14th April 2023 | Life Elsewhere, Places, UFO's

The Kaikoura Lights Mystery


On a New Years Day in 1979 strange lights were spotted by six people on a plane off the coast of New Zealand’s South Island. These have been catalogued as the Kaikoura Lights Mystery.

Skeptics said it was Venus, it was squid boats, it was radar returns from a field of cabbages. Or just about any scenario you could think of. This, of course, was typical of the times, being over forty years ago.

There were two professional pilots and four passengers aboard the aircraft.

Background to the mystery

Towards the end of 1978, Australasia was in the grip of UFO fever. In October 20-year-old Frederick Valentich disappeared while flying a small Cessna 182 aircraft over Bass Strait. He was heading to King Island near Tasmania. Described as a “flying saucer enthusiast”, Valentich informed Melbourne air traffic control he was being accompanied by an unknown aircraft.

Following his final eerie transmission stating “Ah… Melbourne that strange aircraft is hovering on top of me again… it is hovering and it’s not an aircraft” Frederick Valentich and his entire plane vanished without a trace.

Two months later across the Tasman, on December 21, Safe Air pilots Vern Powell and Ian Pirie spotted strange lights while flying from Blenheim to Christchurch.

More than just a visual sighting the lights on December 21st appeared on the radar and were recorded at the nearby Wellington Air Traffic Control.

45 miles north of Kaikoura on that same evening hundreds of Cape Campbell residents witnessed three massive lights which sent a beam to the ground while moving as though searching the land for something. These too were recorded by radar at Wellington Air Traffic Control. The three objects creating the light appeared on radar the size of a commercial airliner, yet they moved like a helicopter at low altitude.

The Kaikoura Lights Mystery Event

Following the previous happenings, late on December 30th a curious news group were invited to jump aboard Safe Air’s Blenheim-based Argosy plane, named Merchant Enterprise, which pilots Bill Startup and Bob Guard were taking on a newspaper run between Wellington and Christchurch.

The plane took off at 2:16am. About three minutes after takeoff, the group saw a bright, round light to the right. The airplane radar showed a target in the same direction about 18 nautical miles distant. When the Argosy turned towards it, the light seemed to react by moving away from the airplane.

The footage featured on prime-time news that night and a longer documentary piece screened later.

The news went around the world and was featured by major news media, including by the New Zealand Herald and by CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite.

The Argosy film was flown to the USA and given to Bruce Maccabee, an optical physicist who specialised in laser technology and worked for the US Navy in Maryland, Virginia. He was also flown to New Zealand and Melbourne to interview witnesses. He concluded the event involved unknown objects or phenomena fitting the definition of UFOs.


Despite the over eagerness of authorities to dismiss the Kaikoura Lights Mystery as some kind of natural phenomena, as yet totally undefined and unproven, everyone on board has said the event had a traumatic effect on their lives. This, of course, is not unusual when people witness extraordinary events beyond their comprehension.

None of those involved are satisfied with any of explanations given by scientists and government officials. They are convinced they saw something inexplicable. If the same event occurred today, I believe the authorities would have taken much more interest.

In essence, this event still remains a mystery.

References and further reading and viewing


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