Ok John, thank you so much for agreeing to speak to me. I’m really grateful to you, that you’re taking the time out of your day to do this. And, to share your experiences and remembering of the incident. I was…. I was really excited when Suzy told me about you actually, because, I wanted to do some episodes on New Zealand UFO sightings. Not only my own experiences, but you know? And what better one is there than the Kaikoura incident? I really want to get your story and your words, ‘cause, I think they’re so valuable.
Yep, we’ll do our best.
Thank you so much
OK. Hi there, I’m John Cordy, aged 86. Retired Air Traffic Controller. And the night shift of December the 20th, 21st of 1978 is still going on. I’m still working it, because, people are interested in the sightings of that night and a few nights later when the UFOs we saw were captured on film, as well as being seen visually and on radar. It’s been suggested that this is one of the most significant UFO sightings, by Dr. Maccabee who was a physicist for the NZ, sorry, the American navy who investigated it.
It all started, as I say on the night of the 20th, 21st. Beautiful, lovely, clear night. Nice and warm, no wind. No clouds, genuine clear sky. Beautiful. And I was going on duty at the Wellington Air Traffic Control Center, to look after the air craft flying at night. The only airplanes I was expecting, was a DC8 coming in from Sydney sometime after midnight and two Argosy’s doing freight runs up and down the country. So, I figured with a couple of nights to go ‘til Christmas it was going to be a nice, quiet, peaceful night shift. How wrong can you get?
Anyway, I went in and took over the watch. Signed myself on which then gave me responsibility for any aircraft that were flying in the middle third of the country. From New Plymouth, across to Gisbourne in the North. And down from Westport, across to Kaikoura in the south. If you wanted to fly in there, you had to have a clearance from me. Even if you wanted to do a little local flight somewhere in a little, small town, you needed a clearance from me for search and rescue purposes at least.
Anyway. I took over the watch as I said, and there was another controller on with me, Andy Heard. He was waiting for the DC8 to come in, because sometimes the airplane would request a talk-down approach for pilot training, or pilot examination. And Andy had to wait just to see if the DC8 was going to request one. It wasn’t due for another half an hour, so we weren’t even talking to it at that stage.
Anyway, Andy looked at…. We checked out the radar and we noticed three little blips moving around, just off…. Just off the coast of, by Blenheim in the South Island. And they were moving not randomly, but sort of in, in like, ovals, circles. And, Andy and I joked and said it’s Father Christmas test driving the sleigh with Rudolph in front and his nose is giving off the radar echoes. Then Blenheim rang us up. Blenheim air traffic rang us up and said had we got any aircraft going into Blenheim? Because, they could see lights in the sky. We didn’t have any airplanes going to Blenheim, so….
But we started talking about these lights and the air visual sightings agreed with us when we said going North. They would agree and they turned around going South. One’s going South and two are going North. And Blenheim air traffic could see the lights doing what we could describe they were doing on radar and vice-versa. Which made us think a bit. But then of course, we thought it could be some illegal helicopters, but not very likely to be three. May be one perhaps? But no. Anyway we discounted it.
We then had an Argosy going from Wellington to Blenheim, it was the last out of Wellington for the night. And he went across to Blenheim and he said he could see these lights as they crossed the coast. It was absolutely airborne, because he could see them shining down onto the sea. So again, that made us think. The DC8 came in, no problems at all. Meantime, the phones were going a little bit crazy. We had phone calls from people up the Hutt Valley, north of Wellington. People in the South Island. The police in Wellington. The police in Blenheim. The police in a place called Seddon – had we got aircraft, because we – they could all see , people were seeing strange lights in the sky, and we though oh there’s something funny here. Andy in fact, could have gone home. But he decided to stay, he was just so intrigued.
Then we noticed a target tracking out on Wellington radar. Tracking out from Wellington to the South-East. And it went out to about sixty miles. Then it stopped. And that is stran…. And we could still see it! Now that is funny, because, theoretically if the object, if the aircraft is not making a move with respect to the radar hit, it should disappear. Otherwise we would be seeing returns from trees, houses, buildings, people, anything that was standing still we would see returns from it.
