Burkes Flat (Aus): The Bent Headlights case - another fire tower?

Charlie Wiser

Senior Member.
My claim is that the witness saw a decorated lookout tower or its reflection and misperceived it as a cone-shaped light display from a UFO. The witness is unreliable and possibly fabricating some details, definitely embellishing them over time. It seems plausible he misperceived something mundane, and then after learning about a fatal car crash in the vicinity and the Westall school sighting in the same state, during the same week, changed some facts to link his sighting to those events - including relocating the site of his UFO to bolster the idea that the fatal accident was caused by the driver being distracted by the same UFO he had seen.

Date: Monday April 4, 1966
Time: 8:30PM (approx)
Weather: clear, 5 hours before moonrise
Location: precise location unclear, but near Burkes Flat in rural Victoria, Australia
Witness: Ron Sullivan, steel contractor (14 employees), driving from home in Maryborough, to Wycheproof, via St Arnaud, a trip due north he made twice a week

Sighting:
From contemporaneous accounts and his statement below: Sullivan's headlight beams "bent" to the right for 2 seconds as if magnetically, he swerved left to compensate and braked, then noticed strange lights in a field to his right: he thought at first it was the back light of a tractor. Passing the field slowly, he saw a column of coloured gaseous lights about 25ft (7.5m) high and shaped like an ice cream cone, 3 feet wide at the bottom and 10 feet wide at the top. Lights appeared to be moving rapidly through 2”-3” diam. tubes in the column. In 2014 he described it as "a white milky shape that was contained in its own casing" with the light casting no shadows. The column then rose up silently at tremendous speed (or he simply lost sight of it, or it vanished, in other versions). The sighting lasted 4 to 5 seconds to 25 seconds (in other versions).

Two weeks later, a few days after newspaper reports had already been written, he wrote a letter to VFSRS:

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Dear sir, in reply to your letter 14th [-] I will give a brief outline of what happened during my weird experience of coloured lights. In the past I have always treated the reports of flying saucers with deception but now I am convinced something is taking place or going on.

Approx 8AM[PM] April 4th, whilst driving to St Arnaud near Burkes Flat 35 miles from Maryborough the headlights on my new Falcon car bent to the right hand side of the road which at the same time coloured gaseous lights as though in 2” to 3” diameter tubes were going into a bright phosphorus-looking [-] on the ground. The lights were stretching upwards all the time until they disappeared after [---ing ] out the white phosphorus looking light on the ground. The period was 4 to 5 minutes seconds approx. which at the same time I was trying to stop on the road and slow down the car from shocked nerves of my [-].

I reported it to the police and the local newspaper on the 6th but not to mention my name to the public. The area was checked and a depression approx 4’ diameter 6” deep was in the ploughed and furrowed paddock.

A fatal accident occurred at the exact same spot on the night of the 7th which police cannot explain what happened other than the man falling asleep...

Note [on diagram]: I cannot say if there was an object on the top of the coloured lights as everything happened so quickly and it would have been out of my line of vision for the roof of the car.

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Sullivan's letter to VFSRS, Apr 18, 1966

NOTE: There is no evidence he reported it to the paper on the 6th. He claims he told his wife on the 5th, decided to tell no one else, and only called his reporter friend - on the 8th - after hearing about Westall and the fatal crash.

External Quote:
McDonald: Did the police get out there that night with you, or was it the next day?

Sullivan: No, no, it was about – it was later on.

Did you report to them that night or the next night?

Nah, it was two [four] days [later that] the police got out there because I came back and I told the wife and I didn't want to tell anyone and be subject to ridicule.
Source: Interview with James MacDonald, 1967 [timestamped] It was actually four days later [8th] that he and a reporter went out there (I have not seen reports that the police did, although of course they'd attended the accident on 7th).

UFO and crash location:
The contemporaneous newspaper article reports the fatal crash as "9 miles" (14km) east of Bealiba on St Arnaud-Dunolly Rd, as indicated in the map. Bealiba police attended the accident.
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Sullivan's descriptions of his UFO sighting, which were supposed to be the same location as the crash to within one gum tree, do not match this location.

Sullivan took this trip twice a week for work. Today the fastest route the one on the west, and it's the one he named to James MacDonald (visiting Australia in 1967): "St Arnaud Rd [corrects himself] Maryborough-St Arnaud Rd". This does not go via the crash site or via Burkes Flat. The east-most route (not marked) is via Burkes Flat. The central route is the only one that goes via the crash site.

