New Zealand Pilot Encounters with UAP / UFOs


Suzanne Hansen © 2014


In the last five years or so, we have seen an increase in interest worldwide in the testimony of pilots, Air Force personnel and other aviation professionals (mostly retired) who have encountered UFOs. Credible, professional observations by aviators are hard to discredit, especially when supported by radar evidence.

In 2009, UFOCUS NZ began two years of lobbying the New Zealand Chief of the Defence Forces to release the New Zealand Ministry of Defence (MOD) UFO files. With two retired air-traffic controllers and a pilot on our staff (all of whom have witnessed UFOs), we have always maintained a strong interest in pilot sightings of UFOs, and the potential danger these incidents may pose to aviation safety in NZ airspace and the associated security ramifications. 

The MOD UFO files were released in December 2010 and March 2011, and contained several visual/radar UFO events involving pilots. These included the 1955 ‘Captain Rainbow sighting’, New Zealand's first official investigation into an aviation UFO encounter, and the world-renowned Kaikoura lights sightings of 1978/79 involving radar/visual/film evidence. However the files also contained over ninety historic civilian, airline, commercial, and military pilot sightings, most of which had been documented in brief memos, but were not formally investigated or released publicly.



With the release of the files came new categorization in line with similar file releases from other Commonwealth countries – the UK, Canada and Australia. Reference to ‘UFOs’ was eliminated and replaced by the terms UAP (unusual aerial phenomenon), and the MOD’s preferred terminology, ‘UAS’ (unusual aerial sighting), thereby eliminating any reference to an ‘object’ and replaced ‘UFO’ with a broader reference to ‘phenomena’, or alternatively, a vague reference to the ‘unusual’. The term ‘UFO’ was believed to carry ‘connotations’ and is too closely linked to ‘ufology’. 

The NZ MOD contends all supposed ‘UFO’ sightings can be explained by misidentified aircraft or natural phenomena and they no longer collect such reports. The MOD was seemingly unconcerned about the security of NZ airspace, recommending any unusual aerial phenomena should be reported to the police or to civilian UFO groups. Hence the MOD neatly sidestepped having to publicly answer any questions, or launch any investigations into subsequent sightings of non-conventional aerial objects. As far as any future reported pilot UFO sightings in NZ are concerned, this attitude rendered them officially ‘unbelievable’, or purportedly, able to be explained in conventional terms. Since these declarations, several members of the military have reported their sightings to UFOCUS NZ.



However very few pilots in New Zealand are willing to risk their flying careers by reporting UFO/UAP sightings. Depending on the airline they fly with, there may be no corporate policy for reporting such events, as the airlines will undoubtedly have concerns for their public image. In New Zealand, a pilot can report ‘UAS’ to air-traffic control, who in turn will pass the report to the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), and from there it will usually disappear into a large black hole called a ‘database’ and no further investigation takes place.

UFOCUS NZ formulated a specific Aviation Sighting Report form in 2007 and we have received a handful of aviation reports since then, with the understandable proviso of complete anonymity and confidentiality. UFOCUS NZ staff members Graeme Opie (former ATC and commercial pilot) and John Cordy (former ATC and RAF) have spoken about their sightings in a number of NZ and international documentaries. Since publicizing their experiences we have been approached by a small number of retired pilots willing to go public about their own UFO sightings. All of these men have exemplary professional records and like many others in aviation professions worldwide, their UFO sightings deserve credence.

Following are three accounts of New Zealand pilot sightings from UFOCUS NZ’s archive.

1955 – ‘Flying light’ with rotating colours overtakes aircraft

On the night of 1 November, 1955, Captain W. T. Rainbow and First Officer S. Trounce, flying an NAC (National Airways Corporation) Douglas DC3, Flight 108, took off from Wellington Airport on route to Auckland. The flying conditions and visibility were excellent as they progressed up the west coast of the North Island. 

At 2006 hours, after sunset, Capt. Rainbow noticed a brilliant light towards the south-west, positioned above cloud tops at around 6000 feet. His first impression was that it was a meteor, or a planet, but after closer observation he could see it had moved by about 2000 feet above the cloud tops and appeared to be at the same altitude as the aircraft, and in fact overtaking it. Its light intensity changed from a bright hard light to a brilliant light in a cycle of approximately 3 seconds, alternating colours from white –yellow-orange to red, in the manner of a rotating marine beacon. These details were confirmed by the co-pilot. They opened a side window to eliminate any refraction error, but it made no difference to the light’s appearance.

