Date: Late Autumn 1977
Time: 2130 Local time
Location/position: Tauranga-Auckland direct track, New Zealand
Aircraft: F-27 Fokker Friendship
Witness: F/O Peter Maher, entire aircrew and passengers
Witness details: Retired airline pilot Peter Maher, ATPL & 1st Class Instrument Rating. Thirty years flying and total flying hours 13,500. Former military aviation experience, BFTS Point Cook, RAAF.
Peter Maher is interviewed about the incident by Giuliano Marinkovic https://youtu.be/2EwCBZwwwEU
View flight path:
Duration of sighting:
8/8 solid under-cast stratoform cloud. 8/8 overcast heavy altostratus estimated at 16,000feet (from the forecast) and visually when the aircraft was in cruise.
Phase of flight: cruise and descent.
Position: Tauranga-Auckland direct track.
On reaching cruise altitude of 10,000 feet TRG-AKL, F/O Maher noticed a very bright ball of orange light approximately 4 times the relative size of Sirius, positioned off the starboard quarter, approximately north east. At first, he thought it might be the flare at the Port Whangarei oil facility (Marsden Point), but on checking the relative bearing from the DME position and track, he realized that it could not be that.
There was also 8/8 low, solid strato-form under-cast tops at 3000 feet, and an 8/8 heavy altostratus overcast reported base at 16,000 feet. The object maintained its relative track paralleling the aircraft’s track. The pilots first thought the light might be some reflection of their own aircraft lights, so they turned out all of the lights, after first advising the 17 passengers, who all moved to the starboard side of the aircraft to look at the light. The light remained paralleling the aircraft’s TRG-AKL track for about 8 minutes.
F/O Maher then contacted Auckland Radar and asked if they had traffic nearby. They replied negative, but they had a return about three nautical miles (Nm) to the aircraft’s starboard side. The pilots then turned on all of their lights and asked for permission to divert left of track 30°. Radar gave permission and the aircraft turned 30° left. As they altered track 30° Port the object formatted on the aircraft and maintained its relative position to it. Auckland Radar confirmed the object was maintaining 3Nm off their starboard quarter. With all the lights now on, including landing lights, the pilots requested a slow turn to starboard to intercept the original TRG-AKL track. The object continued to format on the aircraft, and it too turned with the aircraft until it rejoined the TRG-AKL direct track. Auckland Radar confirmed that the object maintained its 3Nm separation throughout these manoeuvres.
At top of descent, the object too began to descend with the aircraft for 30 seconds and then rapidly moved, over a period of five seconds, around onto the aircraft’s nose, where it tracked about 2-3 Nm ahead of the aircraft. F/O Maher immediately turned on the weather radar and set the range to the minimum 7Nm range scale. By pitching the radar antennae up and down he managed to get a solid return at 3Nm directly ahead of the aircraft and holding station in the descent. Auckland radar also confirmed that it was getting a return from the object 3Nm ahead of the aircraft. After about 2 minutes established in a descent, the object suddenly accelerated towards the aircraft, climbing over it in the 3Nm separation in 5 seconds. The object did not change shape or appear to increase in size appreciably. Given that it crossed the 3Nm in five seconds, it was surprising to the pilots that they did not hear a sonic boom, as it appeared to pass directly over the aircraft. They were unable to estimate the distance to the object as it passed over them because there was no reference background to make that estimate. F/O Maher pressed the time on his watch as the object passed over the aircraft and continued talking to Auckland Radar to ascertain whether they still had a radar return. Auckland Radar lost the object just north of Lake Taupo, 28 seconds later by his watch.
The object was flying level with the aircraft and formatting on it. It tracked onto the nose, and descended in formation with the aircraft during the descent until it reversed direction instantaneously and flew overhead the aircraft, climbing quickly.
The object altitude was 10,000 feet during the lateral formatting manoeuvres, and between 10,000 feet and 7000 feet during the descent. Auckland Radar lost it north of Lake Taupo as it climbed above radar elevation range.
The pilots submitted an aircraft incident report the Auckland ATC on landing and F/O Maher believes that the radar operator was also going to submit an incident report as well. F/O Maher never heard any response from Civil Aviation after submitting his report.
The object appeared as a bright orange ball of light, four times the relative size of Sirius. The light/object gave a solid return on radar.
F/O Maher stated the object travelled at F-27 cruise speed during the formatting and given the time (28 seconds) it reached North of Taupo where Auckland Radar reported to the pilots it had lost the object on radar 28 seconds later, it was estimated to have exceeded Mach 20+ and gained considerable altitude.
The object was tracked by Auckland radar as it formatted on the aircraft and when it moved from their starboard quarter onto the aircraft’s nose. The aircraft’s weather radar also registered a very strong return at 3Nm ahead of it for a couple of minutes during descent. Auckland Radar confirmed to distance of the object ahead of them at 3Nm.
During the incident the pilots made regular attempts to contact the object by radio, and there was almost continuous contact between the aircraft and Auckland Radar. There were also attempts by Auckland Radar to contact the object.
– Radar detection with on-board and ground radars in the same time.
– Frontal confrontation with an UAP/UFO which allowed detection from Fokker’s on-board weather radar with a very strong signal.
– Visual sighting from the cockpit.
– UAP/UFO followed air plane during considerable part of the flight route maintaining speed and distance in relation to the plane.
– Enormous speed increase of the UAP/UFO at certain point from a near-miss incident.
– Curious passengers moved towards side of the aircraft to observe the phenomena through windows.
F/O Maher stated:
“The object was flying level with our aircraft and formatting on us. Whilst in cruise it tracked onto our nose and descended in formation with us during the descent until it reversed direction simultaneously and flew overhead our craft, climbing quickly.
Everybody on the aircraft observed this object, including all of the passages and the whole crew. We experienced the object visually and that visual experience was backed by two separate radars operating independently at the same time. The visual experience was observed by multiple observers. The total lack of a sonic boom was quizzical, and both pilots remarked on the fact that given the five second period that it took the object to move from 3Nm on the aircraft’s nose, to instantaneously change direction and cover three nautical miles and five seconds suggested a speed of about 2000 knots or about Mach 3.
I have always attempted to be as objective as I can, and to refrain from speculating. Given that attempted objectivity, I can only offer the raw facts as I witnessed them and hope that is sufficient in pushing the boundaries further, through the gathering of other facts and experiences until a more unambiguous pattern emerges.
I believe that we witnessed a solid object that gave off orange light energy, but was of indeterminate size or shape. It reflected radar energy so objectively one could assume that it had some solid structure. The object appeared to be under cognizant control because it appeared to copy our actions and ‘format’ on our aircraft. During the sighting we attempted to discount as many possible explanations, such as reflections of our own lights, by varying the production of light from our aircraft and even from our flight instruments. Finally, the movement by the object from our starboard quarter onto the nose, and the speed of this movement as well as the velocity of the object observed on radar as it accelerated over us, begs the question of what it was. Given its acceleration and velocity before it was lost to Auckland Radar, I can’t think that it was reflective of current technology at the time.”