95% of UFO sightings can be written off as nothing: weather phenomena; misidentified aircraft; mistakenly identified stars or planets. 5% cannot be explained. In this series we’ll be looking at the mass sightings. The abductions. The unexplained deaths. Real cases, with real people.
These are the 5%. These, are the UFO files.
Melbourne, Australia. 6 April 1966: Graham Simmonds is school captain at Westall High School in the state of Victoria, Australia. One ordinary Wednesday afternoon, he is performing an experiment, mixing chemicals in a flask he had held up to the window, when in the background something catches his eye. A grey saucer shaped craft roughly twice the size of a family car. Panic is about to hit the school.
So begins the most famous UFO case in Australian history. The Westall UFO.
The round silver disc hovers low over the empty fields by the school. It isn’t long before the kids out in the yard on their break see it. Word quickly spreads. So does the panic. The kids’ reactions are varied. Some start screaming. Running inside. Others are almost hypnotised by what they are seeing and chase after the object.
Inside the school some of the kids who’d run inside alert a chemistry teacher. She wastes no time in grabbing her camera. Out in the yard she snaps photos of the object. Pandemonium breaks out at the school. By now word was spreading among the teachers, asking one another ‘Did you see it?!’
Outside, 5 Cessna aircraft appear on the scene, seemingly tracking the object. The disc moves at high speed, before hovering low behind trees in the nearby field. According to witnesses, it’s like the UFO is hiding. And the moment the planes have gone, the disc shoots off.
One group of school kids has followed the disc into the wooded area behind the school. One of these is Terry Clarke, who arrives to see two of her schoolmates already there. One girl, Tanya, has passed out. Terry follows the disc to a patch of flattened grass. Whatever ‘it’ was, had landed. She then watches in disbelief as the disc rises slowly above the tree line, tilts to one side, and takes off. Jacquie Argent takes Tanya back to school where an ambulance is called.
(According to an interview given to an Australian TV’s Studio 10 on the 50th anniversary of the event, the day after the incident, Jacquie went to visit Tanya at her home. An English speaking lady answered the door and told her that nobody by the name of Tanya had lived at that address. She had visited the house before on more than one occasion. Tanya’s parents did not speak English. At the time of writing she has not seen Tanya since.)
As all of this is happening, a few miles away, a market gardener sees the disc. He and his boss watch it for several minutes before the kids from the school arrive on their chase of the object. Out of nowhere, two camouflaged trucks and two jeeps arrive. 20 men in uniform get out. At another part of town, in an area of grassland called ‘The Grange’ two kids also see men arrive in trucks. The men in blue uniforms sweep the tall grass with metal detectors. They then start kicking the ground as if trying to flatten something before getting back into their trucks and disappearing.
With the kids finally corralled back into the school, a special assembly is called. The kids are told in no uncertain terms not to discuss the sighting. They are even told not to discuss it amongst themselves. Nobody is allowed to leave the school.
Outside the school, the police have arrived. They are quickly joined by the local Channel 9 news team. The kids are told that they couldn’t discuss the sighting on school grounds.
Graham Simmonds is walking the halls of the school, making sure all students are in their rooms, when he sees his chemistry teacher at an entrance. She is involved in a heated discussion with the headmaster and a man in a blue uniform (again, it’s unclear if this is a police officer, member of the Air Force, or someone else). The conversation ends with the men not only insisting that they take the film with the photos on, but the whole camera.
One of the students is taken to headmaster’s office. When she enters, the two men in suits are there. Only one speaks. He asks quick-fire questions, and the student gets the impression that the whole process is designed to sew seeds of doubt and make her question the whole event, telling her, ‘We suppose you think you saw a flying saucer… We suppose you think you saw little green men’.
When the chaotic school day is over, the kids go outside, and once off school property, they are interviewed by the Channel 9 news team. As one girl (Joy Tighe) is telling her story, a man in a blue uniform who “may have been Air Force or police” interrupted the interview, telling Channel 9 to stop filming and the girl to go back inside.
When the initial furore has died down, two officers visit teacher Andrew Greenwood at his home. They threaten him. They tell him that if he speaks out bout the sighting, he’ll be branded an alcoholic. His career will be over. He’s told to keep his mouth shut under the Official Secrets Act.
A mass sighting. Hundreds of witnesses, children and adults alike. Can this just be written off as mass hysteria?
It could, however, local reports from newspapers at the time suggest that the school in Westall wasn’t the only sighting.
Four days earlier, someone snapped a photograph of an object identical to the kids witness statements over the back of his property a few miles away. And two days before the sighting, a construction contractor in Central Victoria had a strange encounter of his own.
He was driving a lonely lane at night when he saw an object by the side of the road. It hovered in the trees, shooting a beam of light to the ground. He was shocked to see that the beams from his headlights bent in mid-air, towards the object, as if under magnetic influence. It then started pulling his car towards the trees. He’d seen enough. He fired up his car and left. The construction contractor wouldn’t have reported his incident if he hadn’t heard about something that took place on the same stretch of road two days earlier.
A young man had died after driving into a tree. One of the trees that the object was pulling his car towards.
Government officials from the Air Force later visited the contractor at his home and checked his car. He asked for updates on the case which he was told he would certainly get. He never saw or heard from the man again.
Another witness later came forward. He too was at The Grange at the time of the sighting. He went back the next day to investigate what had happened. He was stopped by the Army and told in no uncertain terms that the area was out of bounds. He returned a week later to the general area, and all of the grass in the paddock had been cut. Stranger still, the area where the discs had actually landed had been burnt.
The 5 light aircraft which appeared on the scene were never explained, with the RAAF denying all knowledge of them. If you were to visit The Channel 9 archives, you would find the footage of the interviews with the schoolchildren is missing.
So, you're interested in UFOs? Want to read more? Sure you do! Click here for an excerpt from my UFO thriller The Event.
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In this blog I'll be bringing to you short tales of things that go bump in the night, true stories of weird and unexplained events, and the real-life news of all things odd and macabre, and entertain you along the way.