Capt. Rainbow called Wellington Control Radar which confirmed there were no aircraft west of their position. He reported the bright light to the west of New Plymouth and asked for another aircraft, Flight 135, to observe the light also. Shortly afterwards he called Wellington Control again to report the light was passing the aircraft within 5 miles to port at the same altitude, travelling 105 miles in 7 1/2 min, at an estimated speed of 840 mph, flying in and out of cloud tops just west of the aircraft’s wing-tip.

As it happens, also on board the aircraft that evening was a Civil Aviation officer and experienced pilot from RNZAF Hobsonville, Mr. Tuckett, and Air Commodore R. J. Cohen (Inspector General RNZAF, Air Dept. Wellington), who both witnessed the light along with a civilian. However Air Commodore Cohen showed little interest and believed the light was a planet. 

The aircraft entered a cloud bank and climbed above it to 9000 feet, whereupon the object was easily picked up below and ahead of them. At this point Auckland airport gave clearance to descend to 4000 feet in preparation for landing, and so the DC3 lost visual contact with the light upon entering cloud again. However the light had been in view for close to ten minutes, and was seen clearly by three pilots and one civilian, and briefly by Air Commodore Cohen. Upon arrival at Whenuapai Airbase, Auckland, Captain Rainbow notified the Duty Officer of the incident. 



That evening, another or the same ‘flying light’ was sighted by two witnesses who watched it tailing a southbound TEAL DC6 with a horizontal zigzag flight motion. Two hours later, two witnesses in Kawhia sighted a brilliant white-orange ‘light’, approaching them at speed. The ‘light’ suddenly stopped, hovered and then climbed vertically till out of sight. An RNZAF Vampire pilot (based at Ohakea Airbase) reported observing a ‘flying light’ the same evening.

Captain Rainbow’s report instigated the first (publicly announced) official UFO enquiry in New Zealand. Mr Shand, Minister in charge of Civil Aviation, on learning the details of the report state, “I have called for a full immediate report. This is the first circumstantial and apparently reliable report on such an object we have yet had, and I am especially interested because of the character of the witnesses, whose reputations cannot be questioned.”

Mr Halstead, the Acting Minister of Defence, called on the Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshall W. H. Merton, for the fullest cooperation in the inquiry. The NAC crew were called to Wellington and interviewed by the Director of Air Force Intelligence. At first Intelligence Officers could find no logical or natural explanation for the light. However later they announced through the media it “could have been Venus”, and the official investigation, as well as public interest, quickly ‘blew cold’ and became a ‘white-wash’. No explanation was offered for the speed of the object, that it was observed flying in and out of cloud-tops, or the fact it actually passed the aircraft at the same altitude. As Capt. Rainbow stated, “A planet does not overtake (an aircraft) at a steady altitude from SSW and disappear to the NNW”

(Source: Civilian Saucer Investigation (NZ) Journal, Issue 2/6, Vol. 3 - No. 3 1955)

1977 – UFO tails aircraft at close proximity

On July 1 1977, at 2.10 pm, private pilot Mr. M. Aronson (a former ATC with 13 years pilot experience), was flying a Piper Cherokee on a short flight in the vicinity of Temuka, Canterbury, South Island. The pilot was at an altitude of approximately 7,500 feet AMSL and he was aware of a Fokker Friendship (F27) transport aircraft inbound to Christchurch Airport. He had heard the local air traffic service advise the F27, that a Cessna 180 was northbound in the area. He could see the F27 on long finals about 5 miles northwest of Temuka, at an estimated altitude of 2,000 feet, about 1 mile west of his position.

His attention was captured by what he at first thought to be the Cessna180 in dangerously close proximity to the F27. However, upon closer observation he realized the F27 was being tailed by a UFO that was positioned to the starboard rear and slightly above the F27 at a distance of approximately 400 metres. The UFO was maintaining position at an estimated altitude of 1,800 to 2,000 feet. 

The pilot watched the object for some three seconds, and then told his passenger to, “Have a look at that thing!” Pilot Aronson observed a black cigar-shaped or oval object about 10 to 15 metres in length that was enveloped in a ‘heat haze’ (shimmering air). He estimated it was travelling at approximately 110 kmh. Upon realizing it was not a conventional aircraft the pilot turned his aircraft towards the object and commenced a dive to intercept it, reaching maximum airframe speed in doing so.

At this point the UFO stopped dead and hovered for approximately 2 seconds, before reversing its course when the pilot began his dive to investigate. It then accelerated sharply away on a heading of approximately 290° magnetic. The rate of climb and acceleration was far in excess of anything the pilot had seen before, and the object was lost to sight in about five seconds.


