Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Aviator Francis Chichester's classic sighting - is the date wrong?

Background

On a flight between New Zealand and Australia, in 1931, the famous aviator and sailor Francis Chichester, reported an unusual observation. This has become somewhat of a classic "UFO" story on the Internet and in various books.

Introduction

The story which is related, is as follows:

10 June 1931, Tasman Sea

"Suddenly, ahead and to the left, there were bright flashes in several places, like the dazzle of a heliograph. I saw a dull grey-white airship coming towards me. It seemed impossible, but I could have sworn it was an airship, nosing towards me like an oblong pearl. Except for a cloud or two there was nothing else in  the sky. I looked around, sometimes catching a flash or glint, and turning again to look at the airship. I found it had disappeared.

I screwed up my eyes, unable to believe what I was seeing, and  twisted the seaplane this way and that, thinking that the airship must be hidden by a blind spot. Dazzling flashes continued in four or five different places, but I could not pick out any planes.

Then, out of some clouds, I saw another or the same airship advancing. I watched it intently, determined not to  look away for a fraction of a second. I'd see what happened to this one, if I had to chase it. It drew steadily closer, until perhaps a mile away, when suddenly it vanished. Then it reappeared, close to where it had vanished. I watched with  angry intentness. It drew closer, and I could see the dull gleam of light on its  nose and back.

It came on, but instead  of increasing in size, it diminished as it approached. When quite near, it suddenly became its own ghost one second I could see through it, and the next it had vanished. I decided it could only be a diminutive cloud perfectly  shaped like an airship and then dissolving, but it was uncanny that it should exactly resume the same shape after it once vanished.

I turned towards the flashes, but those too had vanished. All of this was many years before anyone spoke of flying saucers. Whatever it was I saw, it seems to have been very much like what people have since claimed to  be flying saucers."

[Source: Chichester, Francis. 1964. The Lonely Sea and the Sky. Coward-McCann. New York. p.165.]


Is 10 June 1931, the correct date?

Every source that I consulted, including The OzFiles (page 34) by Australian author Bill Chalker, and the Lord Howe Island Museum, cites the sighting as taking place on 10 June 1931. Did anyone consult contemporary newspapers to check on this date?  It appears not.

I therefore conducted a search of contemporary digitised newspapers in the National Library of Australia's TROVE collection. I put together a timeline of the trip.

Left Auckland, New Zealand at 11.30am on Saturday 28 March 1931.
Arrived Norfolk Island 4.45pm 28 March 1931.

[Source: Advocate, Burnie, Tasmania. Monday 30 March 1931 page5.]

Left Norfolk Island at 10am on Wednesday 1 April 1931.
Arrived Lord Howe Island at 4.30pm on 1 April 1931.

[Source: Advertiser & Register, Adelaide, South Australia. Thursday 2 April 1931 page 19.]

Left Lord Howe Island on the morning of Saturday 6 June 1931 bound for Sydney. Arrived Jervis Bay, New South Wales at about 3.30pm 6 June 1931.


[Sources: Sunday Times, Perth, Western Australia, Sunday 7 June 1931 page3;  Chronicle, Adelaide, South Australia 11 June 1931 page 39. Daily Examiner, Grafton, NSW, Monday 8 June 1931 page 3.]


Therefore, according to contemporary newspapers, the cited date of 10 June 1931 is incorrect, as the flight was over by 6 June 1931.

What is the correct date? Well, this depends on which part of the trip did the sighting occur? If it was between Auckland and Norfolk Island the date was 28 March 1931. If between Norfolk Island and Lord Howe Island 1 April 1931, and if  between Lord Howe Island and Sydney, the 6 June 1931.

As an aside, the paper reports that Chichester flight between Lord Howe Island and Sydney was  delayed due to the fact that his aircraft had to be repaired after his aircraft sank in a lagoon on Lord Howe Island. See interesting historical photographs. This source also has a map of the entire trip.

Does an account of the sighting appear in any contemporary newspaper?


I conducted a search using TROVE and could not find any account prior to 1950. In the Goulburn Evening Post dated Thursday 2 November 1950 there is an account of the sighting from 1931, as recalled by Chichester in his book "Alone Over the Tasman Sea." This book was first published in 1945. The newspaper article includes the sentence "At the time he dismissed them as unexplainable phenomena."

YouTube

There exists a short Youtube video of an interview (in black and white) with Francis Chichester about the sighting. However, in does not assist with either the exact location or indeed the date.

Check the book

I therefore acquired a copy of  Chichester, Francis. 1964. The Lonely Sea and the Sky. Hodder and Stoughton. London. Seventh impression 1967.  Page 106 features a map of the flight. According to this:

* Chichester left New Zealand on 28 March 1931 and landed at Norfolk Island on that same day.

* He flew from Norfolk Island to Lord Howe Island on 1 April 1931.

These dates are both in agreement with contemporary newspaper accounts.

Here on page 165 of the book, I found:

"Suddenly, ahead and to the left, there were bright flashes in several places, like the dazzle of a heliograph. I saw a dull grey-white airship coming towards me. It seemed impossible, but I could have sworn it was an airship, nosing towards me like an oblong pearl. Except for a cloud or two there was nothing else in  the sky. I looked around, sometimes catching a flash or glint, and turning again to look at the airship. I found it had disappeared.

I screwed up my eyes, unable to believe what I was seeing, and  twisted the seaplane this way and that, thinking that the airship must be hidden by a blind spot. Dazzling flashes continued in four or five different places, but I could not pick out any planes.

Then, out of some clouds to my right front, I saw another, or the same airship advancing. I watched it intently, determined not to  look away for a fraction of a second: I'd see what happened to this one, if I had to chase it. It drew steadily closer, until perhaps a mile away, when suddenly it vanished. Then it reappeared, close to where it had vanished: I watched with  angry intentness. It drew closer, and I could see the dull gleam of light on its  nose and back.

It came on, but instead  of increasing in size, it diminished as it approached. When quite near, it suddenly became its own ghost - one second I could see through it, and the next it had vanished. I decided it could only be a diminutive cloud perfectly  shaped like an airship and then dissolving, but it was uncanny that it should exactly resume the same shape after it had once vanished.

I turned towards the flashes, but those too had vanished. All of this was many years before anyone spoke of flying saucers. Whatever it was I saw, it seems to have been very much like what people have since claimed to  be flying saucers.

...After six hours and five minutes in the air I saw land again, and it was still there ten minutes later...Well, this was Australia."

In short

This description of seeing Australia shortly after his sighting, places the date of the sighting as 6 June 1931 and not 10 June 1931.

Where did the error arise?

The map of the book on page 106, states the following. "June 10 1931 Lord Howe Island Jarvis Bay."

So, it would appear that the error lies with whoever drew the map and inserted the 10 June 1931 date, and everyone since has simply assumed this was the correct date.

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