A research project I conducted a little while ago, concerned Project HIBAL, which launched high altitude balloons from 1960 onwards from Mildura, and several other Australian locations. In previous posts, I provided details of the HIBAL program, and suggested these very large balloons might explain some UAP sightings from that era.
In addition, while conducting a cold case investigation of the 6 April 1966, Westall case, I began to look for a Project which involved the former Australian Department of Supply (DOS) (Westall researcher Shane Ryan was contacted by the family of a former DOS employee who maintained their father knew the solution to Westall); the American government (some Westall witnesses reported people wearing what some professionals have described as American uniforms); a light aircraft (Westall witnesses maintained several light aircraft circled the UAP); and some form of flying object, which could have come down near Westall High School. This cold case investigation brought me right back to Project HIBAL!
These very large balloons lifted a heavy payload high above the Earth. A "chase" aircraft followed each flight, and "cut down" the balloon via radio signal. The payload (weighing about 200kgs) then dropped to Earth, below a 12m diameter parachute, taking an hour to get to the ground. The balloon went on to land elsewhere. Chase vehicles with DOS personnel then retrieved the payload.
Balloons on the loose:
HIBAL flights in 1966 were launched from Mildura, and some payloads were retrieved as far away as the Eyre Peninsular in South Australia; Nowra, NSW; Canberra, ACT; and close to Melbourne (in August 1966.)
My research unearthed previously unseen Bureau of Meteorology and Department of External Affairs files, in the National Archives of Australia. I also located and interviewed five former DOS employees, who had all worked on the HIBAL program.
A working hypothesis:
As a result of my intensive research, I developed a working hypothesis. In summary, it was "Could a Project HIBAL balloon's payload and 12 metre parachute, and subsequent retrieval of the payload by a ground crew, have caused the Westall incident?"
There was a HIBAL balloon scheduled for launch on 5 April 1966, flight 292 of the series. Flights were quite often delayed by a day due to too strong winds on proposed launch dates. The Westall incident occurred on 6 April 1966.
As part of my research, I located the logbook of the pilot of the chase plane (now deceased). Strangely, there was a logbook entry for flight 291 and one for flight 293, but no entry for flight 292!
I located a National Archives of Australia file series on RecordSearch, namely MP1472/25, which was a series held by the Controller of the Section of DOS, responsible for the Department's part of the joint US Atomic Energy Commission (the American connection I was after) and DOS HIBAL program.
From the Bureau of Meteorology HIBAL files I had a DOS HIBAL program file reference, so I knew that the MP1472/25 file series held the DOS HIBAL files.
I inquired at the National Archives of Australia (NAA) about the present location of the file series MP1472/25? The recent NAA response to me informed me that the file series "...was destroyed by the controlling agency CA46 Department of Defence in 1996. There are no item lists for this series in our finding records." So, any hope of finding official information on flight 292, and where it came to ground, from DOS files, is gone.
In addition, none of the former Department of Supply employees I interviewed was able to tell me what happened to flight 292. I posed the question, could the 5 April 1966 payload have come down in Melbourne, to one of the former DOS employees, who sometimes flew in the chase plane. His response was that he wouldn't be surprised if one had!
So, unfortunately, I now have no way of testing my hypothesis that the 6 April 1966 Westall incident was caused by the landing and retrieval of the payload of HIBAL flight 292.
I must, for the sake of transparency, let blog readers know that I have provided details of my HIBAL hypothesis to key Westall researcher, Shane Ryan, who does not support the hypothesis. I have also provided details to Westall documentary film maker Rosie Jones, and she doubts that it is the answer to the Westall incident.
I welcome comments from blog readers, particularly former DOS employees or their families; or former members of the US Atomic Energy Commission HIBAL program; or indeed any of the Australian "official" Westall investigation team, which Westall witnesses report "silenced" witnesses to the event.