The daylight filming of a UFO over Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (an Australian territory at the time), during 1953, became a milestone case for civilian researchers, with its official investigation and disposition engendering an enduring controversy about whether it represented evidence for a bona fide UFO, for an official cover-up or a complex milieu more indicative mishandling, misrepresentation or misinterpretation. This study brings together a detailed retrospective investigation of the affair, utilising official and civilian information to try to properly reconcile the nature and lessons of such a historic UFO case.
During the period of 1953 to 1954, while civilian interest in “flying saucers” was growing in Australia, extensive official and civilian interest focused on a daylight movie footage of an extraordinary unidentified “missile” over Port Moresby, taken by Tom Drury, the Deputy Director of the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) in Papua New Guinea, then an Australian territory.
Tom P. Drury - background
Tom Drury was a very experienced observer. The following biographical background information comes directly from information supplied by his nephew Bill Drury and an official citation, “Department of Aviation Honours and Awards - Civil commendation for valuable services in the air - Thomas Peel Drury - Examiner of Airmen”.
Thomas Peel Drury was a child of the Great Depression, born in on February 4th, 1917, near Newcastle. When, as a youth, he decided he wanted to be a pilot. Drury took flying lessons whenever his finances permitted, but, as with so many aspirants during the Depression years, his ambition to become a pilot could never have been fulfilled, but for the Second World War. Tom Drury joined the RAAF, and was fortunate enough to be one of twelve in a course of 220 to be chosen as trainee pilots. He converted onto Ansons, and then did a flying instructor’s course at Camden, New South Wales, on Airspeed Oxfords. He spent the following two years at Bundaberg, as a flying instructor on Ansons. Later, he flew C47’s in New Guinea, and in Morotai, the Philippines and Borneo. Drury was a flight lieutenant in New Guinea when the war ended. He returned to Australia in 1946. Following his enlistment in the R.A.A.F in 1943, Tom Drury was employed on instructional and transport flying during which he accumulated a total of 1661 hours flying. He also completed 1200 hours flying before joining the Department of Civil Aviation in 1949.
On 16th April, 1952, Tom Drury was a passenger in Drover aircraft VH -DHA, operated by the Department of Civil Aviation on route from Wewak to Momote, Manus Island. Over the Bismark Sea and when approximately 110 miles from Manus Island, a portion of the propeller on the port side engine suddenly became detached and pierced the fuselage, causing severe injuries to the Captain and the almost immediate loss of the remaining two engines. The Captain directed Drury to take over the piloting of the aircraft, which had commenced to descend towards the sea from a height of approximately 2,000 feet. Although he had not previously flown a Drover aircraft, Drury immediately went to the aid of the stricken pilot, released his safety harness and assisted him clear of the cockpit. With only seconds remaining before the aircraft would hit the water, Drury took over control of the aircraft and displayed exceptional flying skill, succeeding in regaining control of the aircraft and carrying out a successful ditching into the sea. In these extremely adverse circumstances, Tom Drury’s initiative and coolness undoubtedly averted a total disaster and contributed materially to saving the lives of the pilot and other passengers of the aircraft. He died on August 14th, 1984.
The “South Pacific Post” of Friday, April 18th, 1952, carried a detail account of the Drover crash. James Sinclair, author of “Balus - The Aeroplane in Papua New Guinea” (Volume 1: The Early Years”, 1986), interviewed Tom Drury during 1982, the same year I undertook an interview with him. Sinclair gives some detail on Tom Drury’s biographical background, which is largely consistent with the above information. He also describes in details a number of significant episodes in Tom Drury’s time in Papua, including a good account of the 1952 Drover crash, confirming what Drury had told me in 1982, that the local regional director of ASIO, Major Laurie Sheedy, was the passenger on the flight.