The radar did have a switch called ‘moving target indicator’ which switched off all the returns. If we switched it off we could get these returns, so we could check that the radar was operating correctly with its fixed point returns. It had to be at the exact bearing and distance so that we knew the radar was OK. Anyway, that switch was on, so we should not have seen this, this ah, return.
Then, we had an Argosy take off to go to Blenheim and as it took off and flew off from the coast to join the seaward route down to Christchurch, the target we had at the South-East moved across towards the Argosy. We told the Argosy, but they couldn’t see it, so anyway that Argosy disappeared and a little bit later another one. Another Argosy out of Blenheim, for Christchurch and no! Suddenly the echo, the target moved across, turned with the – with the Argosy as it went southwards and parallel tracked it for a good forty miles. Fifteen miles out the to East of it.
We told the airplane about it and they said yes! They could see a bright light in the sky, which was reddish tinged and was slightly above them. Then they said it’s gone! And our radar target had gone. Then they said it’s back! And our radar target was back, which led me and many other people to think we must be seeing the same thing which was an airborne, reddish-tinged, white light, bright light, fifteen miles to the East of the Argosy and tracking with it!
OK, that happened, the aircraft disappeared. We transferred it to Christchurch and a place called Kaikoura East reporting point. It was transferred to Christchurch and we lost it. It fell off, it went off our radar, ‘cause, we were only watching to slightly south of Kaikoura. Nothing else happened that night and we wrote up in the log what was happening and thought nothing more of it until I went home. And I got a…. I just got to bed after a long night shift and the phone rang and it was the press from Sydney. Shouting out, wanting to know what the story was, because of course, just a few weeks previous to that there had been the Vallentich incident outside, in Australia. And Marianne, I am sure you can find that one for me?
Yes, yes, yes. I know all about that one. That was the pilot that disappeared?
Disappeared! Yes, that’s right. That was the thing that was causing most interest I think, because you know? Kaikoura so recently after it. Ok. So anyway, carrying on. Then there was a Channel Nine in Sydney. A television company. They had a reporter in New Zealand on holiday, Quentin Fogarty. And, he was told by his people to come and interview us for a little, short, news story. And Quentin managed to get, to be able to fly in an Argosy that went on the same route, at the same time of night that, that the…. Of the previous sightings. Solely as he said, all he expected to get was some views of the coast, and just a general background to the story. Well, that didn’t happen!
They took off and as they moved to go to Christchurch suddenly the had, my, the radar controllers that night was reporting that there were targets all around the Argosy. And sure enough! They could see these white lights in the sky. They also had on board, well obviously, a camera man, and he got photographs of these lights going around the Argosy, going South to Christchurch. And again, when they came back north. They were tracked by UFOs just about the whole way back to Blenheim. Which caused a great, great stir as you can imagine.
I actually remember when it happened. I was nursing then at a private hospital in Auckland. And I remember following it with great interest. Because, I’ve been an experiencer my entire life. So this was very exciting for me. On this one where the film crew caught them John, how many UFOs were there spotted in that one, that time…?
I don’t know, because they only managed to film one at a time and they didn’t get an image of multiple lights, they just got film of one at a time.
Sorry John, I should have specified. I meant from your radar control, how many were picked up?
They were picking up five or six. They were in various positions around the airplane. Obviously the cameraman couldn’t cover them all at once.
Obviously, yeah. That must have been actually pretty scary for them?
It was. In fact, the cameraman’s wife who was on board as a sound recordist, she refused to fly back north with them! She was so frightened she refused to fly back North with them. So they filmed all the way North and got some rather nice shots of the UFOs. Or rather Unknown Ariel Phenomena, as we should now call them I guess? And then the documentary was made and off it went. And that led to a rash of documentaries. In fact, I’ve been in ten documentaries, four mini programs on UFOs, and a few radio interviews as well. And, it’s still going on. I did a talk in Kaikoura, just before last Christmas, on the fortieth anniversary of the sightings.