In 2014 he names the road as Wimmera Hwy, and 14km from Moliagul which implies the east route and is nowhere near Maryborough-St Arnaud Rd. Going 14km north on the highway from Moliagul does bring us to Burkes Flat. The Age at the time reported the crash as being on Bendigo-St Arnaud Rd ("near Burkes Flat"), which is another name for the Wimmera Hwy, but I'm inclined to trust the local paper rather than the Melbourne paper or the UFO witness. Maybe Sullivan was indeed driving the Wimmera Hwy when he saw his UFO, but that's not where the crash occurred.

The local paper reports the accident as being on the Dunolly-St. Arnaud Road.

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...Mr. R. F. Sullivan, was driving along a straight stretch of sealed roadway on the Dunolly-St. Arnaud Road near Burkes Flat when the headlight beams moved to the right and illuminated the fence...
Source: Maryborough Advertiser, Jun 13, 1966, p. 5

This does match the reported crash site because the reporter Hunter (who wrote the above article) was specifically taking him to the crash site! - which Sullivan then declared was the UFO site. See more below.

Date of UFO sighting:
Sullivan tells MacDonald in 1967 that his sighting was Thursday April 7th, 1966 (Easter Thursday), same date as the fatal crash. All other reports say April 4th. Put a pin in that.

Timeline:
Sullivan's sighting was supposedly Monday April 4 and he claims he told his wife when he returned home on Tuesday. (There is no statement on record from the wife to verify he told her at the time.)

He heard about Westall on Wednesday.

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And on the Wednesday I heard on the news about a schoolyard of children and teachers witnessing an identified flying object landing in a reserve next to the school at Westall.
Source: The Burkes Flat UFO Incident, VufoA-Tv, 2014 [timestamped]

The fatal crash was 11PM on Thursday, so he'd not have heard about it until Friday. He says his wife commented that it was in the same area as his sighting: Burkes Flat. I think this is why he places himself on the road through Burkes Flat, and why the case is called "Burkes Flat" - but the crash wasn't in Burkes Flat and therefore (according to Sullivan's logic) neither was his UFO sighting.

Same day, he called his reporter friend Hugh Hunter and they drove the Dunolly-St. Arnaud Road, which Hunter knew from the police was where the crash happened. So while it was spun as them driving to the UFO site and realizing it was the crash site, it's more likely to have been the other way around: they found the damaged gum tree and Sullivan declared to be the very same tree he almost hit in the dark during his UFO sighting, even though it wasn't in Burkes Flat or on either of the roads he's since claimed he was driving on. Compare these two accounts to see how it was spun at the time:

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Mr. Sullivan had said the spot was roughly about a mile from a brick home and dam. One stop was made prior to reaching the correct one, but he soon said he was not in the area where his lights had moved. The drive then continued until Mr. Sullivan passed a brick home with a dam beside it. He continued for about a mile and then said he was at the spot.

After parking the car Messrs. Sullivan and Hunter decided to enter the paddock to see if there were any marks where he had seen the coloured lights on the previous Monday night.

It was only then that it was found that the car was parked 20 feet from a tree against which a car had crashed.
Source: Maryborough Advertiser, Jun 13, 1966, p. 5

External Quote:
I rang Hugh [Hunter] up and I said to him, “Have you had any feedback or any news on that accident, Burkes Flat?" He said, “Not much, I don’t know it's worth reporting.” ...I said, "Something strange happened to me that night when I was there." He said “Leave it with me..."

...After he’d been in contact with Bealiba police, he come back to me, he said, “Yes we can come up and have a look, if you like. Do you know where it was?”

“A pretty good idea,” I said, “it'll be about 14km out of Moliagul."

...We found the crash site quite easy because the tree was all scarred, the car had ripped the foot of the tree, following the car had been towed away previously. And we looked around and I said “Well, this is the spot all right,” and we looked across the road, over the fence, and I said to Hugh, “Let's take a walk over and see if it's anything over there.”
Source: The Burkes Flat UFO Incident, VufoA-Tv, 2014

Given the alleged link to the crash, Sullivan then reported his sighting to the police and it ended up in the papers the next week.

In 2014 a plaque was placed on some tree on Wimmera Hwy commemorating the sighting (4 lines of text) and the dead teenager (2 lines).

