This is a frame from Westall 66: A Suburban UFO Mystery which aired on the Australian Sci-Fi Channel on June 4th. I did not get to see the show, as it has not aired in the United States as of this writing; but my educated guess is that the filmmakers were attempting to illustrate the investigative process, by eliminating possibilities. (To learn about the 1966 Westall UFO, you can check out my Skeptoid episode about it.)
Their presentation purports that there are only three possibilities to explain the UFO sighting: Hoax or hysteria; experimental aircraft; or an object of extraterrestrial origin. Actually, that’s four possibilities, since a hoax and mass hysteria are two completely different things.
After we eliminate hoaxing, hysteria, and experimental aircraft, the only remaining possibility is that this was an extraterrestrial object. Let’s hope Australian television audiences are outraged by that insult to intelligence.
I’m going to help out the show’s producers. They left out the two overwhelmingly most likely possibilities: mistaken identification, and unknown. Their list should have read like this:
- Hoax – Not very likely in this case, but always a possibility.
- Hysteria – Highly unlikely. Mass hysteria does not create shared visual hallucinations.
- Mistaken identification – Most likely. The witnesses did see something, they were simply unable to identify it. Maybe it was seen from an odd angle, maybe it was something weird looking they weren’t familiar with. This doesn’t mean nobody would have known what it was.
- Unknown – We do not have an explanation for what the witnesses reported.
Extraterrestrial object– I’ve struck this one out because it’s not a supportable conclusion. In order to positively identify the Westall object, we’d have to be able to reliably test it against a known sample. We don’t have a known sample of an “extraterrestrial object” to compare it against, so there’s really no way to get past #4 on this list and make a positive identification of “alien spaceship”.
Before this “documentary” came out, I was able to scoop it on my Skeptoid podcast by a few days, thanks to a heads-up from Maynard in Australia, who also provided this screen capture (many thanks, sir). On that show, I found that there are indeed some good possibilities for what the witnesses saw. The first half of the sighting coincided with a weather balloon, known to be in the area at the time, and sounding quite a lot like what some of the witnesses reported. The second half of the sighting is harder to pin down, so I’m completely comfortable with calling it unidentified. I’m reasonably comfortable saying it was probably a misidentification, and there’s a good explanation of that if you want to check out my episode.
Remember: “I don’t know” does NOT mean “I do know, and it was an alien spaceship.” To those who say this is the only possible explanation, I invite them to show us exactly how they were able to match up the Westall story to what’s known of alien spaceships. If they can’t, I invite them to revise their conclusion to admit that maybe the explanation is unknown.