I want to add some further information in support of the hypothesis that the 6 April 1966 incident at Westall High School was due to the recovery of a HIBAL payload and its associated 12 metre diameter parachute (for previous post, click here,) and the subsequent desire by authorities to "hush" the event up.
Most of the modern day accounts of the Westall incident, draw upon the 40 plus year old memories of people who are alive today, and were in their early teens when the event occurred. Much of this material has been documented, and discussed only post 2005, on social media sites ( e.g. see here, and here.) In my opinion, while such sites have allowed people who were former students at Westall High School, to come forward and share their recollections; they are simply that; 40 plus year old memories of "something which happened." I understand that not one individual has been able to come forward with say, a 1966 diary entry, where we can all read their 1966 account of what they saw that day. We are relying on their memories.
Here then lies my first issue, the 40 year plus old memories. General public opinion suggests that memories are like a video recording of the event, i.e. you can play it back in your mind at any time and the results will be consistent, accurate and the same time after time. However, this is not what modern scientific research has found.
"Important, surprising and impactful public events sometimes produce flashbulb memories. These are vivid and long lived recollections of the personal circumstances associated with learning about such events...Subsequent researchers have used a test-retest design to assess the accuracy and stability of these memories over fairly long delays...This line of work has demonstrated that memory reports collected months or years after the flash-bulb eliciting event sometimes differ from ones collected days or weeks after the event." (Lee, PJ and Brown, NR. 2003. "Delay Related Changes in Personal Memories for September 11, 2001." Applied Cognitive Psychology. 17:1007-1015.)
A 1992 piece by Neisser, U and Harsch, N (in Winograd, E and Neisser, U (eds.) "Affect and Accuracy in Recall: Studies of "Flashbulb Memories". 1992. pp9-31) titled "Phantom flashbulbs: False recollections of hearing the news about Challenger" is of particular relevance. Here, accounts of the space shuttle Challenger disaster from the day following the event, were compared to memories of the event after some 2 and a half years. Only 7% of the participants were able to recall the information accurately. 68% recalled memories containing varying amounts of accurate and inaccurate details. Despite this issue, participants were highly confident that they had in fact accurately recalled the incident. This study was based on such simple questions as where they were when they found out, and what they were doing at that time?
Numerous other pieces of research have shown the fallibility of human memory. "An accumulation of data refutes the necessity of a uniquely accurate memory process, instead showing that FBMs often include errors." (Talarico, JM and Rubin, DC. 2007. "Flashbulb memories Are Special After All; in Phenomenology, Not Accuracy." Applied Cognitive Psychology. 21:556-578.
In summary, I have serious doubts about the accuracy of many of the accounts collected and discussed in social media forums post 2005, about the Westall incident.
What do I think is accurate?
I think that instead of relying on old, often inaccurate memories, we should take a closer look at the documentation which exists from 1966. I have been able, with the kind assistance of Westall researcher Shane Ryan, and "Westall 66" documentary film maker Rosie Jones to compile a listing of such documentation. This includes local newspaper accounts from 1966; a one page report form filled in for the Victorian Flying Saucer Research Society (VFSRS) in 1966, and a student's written account from 1966.
1. The VFSRS report form is in the name of 12 year old student, Joy Tighe. In it, she states that she saw "Circular 2 UFOs." "Round on top Flat on Bottom." She describes the trace as "Flattened waist high grass for 10 yards diameter."
Under the HIBAL hypothesis, I would suggest that Joy saw the HIBAL 12 metre diameter parachute and the associated (but separated by a distance) attached payload. Note that Joy says there were two UFOs not the one (or three) suggested by post 2005 accounts.
2. The "Dandenong Journal" dated 14 April 1966 page 1, states that the shape was "a round humped object with a flat base..." Under the HIBAL hypothesis I would suggest that this refers to the 12 metre diameter parachute. The colour given in the Journal piece was grey or silver grey. I have not yet been able to determine the colour of HIBAL payload parachutes.
Regarding the ground trace (described by post 2005 reports as varying in number between one and several, and recollected, if my memory serves me correctly, in seven different locations by post 2005 accounts), VFSRS researcher Judith Magee is quoted in the Journal as seeing "a couple of circular patches where the grass had been flattened." However, the Journal then goes on to say "Mrs Magee said strong winds had been blowing during the week, and these could have caused the grass to be flattened."
