Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Officialdom and the Katoomba lights of 1957

Hi all

Official government files do not tell the whole story of the involvement of government agencies in the UFO phenomenon. I was reminded of this yet again, when Jan Aldrich of Project 1947 recently sent me a batch of newspaper clippings from Australian newspapers dated 1953-1957.

A series of articles from 1957 caught my eye. They told a story of hundreds of people seeing unusual lights in the sky, and the involvement of the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) , the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO.)

The story:

One of the  headlines of the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper of 17 Jul 1957 read "Sky mystery at Katoomba." The story, from Tuesday evening 16 July followed. " A lighted object in the sky, resembling a flying saucer, was reported to Katoomba police..." A Mr Hickey reported a hovering object which sent three "...four bright blue rays into the sky," at 8.30pm. He had been inside, heard a noise like an aeroplane, went outside and saw a bright object approaching Katoomba from Falconbridge (10 miles ESE of Katoomba.) Mr Hickey said it hovered  for six minutes, and "...then loud sounds echoed from it..." The sound resembled that of an aeroplane. The light faded after 15 minutes but was still visible in the sky. Police who were called, also sighted the object.

The Sun newspaper of 17 Jul 1957 quoted one Jack Kunst, "...a prominent member of the Unidentified Flying Objects Investigating Committee..." as saying that the sighting "...strengthened evidence of a flying saucer base in the Blue Mountains."

Next day, the Sydney Morning Herald dated 18 Jul 1957 reported that "Mysterious lighted objects were seen in the sky again last night over Katoomba...and Ashfield, a western suburb of Sydney."

At 9.10pm a Katoomba police constable reported seeing "...alighted object in the sky." In addition, "scores of people drove to Echo Point lookout at Katoomba to watch the object...It was visible for about an hour." Among the witnesses was the secretary of the Katoomba branch of the Unidentified Flying Objects Research Committee." Mr Body said he had heard a noise, went outside and saw the object hovering overhead." It had a vapour trail like a jet. It seemed to be flashing red, green and white lights...it was difficult to estimate its size, but it seemed to be oval in shape...It was very bright - about 400-500 times the brilliance of an ordinary star."

Third night:

Reports were made on a third night, Thursday 18 Jul 1957, according to the Sydney morning Herald of 19 Jul 1957, from Katoomba and Sydney's Western suburbs. In Katoomba, at 4.45pm three boys reported seeing an oval shaped  object from Echo Point, "...hovering and drifting above the floor of the Jamieson Valley..."

Later, at 7.45pm, 25 miles West of Katoomba came a  report of a "...brilliant flashing red, green and white light to the south west." It disappeared about 8.20pm. Thirty people at Echo Point "saw the same object."

At 9.50pm "...a strong red flashing light..." travelled across the sky at high speed."


The Sun, dated 19 Jul 1957 reported that a "RAAF Meteor Jet will stand by tonight ready to investigate the mystery lights  over the Blue Mountains..." Interestingly, the plane would be launched at the request of Col. N Strachan, OIC of the Blue mountains Civil Defence, not the RAAF. The paper also reported that the CSIRO would be requested to attend and view the object.

The Sydney Morning Herald dated 20 Jul 1957 carried more information.

Official viewpoints:

On Friday evening 19 Jul 1957 reports of mysterious lights flowed in not only from Katoomba but across and around Sydney. Also enter the CSIRO, who sent "An officer of the radio-physics division... Dr C S Gunn" who watched the skies from Narrowneck Lookout, Katoomba from 8-10pm on Thursday 18 July and 6.30-9.30pm on Friday 19 July. He reported seeing nothing unusual, only stars setting, while changing colour due to the atmosphere.

The RAAF also sent an observer, Flt Lt N J Hurley who "...identified Katoomba's flying saucer as a star...probably Canopus" according to the 20 Jul 1957 Daily telegraph newspaper.

Official files:

With the involvement of RAAF and the CSIRO one would imagine that the Katoomba sightings would make it into official files, however, apparently not so.

I first checked the RAAF's main reports file, series A703 control symbol 580/1/1 part 1. However, there is no mention of these July 1957 reports.

The CSIRO had a UFO files which covered the period. File series C273/227 control symbol 1957-619 part 1. Again, no mention of Dr Gunn';s involvement, nor indeed anything about the July sightings.

I also checked the file covering the period, held by the Department of Civil Aviation, who are quoted in various newspapers as giving advice on aircraft movements. File series A9778 control symbol M1/F/31, has nothing on these reports.

My comments:

It was interesting to me to see the involvement of local police, the Civil Defence, the RAAF, the CSIRO and DCA, plus the comments by UFOIC the local UFO group.

The descriptions of the main Katoomba objects do seem to favour an astronomical explanation. However, there are no data concerning angular size, elevation, or compass directions to many of the reported sightings. This unfortunately, is all too common of newspaper reports, so the definitive explanation remains elusive.

All in all, an interesting insight into official reaction to sightings in 1957 Australia.

1 comment:

  1. http://ufoicaustralia.blogspot.com/2007_01_01_archive.html
    Keith, This is a link to my UFOIC blog which reproduces one page of the UFO Bulletin. Earlier issues of UFOIC's own publication describes the UFOIC investigation in a bit more details. I'm not sure if the fragments of the UFOIC files of that era still extant in my archives cover the Katoomba events. It was a big case for them back then, but they had only recently formalised their seperate existence from the AFSRS(NSW branch) which was a short lived bridge from UFOIC people who were part of Edgar Jarrolds AFSB which folded by 1955.
    Rex Gilroy was a youngester growing up in Katoomba during that era. He briefly refers to the events drawing largely on media accounts in his "Blue Mountains Triangle" (2006) book, pgs. 17-18, and adds some local colour.


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