

In addition, one should also note the pilot's description of the object. It was not of a multi rotor, circular UAV, nor of a fixed wing model aircraft, but of a military green coloured, cylindrical object of dimensions ratio similar to a cigarette, i.e. long and thin. Note also, that the pilot did not report seeing any wings, tail, or propulsion system on the object, even though he had a close visual observation. In the opinion of the authors, the probability of the unknown object being a conventional UAV, is extremely low.

3. So, what was it? By any definition it was an "unknown object," an unidentified flying object if you will, or an example of unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP.)

Could there still be a conventional explanation, if it was not an aircraft or a UAV? Perhaps the colour and ratio of its dimensions provide a clue? Could it have been a rocket or a missile, of some kind? If so, why would such a thing have a strobe light on it? Apparent lack of wings, tail or a propulsion system would all fit this conjecture. If it was a rocket or missile, where did it come from and who launched it?


At this point, with no definite explanation, the authors consider the report should be regarded as an example of UAP.

We welcome comments from blog readers.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Preliminary investigation report - Armidale, NSW - 21 September 2015


Date:         Monday 21 September 2015
Location:  Armidale, New South Wales
Time:         Sighting one - 2120-2135hrs
                   Sighting two - 2130-2150hrs
                   Australian Eastern Standard Time (UTC plus 10 hours.)


Two sightings were initially reported to the "Lights in the sky" blog site of the Sydney Observatory. Details as recorded there were:

Sighting one:

"Two orange circles were observed over block. The lights came together and then drifted apart. They were very close but no other outline of an object could be seen. It is hard to determine how high they were as they were clearly seen and bright but the movement made this confusing.

The lights went up and then down again, together and then apart. The lights then went straight up and started to travel away from our block in an Eastward direction towards Coffs Harbour. We watched the lights until they faded away. We took a picture with the iPhone but it is not clear due to the darkness. These lights were seen by three adults and 5 children. We all thought it was very odd. The sky was clear and stars were visible."  (Kim.)

Courtesy of Google maps

Sighting two:

"At around 2130 I went down my back steps and glanced to the West and noticed what I thought were 2x helicopter lights in the sky above the University of New England. They were amber in colour and slowly moving towards the east along the northern edge of town. Each object remained a constant distance about 50m from each other north to south. What drew my attention to them was their color brightness and zero flashing. As they got closer and were passing overhead about 100m they did not make a sound. I called my partner and son to check it out and they were amazed at what they saw. The irony is that my video camera was not charged and mobile phone was dead.

To the west again a plane was flying very high as we saw the beacon flashing and heard the engine of that aircraft. It was flying south to north. We watched the two lights for about 15 minutes as they made their way to the east and disappeared over the horizon. They remained constantly at a distance from each other, did not make a sound and were bright. It was a clear night with the Moon setting in the west and as the lights passed stars in the background no silhouette or shape between the 2 lights was evident." (Greg.)

Courtesy of Google maps

Sighting one:

In addition to posting on the Sydney Observatory site, Kim also emailed directly to Melbourne researcher, Paul Dean. Paul asked me to contact Kim and I sent him an email asking a number of questions. I have received no response as at the date of this report.

Sighting two:

I contacted Greg by email and posed a series of questions:

Q1 What was their apparent size compared to the full Moon on the horizon? Were they star sized?
A1 "They were a little larger than a star, like headlights of a car. What got my attention was their brightness."

Q2 What was the total duration of the sighting?
A2 "Approximately 20 minutes."

Q3 Did you watch them continuously?
A3 "Yes, for the first couple of minutes. I raced inside to grab a video camera to film it. Unfortunately it had a flat battery. When I returned after about 30 seconds, I watched them continuously until they were out of view on the horizon to the east travelling towards Ebor from Armidale."

Q4 Did each, or any of them vary in brightness at all? If so, how?
A4 "No, they remained the same intensity the whole time. The only time their luminosity got less as they moved further away."

Q5 When you say they disappeared, did they simply got out or disappear behind something?
A5 "They just simply went beyond the horizon where I could not  observe them any more."

Q6 What were the weather conditions like at the time?
A7 "The weather conditions at the time were prefect. There was no wind and zero clouds in the sky. It was a very clear night about 10 degrees Celsius."

Q7 Is the video you took able to be electronically forwarded to me to view?
A7 "Yes."

I then  later spoke to Greg by telephone and clarified a number of points, including whether or not he had ever seen a hot air garbage bag or a Chinese Lantern. He had not, and in fact asked me what these were? I ascertained that Greg lived in Erskine Street (see map above.)

Weather details
I obtained the relevant weather details from the Bureau of Meteorology's website, see the screen capture below:

At 2100hrs the temperature was 9.1 degrees Celsius; relative humidity 74%;wind speed was 9km/hr from the north-west.

At 2130hrs temp was 9.3C; 75%rh; wind speed 7km/hr from the west-north-west.