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Discrepancies:
Sullivan changed and exaggerated his story over the years, specifically the duration of the sighting, the size of the depression in the field and its distance from the fence, and how the UFO departed (either vanished or took off at great speed).

The behavior of the UFO cone of light has been embellished over the years and in 2014 looks like this. It may in fact be fairly accurate and could give clues as to what he actually saw. The cone closing up was not part of his original story, he just said the object rose, but even if he did see this, it could simply have been something gradually obscuring the object/reflection as he drove (he was moving the entire time of the sighting, initially fast, then slowing right down over a period of 4-5 seconds - or 25 seconds in later retellings).

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Sullivan's 2014 whiteboard drawing for the VuFoA documentary [timestamped] where he retold the story and showed how the cone closed up before departing.

Physical evidence:
(1) When he returned to the spot on Friday April 8 with Hunter, they found a depression in the field 3 to 4 feet wide, a few inches deep, a few dozen yards from the road. This became 10 feet wide in later retellings but the photo says otherwise. It's possible his guesstimate of the size of the column (3 feet diam at the base) simply comes from the depression they found, since distance and size would have been impossible to judge in the dark. (I wrote to a couple of Australian nature and bird clubs and got replies about Malleefowl, hare, kangaroos and wallabies making scrapes similar to this.)

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The somewhat unremarkable depression in the ground, Melbourne Sun, Apr 12,1966

(2) The fatal car crash 3 days after his sighting, Thurs Apr 7 at 11PM, involved 19-year-old Gary Turner who hit the aforementioned tree. The UFO story first appeared in the press on Apr 12, with these two stories from the Age (reputable) and Sun (not so much) taking opposite approaches in linking the crash to the sighting:

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Why did Turner crash? He'd had 4 or 5 beers through the afternoon, and was used to an early start [from The Burkes Flat UFO Incident, VufoA-Tv, 2014, timestamped] so 11PM was late for him and it seems more likely he fell asleep at the wheel. He was inexperienced. Maybe he swerved to avoid a kangaroo. The Sun in the above article as a header: "They call it the death strip" i.e. renowned for accidents.

(3) Headlights can't "bend" so theories about magnetic pull from the UFO have been suggested. It's more likely Sullivan took a curve in the road badly or was drifting right, so he swerved left to compensate, giving him the impression his headlights bent.

Was it a fire tower?
Turner's friend, following a mile behind in his car, after catching up to the crash ran to the nearest farmhouse where 15-year-old Peter Vanrenen lived. In the 2014 documentary by VufoA-TV [timestamped], Peter is interviewed and the conversation turns to UFOs more generally:

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My sister coming home from Melbourne about the same time [early 70s], she saw [a UFO] at Maldon and I'm pretty sure that's the fire watchtower in Maldon which looks like a [unintelligible].
Since 1926 the Mt Tarrengower lookout tower near the country town of Maldon (lower right on map above) has been lit up through Easter (from Easter Thursday) for the Maldon Easter Fair and parade. It's a 20m tall steel tower with platforms, elevation 569m (400m higher than Burkes Flat). The Easter lights can be seen for about 50km. Burkes Flat is 60km away, but the region of the crash is 40-50km away.

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Sullivan reported seeing an ice cream cone shape (small base, wide top). If what he saw was the tower, he either remembered it wrong (he does call it an "inverted ice cream cone" in later retellings) or he was seeing an inverted reflection. The rest of his description matches the tower lit up for Easter: narrow columns of wavering lights where the lights are wound around the tower's frame, and a lit top and base to the cone (the tower's platforms). He saw the lights on his right - on any of the routes he may have been taking, the tower was on his right and behind him for that drive. At times it's directly to his right.

I think it's a huge coincidence that his description matches the location and appearance of the tower's Easter lights - but I can't account for a few things:

1. Sullivan was from Maryborough and likely knew about the Easter lighting of the tower in Maldon (35km away). However, another local (sister of Peter, above) apparently still confused it for a UFO. Perhaps Sullivan had just never seen the lights from that distance and angle before - or as an upside-down wavering reflection. It's also possible he later realized what he'd seen but couldn't back down without feeling like a fool. This explains why his description got more exaggerated over the years, to distance it from the tower.