Suggestions of ASIO involvement
I talked with Sheedy during 1982 in an attempt to clarify the handling of the 1953 Port Moresby UFO film from Papua to Melbourne. He shed little on this area, but was cordial. He felt it hadn’t been passed onto him, and that it had gone to the RAAF, probably via DCA channels, rather than ASIO. Sheedy suggested it was outside ASIO’s charter, indicating there was general interest in UFOs at the time, but more specifically by the RAAF. I spoke with Sheedy’s ASIO Papua replacement, who took over in 1953, but he to felt he hadn’t handled the film, and that it was most likely John Arthur, Tom Drury’s DCA superior. The last he had heard of it, either via Tom Drury or John Arthur, was that the film had been sent to America for further study. The ASIO representative remembered the incident quite well, but was sure he never got to see the processed film. More generally he implied that ASIO was put off the subject by the “crackpot” element, but he felt there was plenty of evidence that suggests that UFOs exist. He suggested ASIO played a very low key role in the subject. Referring again to the Drury film, the ASIO officer indicated that if it had been given to him, it would have been via John Arthur, and he would have sent it down to ASIO headquarters, without any comment, but he didn’t think it happened that way. He felt it went through DCA. The official files seem to support that contention, despite Tom Drury’s recollection to the contrary that ASIO was involved.
The filming of a UFO
On Sunday, August 23rd, 1953, at Port Moresby, Papua-New Guinea, Tom Drury was taking pictures at about midday (1200 hours). The sky was clear, when a small cloud began to form. After a few minutes a silver object came out of the cloud. Drury had started filming. The object climbed very fast, with a vapour trail behind it clear marking its trajectory. It was gone in a few seconds. A handwritten note in the Directorate of Air Force Intelligence (DAFI) files specifically states that the object was not a secret missile firing from Woomera.
Tom Drury described the incident:
“I was standing on the coast road over looking the Flying Boat Base at Port Moresby (“in the vicinity of the Marine Base Workshops”2) with my wife and children.”1.
“The weather was perfectly clear and cloudless. Even the summits of the Owen Stanely Range were clear, which is unusual... 1.
“I was engaged in taking a movie photo of a native boy spearing a fish. I was not looking at the sky.” 1.
“My wife noticed a wisp of cloud suddenly appear in the blue sky from nowhere 1. (“in roughly a south-westerly direction from Port Moresby, at a very great height” 2.) ...”
“(It) started to build up rapidly into a white puff. She called out to draw my attention to it.” 1.
“I watched it rapidly build up into a thick white mass of cumulus. There were no other clouds in the sky and there seemed nothing to account for it.” 1.
“I was curious about the cloud so I watched it. I had never seen a cloud form up by itself like that.” 3.
“Being very interested in meteorological phenomena, I decided to take a film of it. So I rotated the turret of my French-made movie camera to bring the telephoto lens into position, and started to film the cloud.” 1.
“The cloud (“which grew in intensity for several minutes” 2.) was at an elevation of about 50 degrees above the horizon”, towards Nappa Nappa.
“It was impossible to estimate the altitude, as there was nothing with which to compare it.” 1.
“Suddenly an object like a silver dart shot out of the cloud. It was elongated in shape like a bullet. It subtended about one inch at arm’s length. It was metallic and flashed in the sun.” 1.
The object appeared from one side of the cloud and “climbed very fast in roughly a North-Westerly direction. I could give no accurate information as to the shape or possible size of this object, as it appeared slightly bigger than a pin head, but whatever it was, it left a very clearly defined vapour trail behind it...” 2.
“I couldn’t believe it, so I looked down at the ground and then back at the object .... I called to my wife and asked her if she could see anything in the sky. She looked up, and then she, too, saw it. She pointed excitedly and said ‘Oh yes. There it is.’ The children could also see it.” 3.
“It was very clear-cut, sharp in front but apparently truncated behind, though the tail may have been hidden by the vapour trail. No wings or fins were visible.” 1.
Drury told the South Pacific Post, “...We watched it flying across the sky for a few more minutes. I’ve never seen anything fly that high before, nor flying so fast. It kept on course then climbed at about 45 degrees and disappeared.”
In his written statement to the Regional DCA Director, Drury stated, “... it finally disappeared with a rapid gain of altitude.” He was also quoted as saying, “It shot out of the cloud upwards at an angle of about 45 degrees. It was travelling at an immense speed, at least five times as fast as a jet plane travelling at the speed of sound. It never slackened speed or change direction, but simply faded upward into the blue and its vapour faded after it. It was gone in a few seconds. The vapour trail was very clear cut, dense, white and billowing... In spite of the supersonic speed and the comparative nearness of the object, there was no sound whatever.” 1.