I checked Air Services Australia's WebTrak secondary radar coverage. It does not extend to Armidale.


The night sky is as shown in the screen capture below. The Moon was in the western sky.

Courtesy Heavens Above website

1. Given that the times of the two sightings are different, and that the behaviour of the two sets of two lights are different (constant distance apart - Greg; and varying distances - Kim) it appears to me that we have two separate sightings of two sets of two lights, not two observations of the same set of two lights.

2. Greg in Erskine Street viewed his objects initially in the west-north-west, then overhead, then going eastwards. We do not have Kim's exact location, but he described his lights as heading eastwards.

3. At 2130hrs, the wind speed was 7km/hr from the west-north-west. Therefore, Greg's objects were travelling exactly from the direction the wind was blowing from, and heading in the same direction as the wind was blowing to, i.e. to the east. It could therefore be argued that Greg's objects were wind borne ones. All that can be said for Kim's objects is that they were heading in the same direction as the wind, i.e. east, and therefore it can be postulated that they were also wind borne.

4. The colour, brightness, size, shape, lack of sound are all consistent with either hoax hot air garbage bag balloons or Chinese lanterns. For those who have not seen a video of these devices, here are four Youtube videos which are very educational.

5. The durations of 20 minutes for both sightings is also consistent with the light wind speed of between 7 and 9 km/hr.

6. Hoax hot air garbage bags may appear to "flicker" or "pulse" when seen at close range, but when viewed from a distance, the amber/orange light appears steady.

7. For a report from Cairns, Queensland of multiple orange lights which appear to have been either hot air garbage bag balloons or Chinese Lanterns, dated four days earlier, click here.

8. For a report of orange lights from Armidale, NSW date exactly one year earlier click here


My view, based on the details provided above, is that there was nothing inconsistent with either hoax hot air garbage bags  or Chinese lanterns.

They have been reported from Tasmania to Texas.

These are quite often launched by bored teenagers; particularly on warm, calm evenings. These individuals then track sightings via local media and community Facebook pages, for fun.

I welcome comments from blog readers.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Report from Cairns - Queensland - 17 September 2015

Hi all,

I sometimes receive details of sightings directly from individuals. This enables me to conduct a first hand investigation of the circumstances surrounding the event. Last night I heard from Greg of Bentley Park, a suburb of Cairns, some 9 kilometres south of the city centre, about a personal sightings at 2100hrs that night.

Courtesy of Google maps

Greg supplied the following details to me:

Four people saw " orange light, which then divided. The lights were just floating or hovering in the distance" in the west. "...2 more arrived. They moved very smoothly weaving in and around each other. Two then disappeared and then the final two did a bit more dancing and then also disappeared."

I posed the following questions to Greg. His responses are also shown below:

Q1. What direction were they moving in?
A1 "They were just kind of moving calmly around and hovering. Not closer or away."

Q2 What was their apparent size?
A2 "They were about a star size and about as bright as Venus."

Q3 Was there any associated noise?
A3 "No."

Q4 What was the total duration?
A4 "I watched them for about 5 minutes."

Q5 Was there any variation in brightness?
A5 "No they were consistent. They did twinkle, just a solid light."

Q6 How did they disappear?
A6 "Just disappeared. Vanished. There was nothing to hide behind."

Q7 What was the weather at the time?
A7 "Perfect clear night."

Courtesy of Google maps
The witness then added:

"Some others on Facebook said they saw them and people replied saying they were lanterns. I don't know how they could be lanterns because they wouldn't emit that much light."

I checked the weather details for 2100hrs for Cairns international airport, some 9 kms to the north. These were:

Courtesy of Bureau of Meteorology
 Temperature was 20.4 deg C; 90% relative humidity; wind was from the West at 6km/hr. Pressure was 1016.5hPa. No rain since 9am.

I then checked Air Services Australia's WebTrak secondary radar website. The relevant image is shown below. There were no aircraft in the area at that time.

Courtesy of WebTrak website
My thoughts:

My view, based on the details provided above, is that there was nothing inconsistent with either hot air garbage bags (click here on how they are made) or Chinese lanterns.

They have been reported from Tasmania to Texas.

These are quite often launched by bored teenagers; particularly on warm, calm evenings. These individuals then track sightings via local media and community Facebook pages, for fun.

Note added: 25 September 2015.

Additional sighting:

I had a comment on this post from a person, who wrote:

"Hi Keith,
We are in Edmonton, which is the suburb next to Bentley Park in Cairns. We were watching the lights in a North/Westerly direction. They seemed to have more of a glow/sparkle on the bottom of them, not around the whole circumference like a star would. What do you think about these?"

This observation of a glow on the bottom, strongly supports the lights being either garbage bag hoax balloons or Chinese lanterns, as the following Youtube video, of the launch of such a device
clearly shows the glow around the heat source at the bottom of the device.