The Kaikoura lights

Last updated 11:08 01/01/2014
kaikoura lights


Paul Davidson
Paul Davidson and the Argossy Aircraft involved in the famous Kaikoura Lights sighting 35 years ago
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The New Zealand festive season in 35 years ago attracted world attention for bright lights not associated with Christmas trees

The Kaikoura lights is a name given to a series of sightings that occurred in late December 1978, over the skies above the South Island's upper East coast.

The first sightings were made on December 21 when the crew of a Safe Air Ltd cargo aircraft enroute to Christchurch observed a series of strange lights following them, which also appeared on radar both on-board and at Wellington air traffic control.

Nine days later, on December30, 1978, a television crew from Australia took the same flight to record a show about the sightings. The unidentified lights reappeared and were once again tracked by Wellington Air Traffic Controllers, and even filmed in color by the television crew.

The resulting story was reported all over the world and the NZ Airforce put a Skyhawk aircraft on standby to investigate any further incidents.


December 20-21 1978

11:55: Unusual lights are spotted in the southern sky from Blenheim's Woodbourne RNZAF base by Air ForceWarrant Officer Ian Uffindel.

11:55: Uffindell joins Civil aviation Flight Service officer Bill Frame in the control tower, relaying the movement of the lights to Wellington Airport radar controllers, who confirm corresponding radar returns.

01:10: Safe Air Argosy freighter SAE piloted by John Randle and Keith Heine departs from Woodbourne airport, Blenheim, enroute to Christchurch.

01:29: Wellington Air Traffic Control radar registers a persistent unidentified target, first detected at 0050, move quickly towards and 'follow' the aircraft. Meanwhile Randal and Heine observe airborne lights near the Clarence river which are also seen by the Woodbourne control tower in Blenheim.

03:10: Argosy SAE leaves ChristchurchAirport bound for Auckland. Nearing Kaikoura, the aircraft onboard weather radar confirms further nearby unidentified readings reported by Wellington air traffic control.

03:14: Another Safe Air Freighter, Argosy SAF, piloted by Vern Powell and Ian Pirie, leaves Blenheim.

03:25: A large bright object shoots in fromthe east and tracks parallel with ArgosySAF, visible to the aircrew.

04:00: Argosy SAF registers an extremely fastobject on its onboard radar and sees astrobing light ahead during its descent to Christchurch Airport.

Meanwhile, the first flight, Argosy SAE, makes a 360 degree turn above the Kaikoura coast during its return flight, trying to get a closer look at more airborne lights which are also registering on their onboard radar and at Wellington control. The lights change colour and at one point even 'light up the sea' with a powerful beam.

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Concerned about fuel consumption, Argosy SAE resumes its flight path north, making the last visual sighting of the unidentified objects as the aircraft passes above Wellington.

December 31, 1978

23:50: Argosy SAE, Captained by Bill Startup and Robert Guard takes off from Wellington bound for Christchurch. On the previous UFO sighting, headed by New Zealand reporter Quentin Fogarty. 

05:05: Four to five flashing lights first seen east of Blenheim by Argosy freighter flying south to Christchurch. Five minutes later Wellington radar confirms targets which coincide with their visual position.

00:22: Wellington aircraft control reports a sizeable radar target straight ahead of the aircraft, which then travels to port. The aircraft turns 360 degrees but is unable to relocate the light.

00:27: More bright flashing lights appear visually and on radar east of the Kaikoura Peninsula. They rapidly approach the aircraft and seem to pass above it.

01:01: Christchurch Air Traffic control radar confirms an unidentified target tracking parallel with the aircraft prior to their landing, which then carries on southward.

02:16 Argosy SAE takes off from Christchurch and is almost immediately joined by a large orange-ish light which is filmed and eventually causes world-wide controversy. "Affirmative. I have a strong target at 12 o'clock to you... "Geoff Causer Wellington Airport radar operator.

02:23: Targets near the Kaikoura peninsula show on radar both in Wellington and on board the aircraft. A variety of unexplained lights and radar returns accompany the aircraft throughout its return flight until the lights of Blenheim come into view

03:10: Argosy SAE lands at Woodbourne airport and journalist Quentin Fogarty makes immediate arrangements to take the resulting film footage back to Channel 0 in Sydney.


- The Marlborough Express


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