It’s been forty years? Wow
Forty years, yep. And still going.
And how has this impacted your life John?
Well it’s…. Every time I think it’s going to go away something or someone else always comes up and says…. Like I had a journal – a journalist trainee, interview me on this subject for a paper for his Masters degree. You know? It just suddenly keeps popping up! And it’s…. It’s intriguing, because no yet has explained satisfactorily to me, what it was.
One, one gentleman, who was…. I’ve got great respect for these people and their expertise in their own field. But, this gentleman said oh it was reflections from the lights of the squid boats. There were no clouds in the sky, but, so what were the reflections? What were the lights reflecting off? Either that, or the airplane, because the pilots, of course, are thick and stupid, the airplane was flying inverted and they did not…. Their lights were on the sea. The airplane was inverted so of course they thought the lights were above them.
Another person said it was Venus, but then, another astronomer said it was Jupiter! So they can’t even make up their minds, which planet it was. And if it was a planet, why am I suddenly seeing it on my radar, fifteen miles away from and airplane? Got problems here. And, it was the harbour lights of Wellington, going South at a hundred and fifty knots! Come on! You know?
As I say nobody, nobody…. Oh and of course the general cop-out for all of them was that the radar was notorious, as one gentleman said in the “invasion earth’ documentary on National Geographic, was notorious for playing up and showing ‘angels’ and that! Did he not think that we know what angels look like on a radar screen? Did he not think that being professionals we would not have used the radar if it was, if it was showing up …. Playing up so badly?
Is he happy then to to entrust his safety to us? To look after him when he’s flying? Obviously he is. But we were stupid, we couldn’t recognize and angel or a spurious return on the radar when we saw it. None of them have covered, considered all of the evidence. The photographs that say, that show the lights. I don’t…. I’m not saying they’re alien spacecraft. They’re Unidentified Ariel Phenomena, as the US Navy have now decided.
But nobody has yet said ok, there was an object. There was a light fifteen miles away from an areoplane. It must have been the same thing because, when it disappeared and came back both the radar and visual sightings reoccurred. Nobodies considered the whole of the evidence together. The evidence of the film. The eyes…. The eyewitnesses, the radar contacts. Nobody has considered all of them together. I don’t know where we go from there quite frankly.
And that actually, actually must have caused you guys quite a bit of frustration, I imagine? Because….
We actually got quite frustrated, because we, the pilot, the aircrew and us, felt like we were being belittled. You know? Oh we’re stupid! Maybe we drunk too much pre-Christmas wine? We were made to feel like, oh you know? You don’t know what you’re talking about! We are experts, preening themselves. The gentleman on the invasion earth one, who said that the radar was notorious, is sitting there stroking his telescope, his large telescope like a phallic object. But we’re stupid you know?
(Laughing)…. Sorry, I just have this visual in my mind.
We aren’t stupid you know?
But, I understand your frustration, and you are professional. I mean, people trust you with their lives and yet they can’t trust your judgement call on this? It’s just…. I …. I…. You know, I’m sorry that you were treated like that, because, that’s just absolutely wrong.
These things happen. I…. I think to be fair to the experts…. They’re, and it’s only a guess on my part, their brief with this program Invasion Earth was to suggest that there is in fact that there was no threat to Earth from these things. And I suspect, that is the background premise of the producers had given them? You know these things…. Try and denigrate them as much as you can, because, we would prefer that there is no threat to Earth.
And that’s been actually the way governments have worked with all the UFO things….
Yeah, yeah. I’m, I agree with – oh, I can’t remember the gentleman’s name who wrote it. He considers that the governments of the world know more than they’re saying. But that they’re fright…. They are frightened to release the truth, because, it would cause chaos.
That’s the excuse they use anyway!
Oh, it’s a good excuse, you know?