2. Sullivan's sighting was 3 days before the tower was lit for the year. If his date is right, perhaps the tower had a "practice run" to check the lights before the big day. I asked the mayor of Maldon about this but he only gave me a history of the family that's been in charge of this for decades - I haven't managed to contact them to get an answer to that specific question: whether or not they did a trial run in the 60s. However, as above, there's evidence the sighting was actually on Easter Thursday. Why Sullivan changed the date is unknown and the only reasons I can think of are nefarious (that he actually witnessed the crash and felt somehow responsible).

3. If he saw an ice cream cone shape, it must have been an upside-down reflection. I don't know how that could happen. It may have been a reflection in his wing mirror, rear view mirror, windscreen, or on the dashboard itself, which made it appear to be in the adjacent field. Whatever he saw, it was very briefly and not very clear.
This was his car - a new XP Falcon Futura, no wing mirrors (at least not yet, in this photo) but I've found photos that do have them, so they were optional extras. I haven't found an interior shot showing the dash, in case there's some structural thing that could invert a reflection.

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There are lots more details to this case (including a mysterious phone call from someone who claimed to have seen the lights and heard the crash - was this Sullivan?) but I wanted to see if anyone has any suggestions about what he saw and if a mangled reflection of the lookout tower is a possibility.
 
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From contemporaneous accounts and his statement below: Sullivan's headlight beams "bent" to the right for 2 seconds as if magnetically, he swerved left to compensate and braked, then noticed strange lights in a field to his right:
This is the aspect that has always intrigued me. If the light from the headlights were 'bent' by some mysterious light-bending effect, then the light reflected by the road coming back towards the observer would be bent as well, so the headlight beam would appear straight. Light always follows a 'geodesic' path, so it can't be bent in one direction and not the other.

However, there is the interesting fact that this same location was the site of a different accident, so it is possible that something else was happening. I suspect that the surface of the road had an unusual 'adverse camber', and the light from the headlights was distorted by the tilted or lumpy surface of the road. An unexpected change in the angle of the road surface could easily make the headlight beam look weird and twisted. This 'adverse camber' might even have been the cause of the earlier accident.
 
In my experience if there's something even close then it's incredibly likely the rest of of the story / details are either misremembered or made up.

The really odd thing is how often they don't just make it up wholesale, like there was a video on reddit the other day, it was clearly a plane, the poster provided date/time and approximate location I asked for location (but I was able to work out where it most likely was from the description) and the precise location and direction was given, which confirmed my earlier assumption and thus the debunk.

There was a matching plane same direction at the same time, lights matched the configuration for the aircraft.

In the meantime OP was claiming all sorts of things, like it doing figure 8's and zooming around (all of course which were for some reason not on the recording.)

I checked OP's history and they were clearly a bored kid (previous posts about there being nothing to do in the NY area and using fake IDs)

If they'd just given a fake location/time then the debunk would have just not been possible, I mean it still would have looked like a plane.

Maybe something in the human psyche has to have something 'real' to embellish, to sell themselves the story?
 
The weather conditions would be important to determine if there was visibility across that distance, and whether it could possibly have been a mirage.
 
In my experience if there's something even close then it's incredibly likely the rest of of the story / details are either misremembered or made up.
Agreed, in which case it may be that needing to invert the tower to make it look like an ice cream cone may notbe necessary -- that may have happened in memory rather then in the physics of reflections and such.
The weather conditions would be important to determine if there was visibility across that distance, and whether it could possibly have been a mirage.
Interesting thought. It looks in the pictures:
like the tower would have been to high to get caught up in a fata morgana sort of thing unless I'm misreadng the geometry, but the tower reflecting off of an inferior mirage (item appears reflected below it's actual location -- specified because I struggle to remember which is superior and which inferior!) might be possible.

"Passing the field slowly, he saw a column of coloured gaseous lights about 25ft (7.5m) high and shaped like an ice cream cone, 3 feet wide at the bottom and 10 feet wide at the top. Lights appeared to be moving rapidly through 2”-3” diam. tubes in the column" could be an attempt to describe the shimmery effect common in mirages. (As in this video: https://www.sciencephoto.com/media/782279/view/heat-mirage-on-a-road)
 
Was the tower illuminated by a searchlight for some reason? That would make it appear taller and more visible at a distance, as well as creating a conic effect.

