Sunday, April 20, 2014

Project HIBAL - the answer to Westall? - files destroyed

Hi all,


A research project I conducted a little while ago, concerned Project HIBAL, which launched high altitude balloons from 1960 onwards from Mildura, and several other Australian locations. In previous posts, I provided details of the HIBAL program, and suggested these very large balloons might explain some UAP sightings from that era.

In addition, while conducting a cold case investigation of the 6 April 1966, Westall case, I began to look for a Project which involved the former Australian Department of Supply (DOS) (Westall researcher Shane Ryan was contacted by the family of a former DOS employee who maintained their father knew the solution to Westall); the American government (some Westall witnesses reported people wearing what some professionals have described as American uniforms); a light aircraft (Westall witnesses maintained several light aircraft circled the UAP); and some form of flying object, which could have come down near Westall High School. This cold case investigation brought me right back to Project HIBAL!

These very large balloons lifted a heavy payload high above the Earth. A "chase" aircraft followed each flight, and "cut down" the balloon via radio signal. The payload (weighing about 200kgs) then dropped to Earth, below a 12m diameter parachute, taking an hour to get to the ground. The balloon went on to land elsewhere. Chase vehicles with DOS personnel then retrieved the payload.

Balloons on the loose:

HIBAL flights in 1966 were launched from Mildura, and some payloads were retrieved as far away as the Eyre Peninsular in South Australia; Nowra, NSW; Canberra, ACT; and close to Melbourne (in August 1966.)

My research unearthed previously unseen Bureau of Meteorology and Department of External Affairs files, in the National Archives of Australia. I also located and interviewed five former DOS employees, who had all worked on the HIBAL program.

A working hypothesis:

As a result of my intensive research, I developed a working hypothesis. In summary, it was "Could a Project HIBAL balloon's payload and 12 metre parachute, and subsequent retrieval of the payload by a ground crew, have caused the Westall incident?"

There was a HIBAL balloon scheduled for launch on 5 April 1966, flight 292 of the series. Flights were quite often delayed by a day due to too strong winds on proposed launch dates. The Westall incident occurred on 6 April 1966.

As part of my research, I located the logbook of the pilot of the chase plane (now deceased). Strangely, there was a logbook entry for flight 291 and one for flight 293, but no entry for flight 292!


I located a National Archives of Australia file series on RecordSearch, namely MP1472/25, which was a series held by the Controller of the Section of DOS, responsible for the Department's part of the joint US Atomic Energy Commission (the American connection I was after) and DOS HIBAL program.

From the Bureau of Meteorology HIBAL files I had a DOS HIBAL program file reference, so I knew that the MP1472/25 file series held the DOS HIBAL files.

I inquired at the National Archives of Australia (NAA) about the present location of the file series MP1472/25? The recent NAA response to me informed me that the file series "...was destroyed by the controlling agency CA46 Department of Defence in 1996. There are no item lists for this series in our finding records." So, any hope of finding official information on flight 292, and where it came to ground, from DOS files, is gone.

Former employees:

In addition, none of the former Department of Supply employees I interviewed was able to tell me what happened to flight 292. I posed the question, could the 5 April 1966 payload have come down in Melbourne, to one of the former DOS employees, who sometimes flew in the chase plane. His response was that he wouldn't be surprised if one had!

So, unfortunately, I now have no way of testing my hypothesis that the 6 April 1966 Westall incident was caused by the landing and retrieval of the payload of HIBAL flight 292.

I must, for the sake of transparency, let blog readers know that I have provided details of my HIBAL hypothesis to key Westall researcher, Shane Ryan, who does not support the hypothesis. I have also provided details to Westall documentary film maker Rosie Jones, and she doubts that it is the answer to the Westall incident.

I welcome comments from blog readers, particularly former DOS employees or their families; or former members of the US Atomic Energy Commission HIBAL program; or indeed any of the Australian "official" Westall investigation team, which Westall witnesses  report "silenced" witnesses to the event.


  1. Hi Keith. The HIBAL explanation is worth investigating. I am not an expert on the Westall case but have read about it several times. Whenever it takes multiple events coming together to explain a sighting then the likelihood of that explanation being valid is the multiplicative results of the likelihood of each individual event, much like the Drake Equation. These are my thoughts:

    (1) Since the records of the 292 flight cannot be found and the other flights can be found, there is a significant likelihood that this flight never occurred. So what is the likelihood that this flight occurred? I'll guess 25% or .25
    (2) What is the likelihood that the wind patterns were in the right directions and of the right strength to cause the balloons to drop near the Westall school? You might argue that the children saw the chase plane which would increase the likelihood of that being the case but my understanding is that there were known light private aircraft in the area so not necessarily the chase plane. Without some data that says the wind was blowing in the correct direction and of sufficient strength to drive the balloon towards Westall, I put this event as low and around 5% or .05
    (3) What is the likelihood that all the children as well as adults in the school mistook a balloon for a UFO? I find that difficult to believe. The larger the crowd, the less the odds that no one in the group realizes that this is a balloon. I put this at 1% or .01 unless someone has a photo of a HIBAL balloon and it is not recognizable as a balloon at low altitude.
    (4) Then there are the various descriptions that make it difficult to explain it with a balloon. The object drops below the pine trees and then comes back up; the object moved at a high rate of speed; the circular imprint in the ground; the comment that the ground had been scorched. Maybe some of those descriptions are correct and some are incorrect but it only takes one of those being true to drive the odds of a balloon explanation to zero. So what are the odds that all of the non-balloon possibilities are false? I'll say 10% or .1

    Those requirements place the odds of this explanation as being 1 in 80,000 or too high to discard what the witnesses claim to have seen.

