A staged UFO landing. File photo / Mark Mitchell

A staged UFO landing. File photo / Mark Mitchell

New Zealand's most famous UFO sighting was a moving cluster of bright lights five times the size of a large fishing vessel that dazzled and spooked the occupants of a small plane during a routine newspaper drop.
The lights seemed to move with the plane as it flew off the coast of Kaikoura in 1978, moving away when the plane headed directly for it, and then disappearing after being witnessed for somewhere between 12 and 20 minutes. It was described as extremely bright, flashing and elliptical - and difficult to explain away as "conventional phenomenon".
But an official report by the Air Force disagreed, and said the sightings could be explained as an unusually bright sighting of Venus, bright lights from fishing vessels, or "freak propogation of radio and light waves".
It also noted that spurious radar readings in Wellington Air Traffic Control were common off the east coast of the South Island at the time.
Thousands of secret files on alleged UFO sightings from 1952 to 2009 were released by the Defence Force today, including sightings by members of the public and military personnel, as well as investigations by Government departments and agencies, media reports and letters from people claiming to be in touch with aliens and space ships.

The report does not try to explain what the object was, but concludes that it was hard to explain some sort of "conventional phenomenon".Among the files is the report - What Really Happened in New Zealand by Dr Bruce Maccabee, for the NZ UFO Studies Centre - into the Kaikoura sightings.
The report relied on eight witnesses including Christchurch reporter Dennis Grant, who was the only one who took notes during the sightings, and a film that proved to be "a veritable tour de force of UFO images".
"The film contains pictures of airport lights, pictures of the airplane cockpit pictures of (Australian reporter) Quentin Fogarty at Christchurch Airport, and pictures of .... UFOs," the report says.
Evidence showed that the film was continuous footage from inside the aircraft. "Thus the film is not a hoax."
The report said the object, whatever it was, was never closer than 16kms to the aircraft while it was being filmed, though Mr Fogarty "remembers looking almost straight down on the object ... and the captain is quite certain that the plane passed over it."
The night of December 30, 1978, was meant to be just a regular run from Blenheim to Wellington to Christchurch and back to Blenheim to drop off some newspapers.
Aboard the south-bound four-engine turbo prop Argosy freighter were Captain Bill Startup, co-pilot Robert Guard, reporter Quentin Fogarty and a film crew including cameraman David Crockett and his wife Ngaire.
Eerily, the crew were shooting footage for a news story about a previous UFO sighting on a similar flight 10 nights ago in the early hours of December 21.
The plane took off at 11.46pm, December 30.
"During the flight south the pilot and co-pilot observed lights that were first seen in the direction of Kaikoura, from a point just southeast of Cape Campbell. Coincidentally, Wellington radar picked up and reported targets which were in the vicinity of the plane. It appears that at least two, and perhaps several, of these anomalous radar targets were observed by the passengers on the plane."