Saturday, September 17, 2011

One of the witnesses to the 22 Aug 1968 Zanthus case located and interviewed

So far, I have posted the details of the 22 Aug 1968, Zanthus, Western Australia case, as recorded in the RAAF's UFO files. However, upon reading those documents there were a few questions which arose in my mind, which I wanted to resolve. What was the size comparison of the small to large objects? How far to the left and right of the large object did the small objects travel? Were any radar observations made?

I was fortunate enough, the other day to be able to locate and interview, by phone,  one of the pilots involved in this event. Walter Gardin is now aged 77, being 34 when the event transpired. He was kind enough to answer my questions. Here then are my interview notes, which provide some interesting new details which have not seen the light of day in 43 years.

Interview notes with Walter Gardin 15 Sep 2011:

Q1 What first drew your attention to the formation?

We had heard that a balloon was to be flown from Western Australia to Sydney. I was flying the aircraft at the time, when I suddenly noticed an object out of the cockpit window. I looked again but nothing was there. I was reading a newspaper at the time. On looking up once again, the object was now present. Later I learnt that the balloon in questions had not flown on that day. So, the answer to your question is that I first thought it was a balloon I was seeing.

Q2 The statement said the formation was at the same level as the aircraft. Does this mean that you looked straight at it, as opposed to needing to look up or down from the aircraft's horizon?


Q3 There was one larger object and several smaller ones. If the length of the larger object was one unit, what was the length of a smaller object?

1/10th to 1/5th of a unit.

Q4 For the whole ten minutes of viewing, the formation maintained the same distance. Does this mean that the angular size of both the larger and smaller objects remained constant?


Additional information:

Walter was supposed to provide a position report to DCA Kalgoorlie, during the time they were out of radio contact with DCA Kalgoorlie. When Kalgoorlie failed to receive this report they were concerned that the aircraft may have crashed.

Q5 The statement reads "the smaller aircraft then flew out left and right." If the length of the larger object was one unit, how many units to left and right did the smaller objects travel?

About 30 degrees. Two smaller objects went to the right and four to the left.

Q6 "At 0950GMT the whole formation joined together." Does this mean that they became one, and only one object, which diminished in angular size?

Yes, they all merged. The smaller objects merged with the larger one by going in to it from underneath. The one object then departed by going upwards at a 45 degree angle from the aircraft's horizon. It diminished in size as if receding.

Q7 Was the Sun above the horizon at the time?


Q8 Was the Moon or any other object visible in the sky?

No. It was a clear blue sky in the direction of the formation.

Q9 The statement said the weather was fine. Does this equate to clear sky in the direction of the objects?

Yes. The weather was fine in that direction. Clear blue sky.

Q10 Was there any air turbulence at the time?


Further information:

When they arrived at Kalgoorlie, the police were present, as DCA thought that the aircraft may have crashed. Walter did not talk to them about his observations. He understood that Gordon may have appeared later, on TV or in the paper.

Q11 Kalgoorlie told you that there was no traffic in the area, when you asked them. Would this have been based on their radar observation?

Walter and I discussed this point and came to the conclusion that Kalgoorlie relied on aircraft identifying themselves as being in the area, rather than radar observations from Kalgoorlie.

Q12 Did your aircraft have radar onboard.


Q13 To your knowledge, was Kaloorlie in receipt of any other observations of unidentified traffic?


Q14 Did any RAAF personnel ever speak to you or Gordon about the observations?

RAAF did. Walter recalls someone telling them about a case involving the US Dewline and of a building in the US where they looked into UFOs.

Q15 Prior to 22 Aug 1968 what was your opinion of UFOs?

UFOs were "bull," ( that is he didn't believe in them.)

Q16 Did you change your opinion as a result of the 22 Aug 1968 observation?

Yes. After this episode I formed the opinion that there are other inhabited planets out there.

Additional information:

While looking at the formation, Walter had a strange sensation, which lasted for the next six months. He had the feeling that he was "in the control of people gathering information on people on the earth."

Q17 What radios were onboard the aircraft?

Two UHF and one VHF.

Q17 How many times did the cycle of smaller objects going outwards and inwards occur?

I saw it three times. Gordon twice.

Q18 Do you know if Gordon Smith is still alive?

I don't know. The last I heard of him he was at a flying school in Perth.

My comments:

Some very interesting information has emerged from this interview.

1. That the single, united object left at a 45 degree upwards direction. I had thought, from the statement given to the RAAF that the one final object had simply gone out of sight still on the aircraft's horizon.

2. That the smaller objects, when moving left and right of the main object had travelled through about 30 degrees away from the main object. This is a large angular distance. I double checked this fact with Walter.