    My two cents worth.


  2. Because it is timely, and because debate is a good thing, I will mention that the "Shepparton News" newspaper has just published a two-page feature on the Westall Incident, because of the recent anniversary of the sightings, and because of the local connection - me being a Shepparton boy. The article was in last Saturday's paper (19 April 2014). The journalist printed an extract from the article I wrote about the Westall Incident for the City of Kingston Historical Website - a summary of the events of that day. The full article can be found here, and is worth comparing with the Project HIBAL hypothesis:

    I agree with Keith that all hypotheses are worth considering, and testing where possible.

    And Robert, I appreciated your statistical analysis very much! I am not sure of the numbers(!), but I lean in your direction! :)



    Shane L.J. Ryan

  3. Most people dismiss the balloon argument, because what the students described was a disk shaped object, but what most people don't realise is that the HIBAL balloons carried a heavy payload below the balloon that could have easily been misidentified as a UFO. These were heavy lift balloons with gondolas, weighting more than 200kg, that could have looked very alien to children in a state of panic.

    It should also be noted the road vehicles used to retrieve these balloons were a mustard colour similar to the colour described by a couple of witnesses. With each balloon flight, there was a chase aircraft, which could explain the light aircraft that were in hot pursuit. These balloon projects were a joint U.S -Australian venture that measured the radioactivity from nuclear explosions at high altitudes. This was a top secrete project at the time, which could explain the swift response from the authorities and the military within 20 minutes of the incident. it is probable that the HIBAL retrieval team were in in hot pursuit of their balloon and payload, and concerned that it could crash in a populated area.

    The HIBAL hypothesis, is circumstantial at the is stage but there is enough evidence to warrant further investigation.

    Jeff (AURA)

    1. Hi Jeff,

      You mentioned that a couple of witnesses at Westall had described seeing vehicles that were a mustard colour, as HIBAL retrieval vehicles were. Are you able to elaborate on the source of that information?

      The witnesses I have been in contact with have described seeing cars and/or lorries at Westall which they have associated with Victoria and Commonwealth police vehicles, Army and/or Air Force Vehicles, an ambulance, a Civil Defence Organisation van, and fire trucks (both Country Fire Authority and Metropolitan Fire Brigade). One - perhaps two - witnesses have also described seeing an earth moving vehicle like a digger. None of these vehicles however were described to me as being mustard in colour.



      Shane L.J. Ryan

    2. the car used boy the hoaxers was light green rego no gol 649

  4. Part 1 of 2:
    Of course the HIBAL Westall hypothesis is a worthwhile exercise, however context, detail etc should inform the debate. While high altitude is required the balloon to be perhaps mistaken for a classic "flying saucer" (theres a good telescope picture of one at 40 km altitude in the 1976 NRC document "The Use of Balloons for physics & astronomy" - hardly would qualify for a close encounter!), at launch, low altitude, the balloon would be comparatively deflated. The size relationship of the payload and the balloon decreases with altitude. If the payload was in descent, to precipitate a "close encounter" then you would expect it would be attached to the deployed parachute. Continued attachment at low altitude would create a crash situation, I would suspect, hardly accounting for sighting observations over a small geographical area like Westall, that lend support to a UFO observation, let alone a close encounter at ground level, where the UFO takes off again. I would suspect if HIBAL was the culprit, it would have been blatantly obvious, and little need for a coverup. No one died, to the best of our knowledge, and the incident did not have catastrophic consequences at the state or national level. HIBAL was being summarised in the Australian government Year Books. It seems difficult to reconcile the sighting observations with HIBAL unless one disregards the many elements that seem more supportive of a UFO explanation. Still HIBAL has utility as a possible explanatory data base for "UFO" sightings. I was looking at it as a possible explanation for the "UFO" seen in my "angel hair" experience, although I cannot for one moment see it explaining my ground level handling and apparent sublimation effects of the material in my hands. Anyway to this end I noted a HIBAL ASHCAN launch from Mildura on August 29, 1969, one day before my "angel hair" experience. The Kyogle area also had sightings on August 30, which some suggested was a high level balloon, but it was allegedly ruled out by some authorities. It now seems a likely explanation. Sadly NO DATA on landing point or if failure involved. While the actual purpose of the balloon flights were often secret (eg. ASHCAN was nuclear air sampling), the balloon flights were not some much, other than deploying "weather balloon" as the standard response. In conclusion I would think a low level HIBAL "landing" or "hovering" etc would be readily obvious to most observers and the level of "coverup" reported seems totally disproportional to the possible sensitivities of the payload. On balance I don't see HIBAL as being a good fit for Westall, but maybe for the "UFO" seen by others, not me, at Grafton and Kyogle on 30 August 1969. This doesn't explain my "angel hair" experience, with apparent sublimation observed, which seemed to me to take it out of the ballooning spider web category. That was the explanation I had as I paddled over to the "web fall", but that explanation evaporated quickly (pardon the pun) when I began handling the material.

