Father William Booth Gill: An Extraordinary UFO Encounter In Papua New Guinea In 1959

Sightings of UFOs had been occurring steadily over Papua New Guinea for almost a year before Father William Booth Gill, in the company of 37 other witnesses, claimed to have experienced one of the most famous close encounters of the third kind ever reported.

Father Gill's UFO claims were backed up by a number of reliable witnesses
Father Gill's UFO claims were backed up by a number of reliable witnesses

Gill's colleagues and fellow Anglican missionaries from Australia were intrigued by the events, and one of them, the Reverend Norman E G Cruttwell, was keeping careful records and interviewing witnesses. Gill himself was skeptical, however. When his colleague Kenneth Houston told him of a sighting he made on October 18, 1958, Gill suggested he had seen the Soviet satellite, Sputnik. On April 9, 1959, Gill did not think to connect UFOs with an unusual light he saw high up on the flank of Mount Pudi near the mission station at Boianai (at the southeastern tip of Papua New Guinea), even when after 10 minutes the light reappeared on the opposite side of the mountain - a distance no human being could have traveled in so short a time. In any case, no one lived up there; the land was arid and remote.

At 1am on June 21, Gill's assistant, Stephen Gill Moi, saw an "inverted saucer" in the sky above the mission. On the twenty-sixth, he wrote a friend, the Reverend David Durie, who was a UFO buff, and signed himself "Doubting William." "I am almost convinced about the 'visitation' theory", he said, "but my simple mind still requires scientific evidence before I can accept the from-outer space theory." But before he got a chance to mail the letter, he would have a remarkable experience.

Father Gill's TV Interview About His UFO Sightings

That evening, at 6:45, he spotted a bright white light in the northwestern sky. Thirty-eight people gathered to watch a large, four-legged, disc-shaped object hover overhead. (Gill would later estimate its angular size to be comparable to that of five full moons lined up end to end.) On top of the object, four humanlike figures, their bodies surrounded by illumination, were busy at some unknown task. At various times one or all of the figures would disappear below, only to reappear soon after. At 7:30 the object was lost from view when it ascended into the gathering clouds.

About an hour later, other smaller objects arrived on the scene. Gill speculated these might be satellite craft from the original vehicle - the one he thought of as a "mother ship", which again became visible at 8:50. The UFOs remained intermittently visible until 10:50, when clouds covered the view.

The sighting had lasted over four hours. Twenty-five of the observers signed a report of the incident that Gill prepared soon afterwards.

At 6pm the next day, the twenty-seventh, a Saturday, the UFOs and their occupants returned. One was the mother ship with its four occupants; two of the smaller craft could also be seen. Gill later told Cruttwell:

"On the large one, two of the figures seemed to be doing something near the center of the deck. They were occasionally bending over and raising their arms as though adjusting or 'setting up' something. One figure seemed to be standing, looking down at us. The figure stood with his hands on a 'rail' like the rail of a ship. I stretched my arm above my head and waved. To our surprise, the figure did the same. Ananias waved both arms over his head; then the two outside figures did the same. Ananias and myself began waving our arms, and all four seemed to wave back. There seemed to be no doubt that our movements were answered. As dark was beginning to close in, I sent Eric Kodawa for a torch and directed a series of long dashes towards the UFO. After a minute or two of this, the UFO apparently acknowledged by making several wavering motions back and forth (in a sideways direction, like a pendulum). Waving by us was repeated, and this was followed by more flashes of the torch. Then the UFO began slowly to become bigger, apparently coming in our direction. It ceased after perhaps half a minute and came no further. After a further two or three minutes the figures apparently lost interest in us, for they disappeared below deck. At 6.25pm, two figures reappeared to carry on with whatever they were doing before the interruption. A blue spotlight came on for a few seconds in succession."

At 6:30, Gill went in to dinner. Half an hour later, when he checked once more, only the "mother ship" remained, but it was smaller - apparently more distant than before. He went inside to lead a church service. When it was over at 7:45, the sky had clouded over, and there were no UFOs to be seen.

The UFOs showed up for the last time the next evening, June 28, at 6:45. At one point, some eight UFOs aligned themselves across a section of the sky. At no time were occupants visible. At 11:20 Gill recorded this in his diary:

"sharp metallic and loud bang on Mission House roof, as though a piece of metal had dropped from a great height. No roll of object down roof slope afterwards. Outside, four UFOs in a circle round station. All high. 11:30pm to bed, and UFOs still there. "Monday 29/6/59. Roof examined. No apparent mark or dent, which one might expect from last night's noise."

Investigations and Theories

Reverend Cruttwell collected Gill's report and others from Anglican missionaries in Papua New Guinea into a monograph, parts of which were reprinted in England's Flying Saucer Review - the first full account ufologists would have of this extraordinary case.

Fourteen years later, in 1973, J Allen Hynek, astronomer and former consultant to the US Air Force's Project Blue Book, met with Cruttwell, and the two traveled in a small boat to Boianai. Gill was long gone from the scene - he had left in September 1959 - but they were able to find and interview six of the witnesses. Hynek said:

"One of them was Annie Laurie Borewa, the Papuan medical assistant who first alerted Father Gill about the UFOs that appeared Saturday night. Annie Laurie Borewa and the others I talked with all agreed on the direction from which the objects had come and the manner in which they came. I found no basic contradictions. Of course they were a little hazy about some things because of the passage of time. But I came away with the impression that, whatever the event was, it must have impressed the heck out of them to have remembered it as vividly as they did. There was never any question on their part that "maybe it happened, maybe it didn't happen" - it did happen. They were quite sure of that."

In 1977 Gill visited the United States and spent a few days at the Hynek residence in Evanston, Illinois. Hynek and Allan Hendry, then the chief investigator for the Center for UFO Studies, had Gill point out the positions the various objects had occupied in the sky. From this reconstruction Hynek and Hendry concluded that the "lesser UFOs' are attributable to bright stars and planets, but not the primary object," whose size and absence of movement over three hours ("any astronomical object would have had to move through 45 degrees of arc in that time") ruled out an astronomical explanation, as did the fact that the sketches the witnesses drew independently soon after the sighting all showed a large craft.

Australian ufologist Bill Chalker spoke with Gill in 1995 and subsequently wrote about the interview:

"He remains puzzled by what he saw, but he questioned my characterization of some attempts to explain the sightings as "silly." He felt that these "explanations" were serious attempts to bring understanding to the events. I think that attitude encapsulates the integrity of Gill and the reality of the affair."

After a lifetime of teaching and traveling, Reverend Gill passed away at the age of 79 on June 13, 2007.

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