Perhaps they were adjusting the light display prior to activating it for the Easter festival, and illuminating the work site with some sort of powerful lamp array.
 
like the tower would have been to high to get caught up in a fata morgana sort of thing unless I'm misreadng the geometry, but the tower reflecting off of an inferior mirage (item appears reflected below it's actual location -- specified because I struggle to remember which is superior and which inferior!) might be possible.

"Passing the field slowly, he saw a column of coloured gaseous lights about 25ft (7.5m) high and shaped like an ice cream cone, 3 feet wide at the bottom and 10 feet wide at the top. Lights appeared to be moving rapidly through 2”-3” diam. tubes in the column" could be an attempt to describe the shimmery effect common in mirages. (As in this video: https://www.sciencephoto.com/media/782279/view/heat-mirage-on-a-road)

The tower is at 556m elevation, while Burkes Flat and the surrounding towns are at around 210m. (Source: Bonzle) From that site, this shows the view from the tower in 2008 (but looking east, whereas a view to the west/northwest would be the crash/UFO direction).

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I can't find historical weather info going back that far for that specific area. The local paper for that day would be a better source. Sullivan says it was a clear night.

In my experience if there's something even close then it's incredibly likely the rest of of the story / details are either misremembered or made up.

Given how much disagreement there is over even basic facts in this story, such as both the site of the crash and the site of the UFO, I do think a lot of data is plain wrong. This makes it harder to debunk because any plausible solution will not fit all the facts.

At Easter this year I intended to replicate the drive as it's in my state, to see what the lit tower looks like from various distances and locations... but I completely forgot! Maybe next year.
 
Regarding the date of Sullivan's sighting and the evidence it was actually Thursday (the night of the crash), i.e. Easter Thursday, the first night the tower is lit for Easter, he "slips up" twice when talking to MacDonald a year later. Remember, he didn't tell anyone but (allegedly) his wife until the Friday.

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLlYBzue1O4


[0:00]
External Quote:
McD: Do you recall the date of that, offhand?
Sullivan: The 7th of April, ’66.
April 7, 1966. About what time was it?
About 8:30.
Then later, while answering questions about his headlights (MacDonald has to prompt him to explain there must've been dust on the road in order to see the beams), out of the blue he says he went out there the next day and then mentions the crash. He did go out there on Friday but that was four days later, if his sighting was Monday. [5:12]

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MacDonald: And they [headlights] sealed into the structure of the car?
Sullivan: That’s right, yeah, they’re not moveable at all. And another amazing thing, we went out there with the police the next day. A chap got killed there just afterwards, you know.
Yes, I know that.
We went out with the police, the sergeant from Maryborough and the senior constable, and the sergeant from Bealiba police, we went out there and we investigated this crater that was in the ground and we’ve got photographs of it, and we just can’t make it out.
Note that the local reporter, a friend of his, who went out there with him on Friday did not report the police being with them or being present
when they arrived. According to the reporter (though I don't believe it), they only realized they were at the crash site after Sullivan verified it was the site of his UFO. (This contradicts his 2014 recollection anyway, where they found debris from the crash and then went looking for evidence of the UFO.)
 
I hesitate to put forward the following theory since Sullivan is now dead and can't defend himself, but I am attempting to explain the evidence which points to his sighting being on Easter Thursday (i.e. it was the tower), the same night as the fatal crash. The crash was 11PM, presumably an accurate timestamp since the friend following the crashed car went to get help and the police were called. Sullivan says he saw the lights at 8:30PM, which can't be verified.

So then we have to ask: why did Sullivan change the date of his sighting to Monday?

If it's because he realized it was the tower and didn't want to admit he was fooled, I can understand that - but his first report of the sighting to his friend at the local paper (when he still thought it was mysterious) was that it happened on Monday. It makes no sense he'd change the date before realizing what the UFO was.

What if he changed the date to distance himself from the crash because he felt responsible for it?