  5. Part 2 of 2:
    My "retrieval team project" informant emailed me with the following info per this discussion:
    "I do not concur with Keith Basterfield’s working hypothesis in relation to Westall.
    "For what it’s worth, my own verbal enquiries made today into the matter have revealed
    little :
    "DOS Hibal flight 292 was not launched from Mildura . 292 did not terminate in
    "Series records were destroyed as stated.
    "I was not able to glean any other factual information.
    "My people tell me that American personnel were indeed present in Victoria in 1966.
    "Some in connection to Hibal, other personnel were involved with classified military projects around Australia. ( Westall?)
    "As per our previous correspondence, I still believe that the Westall incident was tied in with other UAP sightings preceding and shortly following April 6, 1966.
    "Unfortunately, as discussed, so much stuff was selectively “lost” or “destroyed” by military & government agencies during project transition.
    "If you are in touch with Keith Basterfield, I have no objection to you passing on any information. Your call…... although the above doesn’t reveal all that much.
    Same with Shane Ryan and Rosie Jones."
    So thats my informant's take on HIBAL & Westall.

  6. Shane, I am not sure of the numbers in my statistical analysis either but I tried to be conservative. Kind of like the Drake Equation; it is really one big swag. The bottom line is that whether the odds should be 1 in 50,000 or 1 in a million, the balloon explanation is not very likely in my view.

  7. A balloon...thats original. ..

  8. With respect, this is a ridiculous hypothesis.

  9. For those who have read this blog post you might also care to read:

  10. would that have caused the round inprints I saw on the grass that day and also would it be of that metal silver in colour.. shining with the sun on it in high in the sky? in my mind I don't think it was any thing like a balloon that I saw

  11. I've spoken with two eyewitnesses to the Westall event, both of whom were students at the school and saw the craft land as well as offering many other details which suggest It was not a balloon. The object was spotted by multiple witnesses over the suburb of Mitcham for 48 hours on the day and the day after the event. While I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Basterfield's research work in this case it was NOT a balloon.

    1. Hi Voltara,

      I was very interested in what you wrote...especially your reference to the sightings at Mitcham. I would welcome you contacting me so that I could learn more about that, and to see if the witnesses you have spoken to have also been in touch with me or not.

      I do look forward to hearing from you.



      Shane L.J. Ryan


  12. Thank you to all who have commented on my working hypothesis. I believe that debates such as this are healthy, and can only strengthen our collective investigation of the phenomenon. Lest anyone wonders otherwise, my take on the UFO phenomenon is that there is a real mystery here, deserving of our serious and careful attention.

    1. it was no mystery it was known as a hoax at clayton technical school at the time with students from that school participating in its burial in the grounds of the university, this should be checked out

  13. Hi Sue,
    It seems like the experts are ignoring your observations. Never mind, some of us have noted your comment and are indeed appreciative.
    Best regards,

  14. It would be worthy of investigating the Department of Civil Aviation flight movements registers for the periods in question.
    The proximity to the controlled airspace around Moorabbin Airport would have required the filing of flight plans and airspace intrusion/incident reports.
    Any landing outside of an airport that was un-planned without authority would have been investigated by the DCA and the Bureau of Air Safety Investigation.
    If this had been an "official" flight there would have been cross reporting to other agencies and departments, and those same bodies would have investigated any such incident.
    DCA at the time had a very light yellow colour scheme for there vehicles and this faded quickly to a light mustard colour.

    Interestingly I was 10 years old and living close to this area at the time and had freinds who were at Westall state and high schools and lived adjacent to the schools, and I was a student at Clayton tech in 67 and there was not one mention at the time of any of the items mentioned.
    Not that I doubt the reporting, kids talk and like to boast of their adventures, and none of this was mentioned, ever to my knowledge.
    Something happened and aviation incidents get reported to so many departments that they cannot all be quashed or hidden.
    CSIRO would have sampled the grass and burnt areas and written reports, Victoria and Commonwealth police would have been called.
    There are just so many places to hide things that will be available under freedom of information that now are being unsealed that could shed light on this.

    Don't give up, some pen pusher needed a report and it is on file some where.

    Good luck.

    1. Hi anonymous, thank your for your thoughts and suggestions. Much appreciated. I will keep up my search for documents.

  15. G'day Keith you've been quoted with saying, >A witness account prior to the Westall sighting stated a flying object — trailing what appeared to be a long vacuum-like hose — was seen by a couple, whose surname was Frankie, near Smith’s Gully 40km north of Clayton South.< Could you please supply a link to the story it would be much appreciated Les.

    1. Hi anonymous, The source for this account was Westall researcher Shane Ryan who mentioned it in a lecture at the AURA conference in Adelaide in about 2011. If you'd like fuller details, please contact Shane at


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