Sunday, April 10, 2016

It came out of the sky: the Balwyn UFO

When you live perpetually behind the 8-ball like I seem to do, sometimes you’re a tad slow in acknowledging important dates and anniversaries. And this week, I’m kicking myself for not recognising the 50th anniversary of the Westall UFO sighting, which I covered in this blog some time ago. Apparently there were TV specials commemorating the occasion and everything. 

Anyway, one interesting thing to emerge from the latest flurry of media interest in this great unsolved Melbourne mystery is the fact that, just four days before the Westall incident, there was another sighting not too far away, in the skies of Balwyn. And a photo exists of the unidentified flying object in question.
Snapped in the Balwyn sky, April 2, 1966. Photograph: James Kibel
The photo above was snapped by a Melbourne businessman named James Kibel from the back garden of his parents’ house. He was there overseeing some renovations for them while they were on holiday and had gone into the garden to finish off the film in his old Polaroid camera when – as he explained in an interview soon afterwards with physicist and UFO researcher James McDonald – “I noticed a terrific flash on the garden as if, similar to the flash produced by a mirror in a heliograph type flash on the ground. It…enveloped half the garden, and gave me a fright.”

As the photo shows, the object appeared to be of polished metal. “It seemed to float down towards me,” Kibel described in another interview with Peter Norris for specialist publication Flying Saucer Review. “It resembled a big mushroom with the stalk pointing towards earth.

“Then it spun through a 180-degree angle on its vertical axis to take up the position in which I photographed it. It then turned slowly through another 180 degrees on its horizontal axis to bring the stalk part facing me.

“From an almost stationary position it shot off, northerly at terrific speed, accelerating to what seemed to be hundreds of miles an hour in seconds.”

It seems that Kibel has only recently allowed his real name to be used in relation to the sighting: at the time, he chose to remain anonymous for any interviews he did, well aware of the ridicule he’d attract from the sensible brigade. Being quite a high-profile Company Director, he didn’t want that kind of hassle.

Funnily enough, in the interview with Norris, he was given the alias James Brown!
Blimey indeed: the tone of this headline gives some indication why Kibel chose to stay anonymous
Once the object shot off out of sight, Kibel dashed around to the other side of the house, hoping that the carpenter who was there working on the renovation might have witnessed it too. Unfortunately, he’d been hard at work and missed the whole spectacle. However, he did see the Polaroid photo emerging from the camera, and later vouched that Kibel hadn’t doctored it in any way. 

Although the mysterious craft had been totally silent while Kibel was watching it, both men heard a great boom “like a plane breaking the sound barrier” as they waited for the photo to process. 

I want to believe…

Unlike Westall, where 200 people witnessed the flying saucer and corroborated each other’s accounts, nobody else came forward about the Balwyn UFO. Apparently Kibel did the rounds of the neighbours, but to no avail. Somehow they all missed it, reflective mirror-like flashes and all. In his interview with McDonald, Kibel shares his theory as to how and why this might be so:
“Well, it’s quite an exclusive residential area that’s mainly populated by older people. It’s not really unusual for people not to see these things I’d say but (…) but the other thing is too, that there could have been others that saw it but just wouldn’t say anything about it. I think this is a good possibility. I’d feel quite certain someone else must have seen it, but whether they said anything about it is another thing.” (For a complete transcription of the interview and a hell of a lot more detail about the sighting, go here.)
As someone who used to sit on her back porch at night, trying to send telepathic communications to outer space in the hope of making contact with extraterrestrial life forms, I’m possibly less sceptical than some when it comes to reports of UFO sightings. And I see no reason to doubt the testimonies of those who were at Westall that fateful day in April 1966. 

But one aspect of the Balwyn sighting strikes me as suspicious — or at least conveniently coincidental. Not only was James Kibel a member of the Victorian Flying Saucer Research Society, but this was not the first time he’d seen an unidentified flying saucer! I mean, seriously: what are the chances? Did he conjure up the thing through his sheer will to believe? Or was the photo staged with a strategically thrown light shade? (It wouldn’t be the first time)

I’d like to think not. And certainly, Mr Kibel’s interviews all seem extremely consistent, considered, and matter of fact. 

Plus there’s this: a photo of a craft sighted flying over the Rocky Mountains, southwest of Provo, Utah, in July 1966. 
Anyone else see a certain resemblance to the Balwyn UFO? Not identical by any means: more like two models of vehicle from the same manufacturer. In the same way as, say, an HD looks like an EH, but obviously isn’t one.

Or it could just be a light shade hurled into the air...

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