Yeah, yeah. It’s a good excuse. Yeah, yeah. And all these years, you’ve carried that, that memory this whole time. And as you said it won’t die, because, somebody like me always comes along and brings it back up for you!
Oh yeah. That’s right, yeah.
I don’t mind. I’m quite happy to talk about it. But um…. As I said, I’ve got no firm conclusions as to what they were. They were Unidentified Flying Objects. But the clue is unidentified! All we saw…. All that were seen, were lights in the sky, and radar targets. Nothing solid, metallic, or whatever. You know what I mean?
Yes. I do. Yes, absolutely! And, and like, in any other situation people would be calling on you for your technical knowledge and your expertise. But just in this? They don’t accept it. That’s just double standards eh. Just double standards.
As I say, they refused to recognize the fact that the radar could see something, where the pilots could see something. And, that the two coincided. But, they don’t want to admit to that. Because to me, that tells me they don’t know what they’re saying. They are guessing as much as I am!
Absolutely, absolutely. So from this incident, how has that…. Has that created an interest in you, in this area? Or….
I’ve always been interested in UFO’s. It all started back in nineteen-fifty-four or thereabouts…. I can’t remember the year now, to be honest. I was working nights in the operations room at RAS Endeavour, in [inaudible], in Cornwell. Having been grounded with an ear infection. And, an airman was walking along the road with me, and pulled my attention to a green light that was travelling quite quickly across the sky. I thought oh it’s a meteor and suddenly it sharply turned. And I mean sharply turned. Forty-five degrees to the right.
Now aeroplanes when they turn, no matter how fast they’re going, they turn in circles. They turn in arcs. This thing almost spun on a six-pence. Forty-five degrees on a different angle. So that was, that became a UFO of course. And those we had to report to Air Ministry at that time. And the interesting thing was, I got to watch and was handed a signal from one our our aircraft that it was about three hundred miles out over the Atlantic. And it described seeing exactly the same thing.
Wow, so that was absolute vindication for you.
That’s right yeah. And that sort of…. As I say, I’ve been interested in UFOs ever since.
Right. And so you, after a period of time, started working with Suzy in the UFOCUS NZ team. Is that correct?
Yeah, um I don’t know when Suzy and I finally, first got together, but we started talking. And I’d been to Tauranga to talk to the UFO group out there, about these things. Stayed with Suzy and I agreed to help her with investigations that included aircraft sightings. And other sightings as well and I try to investigate as best I can. Again with an open mind. Looking first for a – not a logical explanation, but a practical explanation, that this was a [inaudible] if I could find a…. I’m lost for words at the moment.
No, I understand. If you could find a reasonable, rational
A reasonable, logical explanation for it! That I would use. But if I couldn’t, I would start looking for these unnatural…. And sometimes you just could not find a rational explanation for the sightings.
Wow. That’s really cool. So is there any one in particular, over the years that you’ve worked with Suzy, that stands out for you?
Not really no. I can’t think of one that stands out in my mind. The only one that stays in my mind quite frankly is Kaikoura, and that is in part ‘cause, it keeps on being brought up.
Oh I totally get that.
People are interested. The people who were involved, Captain Startup, who was…. That was another thing…. That I think people …. Made some people think it was a hoax. The Captain…. The aircraft Captain’s name was Bill Startup, and the cameraman was Davey Crocket. And I think that made people…. Oh you know? It’s gotta be a hoax. Yeah. But of course it wasn’t. It wasn’t a hoax. We weren’t in the business of hoaxing people.
No. No, not at all. And it was your professional livelihood on the line. Why would you put something out that was incorrect when it’s, you know?
That’s right. Exactly.
When you had your professional Credibility to consider.
Yes. Yeah. We had indeed. Yeah.
Oh look John. I’m very grateful to you for taking the time to share your experiences of those evenings with me.
I really, really appreciate that.