Artist's impression


The crew of the F27 would not have been aware of the presence of the UFO. The pilot stated that in his 13 years of part-time flying he had never seen anything to compare with it. At the time, he was startled to see a transport aircraft being followed by a UFO, but he elected to remain silent at the time due to “lack of evidence.”

(Source: Dickeson, Fred & Phyllis, Xenolog, Summer Edition 1978)

1978 – Air New Zealand DC 10-30 near-collision with UAP

Captain Richardson is a retired NZ airline pilot who flew DC 10-30 and Boeing 747-200. He has an Airline Transport Pilot License and Recreational Pilot License, with a total of approx. 18,000 flying hours. Capt. Richardson was involved with commercial aviation from 1961 to 1991, and was also a NZ Air Traffic Controller from 1961 to 1965. He was co-pilot at the time of this event which occurred in September 1978, at 0130 local time.


Captain George Richardson

The DC 10-30 aircraft was at cruise flight level of 33,000 feet, on a northerly heading just north of Samoa on the NZAA-PHNL track (Auckland to Honolulu). The air conditions were stable with flat stratus cloud, some stars were visible, but no moon. Capt. Richardson described the night as “pitch black, very dark”, but recalls they may have had the small aircraft nose light on. 

On this evening Captain Richardson stated the aircraft was “skipping along over the strata-form”. He was looking directly ahead out the cockpit window when he noticed a very bright white light rapidly approaching above the clouds and stated, “Traffic on our left,” to the Captain. The light was moving west to east from 270 to 090 degrees magnetic and crossed the DC10’s track from left to right. The aircraft was on a northerly heading of roughly 010M, and the UAP was tracking east at the same level. The UAP crossed their path at close proximity directly in front of them – around 150 feet apart. For a few seconds, the pilots believed they were going to collide with it.

When in close proximity, the pilots observed an actual object for approximately 3 to 4 seconds as it crossed in front of them. They observed a large cylindrical object around 150 feet long, with large oval windows around 3 feet wide evenly spaced along the length of it, which were emitting harsh bright white light. 

There were no appendages and it appeared to be a solid metallic structure, roughly the size and shape of a DC10-30 fuselage, without the wings and tail. The front had a rounded point, while the rear 1/3 of the object tapered off to a narrow end. The pilots estimated the UAP was travelling in excess of 500 knots (575 mph, or 926 kmh), and it disappeared out on the starboard side behind them. It is significant the UAP left no turbulent wake. 


Artist's impression

The first action taken by the pilots immediately after the incident was to establish if any aircraft were in their vicinity. Co-pilot Richardson contacted Nadi Airport radio (Fiji) and asked if there was any eastbound traffic, the response being negative, and Tahiti Airport radio informed him there was no inbound traffic from the west. He finally called Honolulu Airport radio (Hawaii) with the same question, and also enquired whether Honolulu had any military activity at or near their flight position. The response was, “Negative. You guys are the only traffic in the South Pacific.”

The pilots had minimal time (fewer than 10 seconds) to decide whether to alter their heading and altitude to avoid collision. Because of the speed the UAP approached and the close proximity of the object as it passed in front of their aircraft, both pilots were certain a collision would occur at any second and no evasive action was taken. 

In an interview with UFOCUS NZ in 2009, Capt. Richardson stated the pilots did not report this near-collision event to their airline (Air New Zealand) at the time because of concern about the ridicule or disbelief they may be subjected to, and the possibility they could lose their positions and registrations as pilots. Capt. Richardson is very clear to this day about the characteristics of the UAP he observed during this incident. He described the near-collision incident in a New Zealand TV3 60 Minutes television documentary in 2009, entitled, “The Truth is out there.” (View this documentary on our website).







Bookmark and Share
Download our General UFO/UAP Sighting Report Form
Download our Aviation UFO / UAP Sighting Report Form
Latest News
New Zealand MOD Declassifies and Releases UFO files

Read more...
Uncensored Magazine
UFOCUS NZ is a non-profit organization that receives no private funding or sponsorship. UFOCUS NZ respects the right to privacy of all individuals.
All UFOCUS NZ sighting reports, photographs, articles and artwork on this website are copyright. Please contact us if you wish to use any material.

Copyright for individual’s articles or illustrations featured on this website lies with the original authors, artists, photographers.
Viewpoints expressed in articles etc on this website, or on other websites linked to this website, are not necessarily representative of UFOCUS NZ’s viewpoints.
Powered by Datadog