3. The smaller objects were 1/10th to 1/5th the angular size of the larger object.

4. The smaller objects merged with the larger one by going into it from underneath. I had thought from the original statement that the smaller objects came in from left and right, i.e. along the same plane as the aircraft's horizon.

Given all the data, from both from the original 1968 documentation, and this interview, albeit it is 43 years later (why did no one follow this case up at the time?) I don't believe that the mirage hypothesis is valid.

In my opinion, this event represents an excellent example of the "core" UFO phenomenon, and deserved a scientific investigation at the time.

What do readers think?


  1. Hello Keith, good work contacting Gardin.

    Did you ask Walter if he could provide a sketch(or sketches)of his sighting? They'd help to complete your files on the incident and possibly help to support or refute Shough's superior mirage speculation. There's also the possibility of checking if weather conditions and geography were suitable.

    It's also a potential opportunity to test Shough's idea by asking Walter if he'd look at on-line images of superior mirages and asking him if there were any similarities?

    Coincidentally, when I looked at the FSR (1979 Vol 24 No5) issue referred to by Martin Shough, you have an article in there that I'd highlighted for the Mt. Magnet and vehicle interference reports.

  2. Hi Kandinsky

    I am hoping to have the opportunity to meet Walter in person in about 8 weeks time, so I am currently compiling a second set of questions for him. One of these is asking him to sketch his recollections.

    I am also looking to submit a request to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology for a copy of the closest in time, Kalgoorlie radiosonde weather details for various levels in the atmosphere. Their website gets you back only 18 months for basic weather records for Kalgoorlie.

    My initial look at geography of the area via Google maps is that the Zanthus area is flat, and almost featureless.

    I like your idea about having Walter look at on-line images, I will follow this up with him.

    Thanks for your comments. much appreciated.

  3. Hello Keith

    Thanks for posting this interesting follow-up. It's a pity that it was left to you to do this job now when ideally it would have been done 40 years ago, as you say.

    If I could just comment on the comments:

    Yes, it would very interesting to see radiosonde profiles for that day. I wish you luck in getting hold of them. Hopefully your request will focus if possible on balloon locations to the NW of the sighting area, in the sighting direction, which could be more significant than conditions in the immediate vicinity of the plane because the ray paths might be passing for long distances through an hypothetical optical duct extending over a wide area far from the plane.

    Connected with that, I'd point out that the (equally hypothetical) target(s) of this mirage - silhouetted peaks, or clouds etc - might conceivably lie at a distance of hundreds of miles from the plane, so the topography and weather of the immediate Zanthus area is possibly not so relevant.

    Note a point made in my report on the Capt Howard case (possibly Note 83, or thereby, IIRC) - that the radio signal loss during the Zanthus sighting could be consistent with a strong temperature inversion causing an optical duct. In dry air, such as might be the situation at altitude in reportedly very clear blue skies over a region like this, radio and optical ducting onset would be much closer in time than would typically be the case (radio wavelengths normally being affected disproportionately by the relative humidity). It could happen that radio waves were being refracted and prevented from entering the optical duct. When the duct broke down, or the plane emerged from it, radio and optical propagation might return almost simultaneously to normal.

    Re Capt Gardin's late recollection of details which indicate vertical angular displacements that seem to possibly conflict with a mirage explanation - the 45 degree final ascent, and merging of the satellite objects from underneath - I am reluctant to place as much weight on material information recalled 43 years later that was not mentioned at the time. Capt Smith's account (I agree with you) did give the impression - not explicitly, but by (I would say) conspicuous omission - that observed motions were confined to a horizontal plane.

    It may not be irrelevant that these new details tend to increase the strangeness of the event. No doubt Gardin encountered attenpts by various people to explain the sighting - possibly including mirage-type theories, of which the original story was at least somewhat suggestive. It would be natural to want to defend a contrary opinion in which the witness may have invested some public and personal capital over the years (as possibly also hinted at by the "psychic" revelations). A similar temptation appears to have influenced Capt Howard (BOAC case 1954) in similar circumstances a decade or more after the event, as proven by detailed documentary evidence in my report on that case

    In respect of memory, I note that Capt Gardion now recalls that "the sun was above the horizon" and sky condition in the sighting direction was "clear blue sky". However your own findings are as follows:

    "A check of the astronomical sky using a software program indicated that at 0940GMT [1740 local] the Sun had set and was about 4 degrees below the ground horizon, some 20 degrees to the right of the aircraft's track."

    I look forward to your further work on this interesting case. Perhaps contemporary evidence will emerge that convincingly disproves the mirage theory.

    Kind regards
    Martin Shough


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