BLOG: Father Gill’s Flashlight: Papua, New Guinea 1959

GW400H253-1by Michael Lauck

The 1959 sightings of Father William Gill in New Guinea, then an Australian territory, were well known and much discussed in the 1960s and 1970s. Given the multiple witnesses over two nights, observation of occupants and the credibility of the reporting witness, an Anglican missionary, it made for a sensational encounter. Even more incredible, the craft and occupants sighted seemed to respond to the witnesses throughout the encounter. The story was featured in Dr. J. Allen Hynek’s The UFO Experience: A Scientific Enquiry and The Hynek UFO Report, the double album UFO Encounters (which features Father Gill telling his story and Hynek’s commentary) and in the 4th issue of Gold Key’s UFO Flying Saucers comic book.

Although area residents seem to have had minor sightings of a bright light earlier in the year, Father Gill’s sightings begin the night of June 26, 1959. He was at his mission in Boianai, Papau, New Guinea and about 6:45 PM he spotted a white light near Venus in the evening sky. Soon this light descended through cloud cover that had moved in as time passed. The light grew larger until it became obvious that it was some type of craft.

“You could describe it, I suppose, as a circular ship with a kind of deck and bridge on the top,” Father William Gill stated on the UFO Encounters LP. Further saying that it was “dull yellow, a bright orangey color. It wasn’t as though the thing was itself lit up all around. It was more as though some other light was lighting it up…. All around the whole object was a sparkling effect.” It was silent and as large, he estimated as a five inch object held at arm’s length. Up to four humanoids were seen on the top deck of the craft, as if they were working on something and an “electric blue spotlight” seemed to shoot into the air. Clouds moved in and obscured the object for some time but they eventually cleared allowing the craft to be seen again. Smaller objects, perhaps as many as three, were seen moving in and out of the clouds as well. Shortly before 11:00 PM heavy clouds moved in, obscuring the objects and rain began to fall.

New Guinea Graphic FinalThe next night one of the village girls came and summoned Father Gill from his dinner. The object had returned. It was closer and there were again figures on top. “I waved with one hand,” Gill says on the UFO Encounters album, “and a figure seemed to wave with one hand back, with one arm. And then… the teacher standing next to me, he waved, in the same sort of fashion, waving his arms across and again a figure seemed to do the same.” He went on to say that those on the ground could not make out any details, such as hair, on the figures likening their garb to diving suits. He eventually sent a school boy to get a flashlight. “We flashed the torch on and off, and it just seemed as though to us that the whole of the ship moved sideways, as a pendulum. Not very much, just a little to the right and a little to the left as though it was acknowledging the flashes of the torch. And that ceased after about half a minute.” They tried to encourage the craft to land, but it did not and the figures on board eventually lost interest and returned to whatever task they were attending to on top of the deck. The craft, when it did disappear, seemed to go down to the size of a pinhead, and then could not be seen, in only a moment. At the time, Father Gill would later tell Dr. Hynek, he merely assumed this amazing vehicle was some new United States aircraft.

Still, Father Gill realized that the encounter was something strange and rather unbelievable so he gathered the signatures of the adults present. In all about 25 adults, including five teachers and three medical workers, and approximately a dozen children saw the event. In the mid 1970’s Dr. Hynek would visit New Guinea. He spoke to six original witnesses who told similar stories. Another witness, Ernie Evenett, a trader near , would also spot the object from another location around the same time as Father Gill’s second sighting. He described the object being shaped like a rugby ball with a ring or deck around it.

American and Australian military investigators determined that the witnesses had seen natural astronomical objects, completely ignoring the reports of figures. It was suggested at times that Gill did not have his glasses on, although he maintained that he did, and the accounts of the many other witnesses were often ignored (Dr. Menzel’s analysis of the sighting dismissed the other witnesses as “uneducated”). It was even suggested that Father Gill spotted Venus, even though he differentiated between Venus and the bright light he saw on the first night in his accounts.

The New Guinea encounter was reported to the Flying Saucer Review by Reverend Norman Cruttwell, a colleague of Gill’s, in late 1959 with additional information on the sighting being published in the November/December 1960 issue as well. Once Dr. Hynek investigated the story, he was able to determine that in addition to the many witnesses and highly unlikely chance of the object being Venus, there were over five dozen other sightings of mysterious aerial objects in the region around the same time in 1959.