1969 – Bristol Freighter Aircraft / Visual / Radar Case

Date:  September 4 1969

Time:  1930 hours (7.30 pm)

Location:  Wellington to Blenheim, across Cook Strait

Aircraft:  Bristol Freighter, of Straits Air Freight Express

Witness:  Capt. R. Cullum, First Officer Faircloth


‘The time was shortly before 1930 hours on September 4, 1969.  It was a dark night, with no moon.  Capt Cullum and First Officer Faircloth, the crew of a Bristol freighter of Straits Air Freight Express, had just taken off on a routine run from Wellington to Blenheim across Cook Strait.  This turbulent piece of water separates the North and South Island of New Zealand.

The crew noted that apart from four to five-eighths scattered cloud, visibility was some 20 miles.  As they were climbing steadily towards 3,000 feet, Wellington radar suddenly came in on the intercom.  The airport terminal radar was tracking an unknown which was four miles dead ahead.  The freighter at this time was flying north into wind, and started then to swing around to the west, heading for the coast, where it turned again to south south-west on course for Blenheim.

The aircraft had overflown the coastline and turned for the southerly heading when F/O Faircloth, who was piloting the plane from the Captain’s seat, spotted a bright blue, pulsating, fluorescent light.  The blinking blue light was below them, and to the right.  It was an estimated two miles from their aircraft.  The pilots informed Wellington radar of their visual sighting and their position fix was confirmed.  Radar was tracking the object the pilots were watching.

It was noted with some surprise that the object was ‘flying’ very slowly at an estimated 50-60 knots (some 70 mph).  There was a northerly wind of 30-35 knots, which meant the UFO was only moving at an air speed of 25 knots.  The pilots noted that the blue light flashed every two to three seconds and was as bright as a first magnitude star at its brightest.  The UFO maintained a steady southerly course.

The pilots watched the unknown for approximately two minutes.  They made no attempt to close with it, and the aircraft soon left it behind.  Meanwhile Wellington radar continued to track it.

Some 90 minutes later, F/O Faircloth was making a return flight to Wellington and again spotted the mystery light.  This time it appeared as a cluster of lights, some 15 miles distant, off the coast of the South Island in the vicinity of Cape Campbell beacon.  F/O Faircloth contacted Wellington Radar and told them of his further observation and the position.  Wellington confirmed that this was the same object and that they were still tracking it.  Immediately following the first public disclosure of this interesting incident by the Wellington Evening Post in its September 23 issue, I wrote to Captain Ridgwell Cullum asking him for his first-hand account and also for that of F/O Faircloth.  The Captain’s report was back within ten days, and fully confirmed the press account.  There were no contradictions or inaccuracies.  Although Captain Callum promised that F/O Faircloth’s report would be forthcoming, it has not yet been received.

Captain Cullum provided a detailed sketch, showing plottings, which is included with this report.

Captain Cullum is an experienced aviator who received his wings in Canada as a trainee of the Royal New Zealand Air Force.  After being commissioned he saw active service in England during the closing stages of World War II.  For some years after leaving the service, he flew as a Captain with British United Airways before returning to New Zealand.  He has an open mind on the subject of UFOs and admits he has no explanation for his September 4th shared observation.  The press carried a follow-up story on September 24th to the effect that the Royal New Zealand Air Force were interested in the radar/pilot-confirmed sighting, and had called for reports from the pilots.  An Air Force spokesman speculated that the radar tracked object might be explained as a radar ‘angel’, but unlike many other reports, particularly American cases, this radar sighting has been visually confirmed.  To my way of thinking, this shows how uninformed some official spokesmen can be.

Captain Cullum, in a sighting report form which he kindly completed for me, confirmed that he had reported the sighting to the Ministry of Defence Intelligence Services, Wellington.  No restriction had been placed on him regarding his sighting.

A number of other possible explanations of this radar/pilot-confirmed sighting were also made in the September 24th follow-up press report.  It was suggested that the object was an unscheduled private aircraft, or a helicopter, but the object’s slow speed and its pulsating blue fluorescent light made these explanations very weak.  There has been no further public comment about this incident.’

Source: Article by (the late) Harold Fulton, later published in ‘Flying Saucer Review’, Vol. 16 No. 1 Jan-Feb 1970.