When Australian researcher Bill Chalker interviewed Sullivan in 1984, he added the detail of a car following behind him. Ellipses are in original interview. Source: THE "BENT HEAD-LIGHT BEAMS" CASE REVISITED, Bill Chalker, UFORA newsletter, Vol5 no3, May-Jun 1984
External Quote:
I was driving on a straight stretch of road... near Burkes Flat. I noticed there was another vehicle behind me... I never took any notice (of it). Then, all of a sudden, in front of me, about 200 yards (away), I noticed a light on the ground in a paddock. [Describes the lights]
CHALKER: Did you slow down to look?
I slowed down... I didn't stop, but I slowed down to about 5 mph and, of course, at the time, I never thought about that other car behind me and I looked behind, I couldn't see a thing. I put my head out (the driver's window) and around. I said, what in bloody hell was that? I kept on going and thought, and thought after a little while, it's something wrong with me, but I was convinced there was nothing wrong. There was no hallucination. I've never had hallucinations anyway...
He returned home the next day (Tuesday, if this happened on Monday). Curiously, he makes no mention of driving past the same spot on his way home. Why not? Why didn't he attempt to find the same paddock to see if there was anything there, either evidence of a UFO or something mundane that might explain his sighting? Even if he didn't succeed, I would think it'd be on his mind and he'd mention driving past the same spot on the way home.

Continuing the interview:

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Anyway, I got back home [Tue]... I told my wife. She sympathised with me. We heard on the news, the day after, a chap got killed there. I said, "gee, Burkes Flat... " Anyway, I said I better do something about this, so I went up to the police station in Maryborough... I reported it to the police. Of course, the police knew me. No way did they indicate, you know, that I was "letting off''.
They would not have heard about the late-Thursday-night crash until Friday - not Wednesday. In MacDonald's 1967 interview only a year after the incident he also compresses the timeline from four days down to two:

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MacDonald: Did you report to them [police] that night or the next night?
Sullivan: Nah, it was two days after [that] the police got out there, because I came back and I told the wife and I didn't want to tell anyone and be subject to ridicule.
Source: Interview with James MacDonald, 1967 [8:34 in the video above]

In the Chalker interview he "couldn't sleep ... it was impossible to sleep" that night in the motel. He tells MacDonald "I wasn't frightened till about two or three hours afterwards."

James Kibel (the Balwyn Bell photographer) mentions the case in an audio letter to James MacDonald. He gets the timeline wrong (he says the sighting was two days after the crash) but does mention a phone call received by his friend Peter Norris from Victoria Flying Saucer Research Society.
Source: CD11 T08S101 7inch Reel Gary Taylor's death and Ronald Sullivan's Sighting of April 4, 1966.

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I think I did send you a copy of the report taken from the Sun newspaper about the boy that was killed in his new car north of Melbourne... It was a queer thing, that a few days after this report hit the newspapers, Peter Norris was rung up by a person from Bendigo, which is a country town near where this accident occurred, and indicated that he was following Gary Taylor’s car the night it crashed. He was some quarter of a mile behind Taylor’s car and he saw these strange lights in the field, and he was so frightened that he turned off a side road which also led him home, but was a little further, and while driving up this side road heard a thunderous crash which at that stage he didn’t realize was Gary Taylor’s car. Peter Norris asked this person, who sounded rather agitated, to get in touch with him or the Bendigo newspaper or the police, however nothing further came out of it and it could have been a hoax. Still, as Peter said, this person whoever it was sounded extremely upset and very concerned, and it didn’t sound like a deliberate ruse.
There was a car following Taylor's car but it was his friend Lawrence (interviewed in 2014) a mile behind, who did not see any strange lights. He reported seeing the taillights of Taylor's car on and off through the trees while following him, and there was no car between the two friends' cars. The friend did not see Taylor swerve or hear anything, but came upon the crash scene when he caught up.

So let's look at all this in view of the theory that Sullivan's sighting was Easter Thursday (the night the tower is lit), and was at the site of the crash, and that he slowed down to watch the lights - causing Taylor to swerve and crash behind him:
  • Having decided not to report the crash in case he caused it by slamming on his brakes, taking his speed from 60 to 5mph in seconds, he would feel immensely guilty and have a sleepless night.
  • On his drive home on Friday he would intentionally take a different route, so as not to pass the scene of the crash.
  • After returning home and hearing last night's crash was fatal, guilt might drive him to tell his wife, the reporter, and the police, that he'd seen lights out there, suggesting maybe the unfortunate driver did too - but changing the date to his previous out-of-town trip on Monday.
  • Guilt might also make him call the VFSRS to report he'd been following the car that crashed and seen the same lights, to bolster the idea that the UFO caused the crash. Maybe Sullivan really did turn off on a side street to mentally distance himself from the crash. Note this call was "a few days after" the story hit the press, which was Apr 12. Sullivan wrote his letter about the sighting to VFSRS on Apr 18.
  • Because his sighting and the crash actually happened on the same night, they are closely linked in his mind so he slips up sometimes when retelling the story, compressing the timeline, and even giving MacDonald the wrong (i.e. the correct) date.
  • After 18 years, he's sufficiently distanced himself from the guilt to be able to add back into his story the car following him.
 