References for Tom Drury’s statements:
1. Statement by Tom Drury which appears in “Flying Saucers over Papua” by the Reverend Norman E.G. Cruttwell, Flying Saucer Review, Special Issue No.4, August, 1971, pgs 3-4
2. Statement by T. P. Drury as quoted in memorandum for Mr. J.S. Arthur, Regional Director, Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), Port Moresby, dated 31st August, 153 and examined by the author during November, 1982.
3. South Pacific Post, Port Moresby, September 2nd, 1953.
Interview with Tom Drury
I interviewed Tom Drury on March 3rd, 1982. He told me, “The thing I saw and actually filmed would have been the same as what you see going off the launching pads today. A lot of the newspapers at the time said it was, you know, a flying saucer and all sorts of garbage. It was not. You could see it quite clearly to the naked eye, but I had a turret-headed movie camera. I put the telescopic lens on it, and the shots came out beautifully . I handed that over to ASIO the very next morning, the film. ASIO then dispatched it via their headquarters. I think Kodak dealt with it, couldn’t get stills off it, because it was only pin-pointed. I think an article I read . Bill McMahon in a newspaper . gave a run down on my experience. He said I was to be congratulated as having see it, because they had eventually either through the RAAF and the United States Air Force taken black and white stills from the 8 mm colour movie of an object of unknown origin. But what it actually was, without any shadow of a doubt was a long silver cylindrical shaped pointed thing, that was completely noiseless, which staggered me. It made no noise and left a clear cut vapour trail, whoosh, going upwards, thousands of miles an hour, at an angle of about 45 degrees, I think I mentioned at the time, traveling roughly in a north westerly direction.”
Tom Drury indicated it was seen in a clear blue sky, but clarified that “it was making its own, as though it was orbiting, in a short distance, orbiting and generating its own cloud. Now whether that was sort of a thrust or atmospheric conditions, it was a very humid climate in Moresby of course, and it generated its own cloud I don’t know. The cloud was growing rapidly, the only one cloud in the sky, and it was growing much more rapidly than any of these natural clouds. I had been there for 10 years so I new a bit about it, the weather conditions up there.”
“Out of the corner of this thing, out of the corner of this cloud, up until then I hadn’t realized anything was there, just a cloud growing abnormally quickly by itself for no reason. Then out of the corner of this thing shot this silver dart. It appeared to me to be traveling at several thousand miles per hour. In those days I had seen Sabres and the like traveling very fast through the sound barrier, and I thought it was a hell of a lot faster than any Sabre that I had seen, but it was going upwards at an angle, but no noise, leaving a clear cut vapour trail behind it.”
“It moved in a dead straight line traveling towards the north west up at an angle of 45 degrees and didn’t deviate. It just disappeared .”
Tom confirmed to me that he got back a print of the film with a substantial amount of it missing. He said, “The film, in order to get the black and white stills from what I captured, the film I understand had to go through some special processing that left me bugger all of it.”
I asked Tom, “Did you ever actually see the full movie itself?”
“No, no, because it was an unprocessed movie. There was no way then of processing a colour movie film in New Guinea. It had to go to Kodak, I think in Melbourne . The story given to me by ASIO was that the intense processing that it took to get the object clear enough to determine what it was, or what sort of object it might have been, actually destroyed any possibility or likelihood of me getting that film back. They virtually had to destroy the film in chemical processing to get black and white stills from it. That’s what ASIO told me.” He also added, “Through a checkup I made not long afterwards through ASIO, I believe there was no military authority in the world at that stage making missiles, yet this thing, there is no doubt in my mind, was what you see going off the launch pad at Cape Canaveral today.”