The funniest thing. You asked about the way it affected my life? It’s quite comical, because, at one time Paul Holmes did an item on it. And I was interviewed with that for his television program. Well, about two days after it screened, I was in a café in town, having my lunch. There were two ladies looking. They kept looking across at me and talking to each other. Finally, one of them came over and said…. Excuse me, she said. I hope you don’t mind my asking. But, my friend and I can’t agree. Were you, or were you not on the Paul Holmes show the other night? I said, yes I was. And that is the…. People, I saw you on television the other night.
Oh that’s really cute. I’m really grateful for your time. Thanks very much.
Not a problem! Take care and have a good day.
You too. Bye bye John.
John’s recollections of those nights remain as unwavering as the night he first was witness to them. Foggerty wrote this about John in his book about the events. And I quote: “The events of 21 December, which he described as “incredible,” had obviously had a profound effect on him. He said he had never experienced a shift like it in all his years in air traffic control. He told me had an open mind on UFOs but he admitted there were things in the sky that morning he could not explain. I asked him if the returns he and Andy had picked up could have been such things as clouds, ships at sea, or even road traffic in the Clarence area. No, he didn’t think so, because there were too many factors involved. “We had people on the ground seeing things,” he said, “pilots in the air seeing things and we had returns on radar.”
There’s no one who witnessed the events on these nights whose lives have not been touched by these incidents. As Quentin Foggerty says in his book “Let’s Hope They’re Friendly: The Kaikoura UFOs. First verified film encounter with Unidentified Flying Objects” “The aftermath of the 31 December sightings was traumatic not only for my family and me but for all of those involved in those mysterious events. Friendships fell apart, marriages suffered, and people’s hopes and aspirations took a tumble. This is not simply a story about UFOs; it is also a very human account of what happened to a group of ordinary people who found themselves caught up in an extraordinary situation.”
For those still alive today, the repercussions of these events continue to haunt them in one way or another. Not the least of which as John says in our conversation:
“Every time I think it’s going to go away something or someone else always comes up and says…. Like I had a journal – a journalist trainee, interview me on this subject for a paper for his Masters degree. You know? It just suddenly keeps popping up! And it’s…. It’s intriguing, because no yet has explained satisfactorily to me, what it was.”
Or this comment:
“I mean, I’m quite happy to talk about it. But um…. As I said, I’ve got no firm conclusions as to what they were. They were Unidentified Flying Objects. But the clue is unidentified! All we saw…. All that were seen, were lights in the sky, and radar targets. Nothing solid, metallic, or whatever. If you know what I mean?”
Unidentified Arial Phenomena is the term most commonly used these days to describe UFOs. But, for the folks like John who lived through these events, there has been no resolution. This was an event that broke up marriages, created huge emotional trauma for many of the folks on a very real, very physical level. Not to mention the fact that they had their preconceived notions of what reality is, completely shattered by these experiences. With no support systems in place to help these people. Many were vilified and laughed at. Made fun of, or dismissed as being crack-pots or charlatans. But you cannot dispute the eyewitness evidence seen by the professional people whom we entrust with our lives when traveling in the skies. The radar and visual evidences seen.
I personally know that for myself, that life exists off of this, our third rock from the sun, our planet Earth. That we are not the only civilizations existing in this cosmos. But for people like John and Quentin and all the others involved in this, it has been a hard struggle for them to come to terms with what they experienced. Some had more difficulty than others. But none of them had any sort of emotional or psychological support after one of the worlds top ten, most credible, filmed UFO encounters ever! I personally take my hat off to all these Ladies and Gentlemen involved in this. Kudos to them for standing up to the intense public scrutiny and disbelief of many people that followed. Their strength in the face of this disbelief opened the way for people to be able to be more open about their experiences. For that I thank you all.
If this episode has brought up any memories and issues for you, then you can always contact Suzy’s UFO experiencers support team at www.communicatorlink.com Or, if you want to talk with me about your experiences or memories, you can email me at email@example.com. Or, through the podcasts website contact page www.walkingtheshadowlands.com. Just be kind to yourself, and know it is ok to remember, and you most definitely are not alone in your experiences.
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