I think your theory would make great fiction, but it rests on very unreliable evidence that you have to cherry-pick to make everything work, making it feel contrived.
 
I think your theory would make great fiction, but it rests on very unreliable evidence that you have to cherry-pick to make everything work, making it feel contrived.
I think what it relies on is the sighting being the tower... but the tower wasn't lit on Monday, only from Thursday. So if I accept he saw the tower, it has to be Thursday which means he needs a reason to lie and move his sighting to Monday. But yes, it's all speculation from there, based on his own "mis-speaking" and contradictions, which are part of any UFO tale whether or not the witness is covering something up.
 
So if I accept he saw the tower, it has to be Thursday which means he needs a reason to lie and move his sighting to Monday.
It would seem simpler just not to tell the story at all, if trying to avoid being connected with the crash.

Also, offered for consideration, would it be possible that he changed the date because he figured out it was the tower and moved the sighting to a night when the lights would not be on, rather than in response to the crash and worries that he might have caused it or be suspected of causing it?


but the tower wasn't lit on Monday, only from Thursday.
Unless, as you mentioned, they switched them on in a test run. Which seems a reasonable thing to do, even if only for a moment, just to make sure none of the bulbs were burned out. Which would account for it vanishing -- would only have to turn it on for a minute or two to verify the lights were all working.

And yeah, I'm diving into the speculation pool here, I know. But with a case like this, with only witness testimony and no hard evidence to look at, that is probably unavoidable.
 
I think what it relies on is the sighting being the tower...
...and that is unreliable, too, because the description doesn't match, the distance doesn't match at all, and he might well have seen something we simply don't know about.

Mind you, I'm not saying it's impossible. But it doesn't feel likely to me at this point, either.
 
we could also add a story of him having an affaire or that he witness an affaire with the local sherif involved and the husband found out and crashed intentionally because he couldnt handle that his wife cheated, so both made up a story yadayadayada

or "and therefore its very likely that mick west is paid by the majestic 12 to create sitrec, which secretly has a trojan embedded, and when kirkpatrick demonstrates it, everyone will download it to proof that kirkpatrick and west are lying and then the reptilian overlords can take over all computers and create reptilian gpt23x hybrid babies and rule the universe"

im sorry but this is exactly how ufo lore stories are created. we assume this, we assume that, all of a sudden we have a full picture that seems extremely likely to us...

but in reality has no real evidence to stand on

the tower needs to be upside down and at a different position to fit and the date needs to be different to fit, we also need an explanation for flickering / moving lights and more colors...

sometimes we just cant come up with a compelling explanation and thats fine. its better to conclude we are stuck than performing mental gymnastics to make something fit a narrative (why could you see through the black triangle craft from
the phoenix lights incident? because of advanced quantum cloaking. ok, and why didnt they also cloak the lights? thats intentional to make people think it might be flares and spread disinformation to hide the truth.)

edit: spelling
 
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im sorry but this is exactly how ufo lore stories are created. we assume this, we assume that, all of a sudden we have a full picture that seems extremely likely to us...

but in reality has no real evidence to stand on
In stories like this, there is little to no real evidence at all. The options that we then have are "just don't discuss these sorts of cases" or "brainstorm them a bit and see if it goes anywhere." The brainstorming bit would include, unavoidably, some speculation and trying different theories out to see if they fit well or not. That MIGHT lead to a reasonable explanation, or it might not. In the latter case, as you say, it's OK if we don't find the answer. Since there is no real evidence of anything at all, it is unlikely we or anybody else will find an explanation that can be proven.

I'd be OK with a decision not to try to find the debunk for these cases. I'm also OK with trying and seeing what comes up: sometimes things do.

And I'm VERY OK with reminders like yours, not to buy too deeply into hypotheses that are under discussion.