While it was clear, contrary to Tom’s claimed ASIO briefing recollection, that there were missile tests going on at Woomera during 1953 and 1954, such as the Seaslug and Red Rapier (see appendix) these were clearly not capable of being the source of Drury’s “silver dart”, a point reinforced by the handwritten memo I sighted in DAFI files, which specifically ruled out Woomera as a source. But what of a sea born launch? No evidence to date has been found to support that idea. Land based Woomera launchings of the Seaslug missiles occurred in July, 1953. They were ultimately to be used as a ship launched missile. Pictures of the Woomera launches show a wide “fan” exhaust pattern that Paul Drury, Tom’s son who vividly recollected his observation with his father and mother, described to me during 2000. I showed him some of the missile firings pictures. The Red Rapier missiles were more “dart” like, but these were only launched from the base of Washington bombers over the Woomera site, and hardly had the range to make it over Moresby. While a “missile” looks like a possible candidate from the Drury “silver dart” no credible evidence to date has emerged to identify its origin.
Tom Drury told me in 1982, “In retrospect it looked to me as though it was a missile where something had gone wrong in it, and its planned path wasn’t being achieved. Its orbit would have been in a very tight circle to make this cloud. then it was recovered, flies back out from this cloud as though someone was remotely controlling from there. It wasn’t your general run of rat bag flying saucer story here. It was something deeper than that. I still think today it was a missile of some sort, but by christ it traveled!”
When I told Tom that I had seen in the RAAF files prints (rather negatives) apparently taken from individual frames of the film, he replied, “Well, you’ ve seen more of it than I have.” I told him I would ask DAFI to take copies for him. I did write to them on that basis and I understand Tom did eventually receive the 5 prints that remain - this, after almost 30 years!
Tom Drury also reminisced about some of the treatment he encountered in the wake of the UFO incident. For example the “Drum” column in the South Pacific Post reported that rumour had it he may have seen the flying saucer through the up turned end of an empty rum bottle. Tom demanded an apology from the paper. They said no, it was only meant as a joke, you know. When Minister of Air Bill McMahon’s statements about the incident appeared in a Sydney paper months later reporting that Tom Drury was a reliable, credible observer, an honest citizen, Tom said to the South Pacific Post would you print what Mr. McMahon said about him. They said they would. Drury also said, what about the apology. They said they would apologise in the next edition. They did. They again referred to the original slight re the rum bottle, then indicated they wished to make an outright apology to Mr. Drury, indicating they were quite sure did not see it through the up turned end of an empty rum bottle. They mentioned the rum bottle twice in the apology!
The legend of the film
The Drury UFO film became a controversial and famous mainstay of the Australian contribution to the UFO “cover-up” argument. It became all the more controversial when it was claimed that the UFO section of the film was missing and the RAAF were denying any knowledge of its whereabouts.
Late in 1982 when I was given permission to examine the Department of Aviation UFO files, I specifically requested to see any holdings on the Drury affair. DoA file 128/1/208 part 2 was created in 1982 to enable me to examine Drury documents extracted from a seperate DCA file, 99/1/478 classified SECRET, which apparently held folios about possible enemy activity in the Papua New Guinea territories. These extracts contained some copies of folios from the original DAFI file, 114/1/197 Part 1, opened on 30/10/53 and entitled “Photographs of Unexplained Aerial Object over New Guinea forwarded by T.C. Drury”. It was also originally classified SECRET and was “lost” over the years.
It seems clear that the Australian military were looking at the Drury film in the light of possible prosaic threats to security, i.e. the communist “red” peril. Within a year the high tide of McCarthyism swept over the Australian landscape in the form of the Petrov affair. Soon the hunt was on for “reds” under the bed (communists) and in the skies (the “Martians” of the 1954 UFO wave to come). It should not be underestimated the level of possible manipulation of the UFO controversy by intelligence organisations whom feared the hand of more prosaic forces than those sort by the wild eyed “saucer” enthusiasts of the day. Evidence for this will be encountered later.
Tom Drury himself indicated to me, during 1982, that he felt that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) (which is responsible for internal security in Australia, including counter espionage) was involved. I interviewed the two ASIO operatives who were in Papua New Guinea at that time. Predictably neither were terribly informative, with one of them stating only that if they had any involvement it was only as a “courier” for the film’s passage to Melbourne, the then headquarters of the Directorate of Air Force Intelligence (DAFI), RAAF, and for that matter the headquarters for DCA and ASIO. (see the earlier discussion of ASIO representative Laurie Sheedy’s recollection and that of his successor). An ASIO document dated January 15th, 1973, states “copies of the film were passed to the USAF and the RAF. Drury is said to have received back a print of the film but without any UFO shots.”