If the ground trace, described in some post 2005 accounts as neat, circular shapes similar to crop circles, was in fact caused by high winds, then this aspect of the Westall incident needs no other explanation from the HIBAL hypothesis. I will add, that there is no 1966 account of the Westall UFO making the ground trace. Its association with the UFO appears to be one of inference, i.e. other UFOs have left ground markings, e.g. 19 January 1966 Tully "saucer nest."
The Dandenong Journal dated 21 April 1966 cites an interview with Westall teacher Andrew Greenwood and has him describing what he saw as "Like a thin beam of light, about half the length of a light aircraft. It was silvery-grey and seemed to 'thicken' at times." Greenwood is cited as saying the object he saw was never stationary and seemed to move from side to side and up and down. This is so unlike what student Joy Tighe reported that one wonders if she and Greenwood were describing the same object, or two separate things. Could Greenwood have been looking at the deflating HIBAL balloon itself, as opposed to Tighe's sighting of the parachute and payload?
Regarding the departure of the object, post 2005 accounts have it departing at speed. What did Greenwood say in 1966? The Journal cites him as saying that after about 20 minutes, he "looked away and when he looked back it had disappeared." He did not say he saw the object departing at high speed. Interestingly, in a 1967 interview with Professor James E McDonald, Greenwood says that he lost sight of it as it vanished by accelerating away. So, only one year after the event, Greenwood himself may well have been the source of much later accounts of the object accelerating away. This may well be an example of a flashbulb memory being faulty, after some time has elapsed.
In a newsletter style publication "The Clayton Calendar" published somewhere between April and July 1966, a student wrote about his own observation of the Westall object. He describes what he saw, not as a domed object but like a very thin, silver object. Its departure motion was described as moving into the distance, gradually gaining height. Again this is so at odds with student Tighe's description, that one wonders what this 1966 student was actually observing? Note his description is identical to Greenwood's. Again, could this student have been looking at the actual deflating HIBAL balloon?
So, there we have three original accounts from 1966. This is all we have to go on if we believe that post 2005 accounts may be inaccurate, as modern psychological studies would suggest.
Back to HIBAL:
I would argue that the original 1966 documentation, sparse as it is, as much supports the HIBAL hypothesis as it does the UFO hypothesis. Of particular importance, in my mind, is the inability of UFO researchers to demonstrate that there was any link at all between UFO and "ground marking." Recall that it was VFSRS researcher Magee who commented that the mark may have simply been due to high winds.
Other important questions:
One additional point to mention is that no UFO researcher, myself included, has been able to locate even one single piece of official documentation from any Australian government UFO, or other, file, that relates the Westall incident as a UFO landing. The HIBAL hypothesis would suggest this is because the Westall incident was not UFO related. The UFO hypothesis suggests there was a major "cover up" of the event, and this is why there is no "paper trail."
A second point, is that some Westall witnesses, post 2005, commented upon the speed with which the authorities were on the scene, almost as if they knew the object was going to be there. The HIBAL hypothesis has a simple answer to this, the authorities knew that a parachute and payload dropped from a balloon was on its way because they were tracking it from a chase aircraft. A chase aircraft followed every flight. Recall that multiple light aircraft were said to be in the general area of the Westall object. It is known that some light aircraft were doing circuits from Moorabbin airport at that time which may account for most of the aircraft reported, leaving one to be a HIBAL chase aircraft.
A third point is that I know of no Australian UFO incident where it has been proven that the authorities tried to silence witnesses. Westall witnesses in 1966 documentation describe being told to keep quiet about the incident. The HIBAL hypothesis would point out that Department of External files I found in the National Archives of Australia show that authorities were deeply concerned about the possibility of a HIBAL project balloon and associated 200kg payload doing some damage on the ground, or indeed hitting an aircraft. Thus the hypothesis suggests the authorities would try and keep the fact that a 200kg payload nearly descended onto a school yard, as quiet as possible. One HIBAL flight in August 1966 landed on a chicken farm near Bendigo according to two former Department of Supply HIBAL personnel, whom I interviewed.
Although I have the highest regard for the individuals who have come forward on social media sites to describe, often in quite confident terms, their recollections from 40 plus years ago, I would suggest that we cannot place confidence in their memories of the 1966 Westall event. Instead, in trying to work out what happened way back then, we need to better analyse the original 1966 documentation which is available to us.
This is why, I would like to see us analyse and debate non-UFO explanations for the 1966 Westall incident, along with those who propose a UFO explanation.
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