(And I also know that what I am OK with is not going to be the deciding factor for what anybody else thinks is OK! ^_^)
 
@JMartJr well of course we always have to make some assumptions of some sort but if our hypothesis looks like "unlikely+unlikely+unlikely" then we better stop early going down that route in a serious manner.

lets take the tictac case. if its just "tic tac was probably a balloon and parallax" then thats ok, its still reasonably realistic. but if if would be "misinterpreted f18 + wrong distance estimate + errors im handling the radar etc" then it becomes absurd really fast.
 
It would seem simpler just not to tell the story at all, if trying to avoid being connected with the crash.

Also, offered for consideration, would it be possible that he changed the date because he figured out it was the tower and moved the sighting to a night when the lights would not be on, rather than in response to the crash and worries that he might have caused it or be suspected of causing it?

But if he'd figured out what it was before telling anyone about it (including the date), he wouldn't have told anyone about it. (Or his story would be: I saw a UFO but realized it was just the tower.)

Guilt can make people do weird things. Perpetrators do return to the scene of the crime (psychologically and physically in this case, if my theory holds water).

Unless, as you mentioned, they switched them on in a test run. Which seems a reasonable thing to do, even if only for a moment, just to make sure none of the bulbs were burned out. Which would account for it vanishing -- would only have to turn it on for a minute or two to verify the lights were all working.

Yes, and I really wish I could get an answer on that.

Him adding the car following him is the part that stands out to me. A car following close enough that he was aware of it would have caught up to him if he essentially stopped (5mph) to look at the UFO but he doesn't mention that.
 
...and that is unreliable, too, because the description doesn't match, the distance doesn't match at all, and he might well have seen something we simply don't know about.

I would suggest that any "debunk" of any sighting doesn't matches the witness description. Otherwise the witness would have debunked it on the spot. UFOs are usually created by misperception and misremembering.
 
I would suggest that any "debunk" of any sighting doesn't matches the witness description. Otherwise the witness would have debunked it on the spot. UFOs are usually created by misperception and misremembering.
Yeah, that's not true. Take for example the "racetrack"UFO sightings that turned out to be Starlink. The descriptions are correct except for the part where the observed motion is interpreted incorrectly. The "floating jellyfish" was based on an actual video, as was GIMBAL, but people were unable to interpret it correctly.
Misperception only plays a role in these insofar as the observations are interpreted incorrectly. But a debunk can provide the correct interpretation [or at least a sensible one] in these cases.

Of course, witness descriptions often do deviate from what they saw, because their wrong interpretation colors their memory. The Ariel school would be a good example.
 
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Turner's friend, following a mile behind in his car, after catching up to the crash ran to the nearest farmhouse where 15-year-old Peter Vanrenen lived. In the 2014 documentary by VufoA-TV [timestamped], Peter is interviewed and the conversation turns to UFOs more generally:

My sister coming home from Melbourne about the same time [early 70s], she saw [a UFO] at Maldon and I'm pretty sure that's the fire watchtower in Maldon which looks like a [unintelligible]. Content from External Source Since 1926 the Mt Tarrengower lookout tower near the country town of Maldon (lower right on map above) has been lit up through Easter (from Easter Thursday) for the Maldon Easter Fair and parade. It's a 20m tall steel tower with platforms, elevation 569m (400m higher than Burkes Flat). The Easter lights can be seen for about 50km. Burkes Flat is 60km away, but the region of the crash is 40-50km away.
Do you know which road they are beside in that video when they revisited the site? I had a quick look at Google Street View and it could be close to the spot you marked as the crash site, on the Dunolly-Moliagul road just before the turnoff towards St Arnaud. But I didn't find the exact spot.
 
Do you know which road they are beside in that video when they revisited the site? I had a quick look at Google Street View and it could be close to the spot you marked as the crash site, on the Dunolly-Moliagul road just before the turnoff towards St Arnaud. But I didn't find the exact spot.

They supposedly placed a plaque on a tree at the spot - which they say is Wimmera Hwy, which comes off the Dunolly-Moliagul Road so I think that's what you mean (it's Wimmera Hwy by the time you reach the turnoff for St Arnaud, but it's Dunolly-Moliagul Road before you reach Moligaul). The interviewer says it's opposite the sign "263" but the junction there, at Logan, is for C273 (though C273 does become C263 - if 263 is a more major road, maybe that's why the sign says 263 and not 273). I drove through Burkes Flat on Google maps and couldn't see any sign for 263.

None of this matches the reported location of the crash, which was the St Arnaud-Dunolly Rd south of Moliagul.
 
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