The full text of the ASIO document is as follows:
The ASIO document got a few details incorrect such as the date (should be 1953). Mrs. Drury saw the cloud and drew her husband’s attention to it, not the UFO.
Mr. Drury feels that the processing and analyses required to study his film while it was in the hands of the intelligence community may have destroyed it. It is known that the film did go to the United States for study.
The RAAF sent the Drury film to the Air Technical Intelligence Centre in Dayton, Ohio, by November, 1953. It may have been handled by a Major Jeffers and then been passed onto the Photographic Interpretation Centre (PIC), located in the Stewart Building, 5th & K streets, Washington D.C. Ted Zachary (aka Todd Zechel) claimed in a “UFO Report” article, August, 1977, entitled “The CIA has Proof that UFOs exist!”, the Drury film came under CIA scrutiny via Art Lundahl’s photographic analysis group. PIC or the Photographic Group were reportedly by then a CIA operation. It was originally staffed by personnel who had transferred from the Naval Photographic Interpretation Centre, NavPIC, Anacostia, Maryland. Art Lundahl was the director of the CIA photographic group and some of his team included Robert Neasham and Harry Woo, who had shown the Newhouse film to the Robertson Panel in January, 1953.
UFO researcher and aerospace engineer, Brad Sparks, knew Art Lundahl in the 70s and 80s. Sparks interviewed him extensively. Sparks did not ask him about the Drury film then, nor did Lundahl volunteer anything about it. Lundahl joined the CIA in April 1953 at the behest of Robert Amory Jr. (DDI). He came from the Naval Photographic Interpretation Centre (NavPIC), which had been involved in the Tremonton and Great Falls films. Sparks indicated to me that NavPIC continued to be involved with UFO photo analyses after Lundahl’s departure to the CIA. Lundahl formed a Photograhic Intelligence Branch in the Office of Research & Reports (ORR) of the CIA, however Sparks indicated that that group did not have much prominence at the time. He indicated, “It gained stature in 1955 when DDI Amory elevated the branch out of ORR into its own separate office-level Photograhic Intelligence Centre (PIC), which was evidently to gear up for the upcoming U-2 Aquatone photos. Hence it seems unlikely that in Dec 1953 - January 1954 that the Port Moresby Film would have been passed on to Lundahl at CIA for analysis. It would have been studied at the USAF Photo Reconnaissance Lab, Wright-Patterson AFB, and NavPIC, both of which studied the Tremonton and Great Falls films in 1952-53. There is a remote chance that NavPIC might have passed a copy on to Lundahl at CIA unofficially. But I gathered from my discussions with Lundahl that his growing interest in UFOs was begun in the 1950s by hearing of the Tremonton film analysis at NavPIC, though he was not involved in it, and by his later friendship with CIA missile intelligence analyst Alvin E. Moore, who was a Navy man assigned to the CIA Office of Scientific Intelligence off and on from 1949 to 1955. Moore was the first OSI officer assigned to the Flying Saucers/UFO file for the first year or two . Lt. Col. Frederick C. E. Oder was in charge of the OSI UFO files from 1953 to 1955 and he remembered that Lundahl would come over to look at the UFO files and stay till late at night. But how much of Lundahl’s personal interest in UFOs was known outside the CIA in 1953-54, so that he would be a likely official recipient of a film such as the Morseby film remains in doubt. His old colleagues at NavPIC would have known of his UFO interest but they would also have known that Lundahl still had relatively little equipment and resources at CIA in that formative period. Moreover, the Air Force and Navy would not have automatically sent film to the CIA for analysis in the 50’s due to interagency jealousy and rivalry. This changed when the (US) Defense Dept collaborated with the CIA in establishment of NPIC in 1961, so maybe it wasn’t automatic but at least NPIC was well known in the US intelligence community and the UKUSA agencies. None of the released CIA documents on UFOs mention the Port Moresby film. But then the CIA never released Lundahl’s two file drawers of UFO photos and reports either (only a couple of NPIC documents were released), nor admitted that they existed. Lundahl told me that he had an unclassified drawer of UFO photos for his “personal interest” in the subject and he had a classified drawer of “anomalous” overhead recon photos, etc.”
