Sunday, January 1, 2012

Corona spy satellites and Westall - a link?

Dear readers

Happy New Year from Adelaide, South Australia!  What a start to 2012, with our maximum temperature today climbing to 41 degrees C. I'm settling down with a glass of cold Queen Adelaide wine, and reading a copy of the new book "UFOs and Aliens" (details below.)

Hot weather and a lazy day always gets my brain pondering UFO cases; strange but true. While reading a passage in this book, my thoughts turned to the 1966 Westall case (click here .)


At about 11am on 6 April 1966, something travelled through the air over the Westall High School, in the Melbourne suburb of Clayton, Victoria. It is said that military personnel, possibly RAAF, Army, USAF, and Commonwealth Police attended the scene, some in so short a time as to appear that the authorities knew about the aerial object beforehand.

Conventional explanations:

Some researchers have suggested that there is a conventional explanation for the event (e.g. click here.)

While sipping my wine, and reading "UFOs and Aliens" I thought that if you were looking for a conventional explanation, you would need to find some secret project, which was operational in 1966 over Australia; which had something known to be in the Melbourne area, and something which the USAF were involved with.

In earlier blog posts, my co-blogger, Keith Basterfield explored the possibility of a link between Westall and the USAF Australian U-2 program, Operation Crowflight (click here and here.) Ultimately, after studying previously unpublished Australian Government files, he concluded that there appeared to be no link.

So, now to that passage from "UFOs and Aliens," edited by Michael Pye and Kirsten Dalley (New Page Books. 2011. Pompton Plains, NJ. ISBN 978-1-66163-173-2.) In a chapter titled "A Cosmic Watergate: UFO Secrecy," UFOlogist Stanton T Friedman writes about the formerly secret CIA Corona spy satellite program. These American satellites were in use between June 1959 and May 1972, and certainly around in 1966 the time of the Westall event. They photographed various parts of the world and "The de-orbited film containers were snatched out of the sky and captured, usually away from populated areas (over the Pacific Ocean or the deserts of Australia, for example.)" (p.12.)
The program remained secret until 1995.

So, here came my line of thinking. A secret program, in operation in 1966; involving USAF personnel in which something came down from orbit at a known date and time, which sometimes occurred over "the deserts of Australia." Suppose something went wrong with one of these descending film containers and it veered over Melbourne?


In this scenario, the question of course, is, was there a Corona spy satellite in orbit and de-orbiting a film container at 11 am on 6 April 1966?

I located a NASA website (click here) which listed each of the Corona program satellites (the KH range). KH 7-26 (NSSDC ID 1966-022B) is shown as being launched 18 March 1966 and decaying on 23 March 1966. KH 7-27 (NSSDC ID 1966-032A) was launched 19 April 1966 and decayed 26 April 1966. Thus according to this source, there was no Corona program satellite in orbit on 6 April 1966.

However, I then located another website (click here) which also had a list of launches. Here, we find:

Mission number 1030
NSSDC Id 1966-018A
Launched 9 Mar 1966
Decayed 29 Mar 1966.

Mission number 1031
NSSDC Id 1966-029A
Launched 7 April 1966
Decayed 26 April 1966.

A check back with the NSSDC catalogue shows that these two missions were also apparently Corona program satellites. Again, though none was in orbit on 6 April 1966 (even allowing for time differences between locations on Earth.)

In conclusion:

Like the U-2 program which involved USAF personnel, the Corona spy satellite program appears to have no link to the Westall event.

For those readers now intrigued to read more on the Corona program  please take a look at the CIA History Staff, Center for the Study of Intelligence, book on Corona edited by Kevin C Ruffner (click here to read a copy.)

UFO crash lore:

Interestingly, this secret program may have contributed to "UFO crash" lore, e.g. on page 33 one reads that Corona mission 1005 was launched on 27 April 1964. On 26 May 1964 observers in Venezuela saw five burning objects in the sky. On 7 July 1964 workers found a "battered golden object" on the ground on a farm near La Fria, Tachira state. "A team of CORONA officers, ostensibly representing the USAF, flew to Caracas to recover the remains."  "...CORONA officers...quietly dismissed the event as an unimportant NASA space experiment gone awry." (p.33.)

I found a very informative website with an excellent report on the Venezuela incident (click here.)

Have any readers come across Corona related "UFO crashes?"


  1. Great work. Although these records appear to rule out a Corona satellite, it would be worth examining the "secret satellite" hypothesis further.

    The Westall event has always intrigued me due to the sheer number of credible witnesses (I trust my fellow Melbournians!) and the paranoid behaviour of the authorities after the event. The suggestion of a spy satellite is the first non-UFO explanation I've heard that potentially makes some sense.

    Many of the facts of the Westall event are consistent with some kind of spy satellite: a bizarre metal object landing and taking off, officials showing up very quickly (suggesting the object was being tracked), very secretive behaviour, evidence of US involvement and all this during the Cold War.

    Some questions I would love someone to look into:

    1. What did Corona satellites look like and how did they behave? Can any of the Westall witnesses comment on whether the object they saw was in any way similar to a Corona satellite, in terms of appearance and behaviour?

    2. Is the mysterious lack of official documentation surrounding the Westall incident consistent with other events where Corona satellites have crashed? That is, was it normal for the US and its allies to go to extreme lengths to ensure there was no record of these spy satellites?

    3. How likely is it that the records of Corona flights that we have access to are complete and accurate? (For me, the simple fact that you found two different sources that confirm different dates suggests that no one particular source is entirely complete.)

    4. Were there any other similar spy satellite programs run by the US in the 1960s?

    5. Could the object have been a Russian spy satellite that was identified and tracked by the US?

    6. What does James E McDonald's apparent involvement in the Westall incident mean? Would it have been unusual for him to look into this if it was just a spy satellite? That is, did James E McDonald know about Corona satellites, or were they too some of the "UFOs" that he had to investigate?

    One thing about Westall that I suppose might not be consistent with a spy satellite is that the witnesses are adamant that the object pulled some very strange manoeuvres.

    However, I wonder whether children in the 1960s who observed a radical type of secret satellite might have regarded its manner of flight as "otherworldly" given that it was an object they've never seen before and it presumably used very sophisticated flight technology for the 1960s. (Heck, I'm an adult in the 21st century and I have no idea how a spy satellite would behave if I saw one approaching ground level!)

  2. This anonymous author has to be kidding himself. A SPY SATELLITE?

    Since when is it at all Possible for a SATELLITE to land, and then hide in some trees, then take off in a flash.
    Totally ridiculous, anyone with even the most basic knowledge of Astronautics would understand that a satellite can only travel it's orbit. That's all, that's it, period. To even suggest anything else is absolute twaddle, and completely moronic.

  3. My thoughts exactly. The thing took off again. A film canister can do that?