Edgar Jarrold - the father of Australian ufology - and the Drury film controversy
A 1955 RAAF UFO file indicates that DAFI had sold prints of the 1953 UFO pictures “at 4/9 a pop” to civilian researchers. Pioneer researcher Edgar Jarrold (founder and president of Australia’s first civilian “flying saucer” group, based in Sydney, New South Wales) and Fred Stone (an early researcher based in Adelaide, South Australia) were among those who secured copies of these prints.
Edgar Jarrold’s own publication, the Australian Flying Saucer Magazine (Australia’s first “flying saucer” magazine, stated in its February, 1955, issue that “94 prints examined reveal conclusively the existence of a shiny, disc-like object whose behaviour could by no wildest stretching of the imagination be attributed to a bird, balloon, orthodox aircraft, hallucination, piece of windblown paper, natural phenomena, or a meteor. The cloud from which the silvery object ... emerged is distinctly visible. On emerging from it at a right angle with no other clouds apparent in a clear sky, still pictures reveal vivid confirmation of Mr. Drury’s report that an object, looking at first like a tiny brilliant sun, dashed rapidly from the cloud, heading north-west. The object flashed brightly in the sun as it made an abrupt right-angle turn soon after emerging from the dark cloud, zooming straight up with no reduction in speed. Upon reaching a greater altitude, it leveled off again, with another abrupt right-angled turn (Jarrold’s emphasis - B.C.), resuming its northwest flight thereafter until out of camera range altogether.... On effecting such turns, a greater expanse of the object’s upper surface becomes visible, causing it to present a featureless, disc-like appearance, which is in sharp contrast to first glimpses showing an object somewhat blurred in focus, and shaped like a theoretically fast moving, very bright star.”
Jarrold wrote years later (April 1st, 1972) to researcher, Frank Wilkes, “...I was able to view blown up still pictures made from this film before it left Australia due to the American request and am still, I think, the only c ivilian ever to have seen them. The pictures show what could only be accepted as an extra-terrestrial object, the flight path and behaviour of which, rule out any man made object or meteor. The film was made about midday against a cloudless sky and unfortunately the object was filmed from a distance, thus providing little real knowledge of the object’s shape and composition, main importance being attached to it’s most unusual actions and behaviour.”.
It should be noted that Drury himself observed no discontinuity in the UFO’s flight path. Whether the claims of 90o turns were legitimately recorded on the film, or were due to camera movement, or were artifacts of processing, analyses or just plain extravagant interpretations based on limited or poor data, we may never know. The references to 90o turns all stem from Jarrold. No one else, who either saw the film or prints, made such claims. The limited prints I have make any analysis impossible. They are very poor in quality.
Documentation I examined in the DCA and DAFI files contradicts Jarrold’s claims to have been the only one to have seen the prints and to have seen them before the original footage was sent to the United States. A letter to Jarrold from Mr. E.W. Hicks, secretary, the Department of Air, dated December 2nd, 1953, states that “the film has been sent to the United States for technical processing, and it is therefore, not possible to accede to your request (for contact prints - B.C.) until its return, which, it is anticipated, will be early in the New Year...”
The Minister for Air, Mr. McMahon, was quoted in the press during late January, 1954, that he “had the film flown to the U.S to be enlarged.” He further stated that the object “was so small that a detailed study of the film was not possible until tecnicians had enlarged it.” (McMahon, 1954). The official files also records a letter from DAFI to Mr. Wiggins of the DCA dated 12/7/54 which states, “The “Flying Saucer” film taken by Mr. T.C. Drury, at Port Moresby in 1953 and forwarded by you on 22 Sept. is returned here with. We have subjected the film to detailed study and processing but have been unable to establish anything other than the blur of light appears to move across the film. In spite of this disappointment we would like to thank you for your co-operation in this matter.”
Thus the evidence suggests that Jarrold would have not got his prints until July, 1954. probably during a meeting he had with Air Force intelligence. Fred Stone also received copies of the same prints late in 1954 during a meeting he had with Air Force intelligence.
END OF PART 1
Source: The Australasian Ufologist Magazine Vol.5 No.1 Pgs 22-29 (Illustrated/Photos)