The Strange Mystery of the Sea Fury UFO Incident

Among the many, many UFO reports out there, some of them have truly stood the test of time and proven to be even more unexplainable than most. These are the cases that have come from very credible witnesses, with corroborating evidence to show that they are not making all of this up, and it is cases like these that truly inspire wonder and awe. One such UFO encounter happened in the skies of Australia, and has served to incite debate and discussion to this day.

On August 31, 1954, a Lieutenant J.A. “Shamus” O’Farrell was returning to Royal Australian Navy Air Station Nowra, in New South Wales, aboard his Sea Fury aircraft. It had been a routine standard night-navigation exercise at dusk, and at 7:10 PM O’Farrell contacted the air base with a routine radio communication. Up until that point everything had been going smoothly and without issue, but things were about to get very strange. Shortly after this radio contact with the base, O’Farrell allegedly saw a very bright light closing in on him fast from his 1 o’clock position. This anomalous light then crossed in front of his aircraft to take up a position on his port side, where it appeared to match his speed. He then noticed a second bright light approaching from his 9 o’clock position, which passed the plane about a mile in front of it and then returned to the position of the original light. He would later describe each object as a “vague cigar shape with the bright light situated centrally on top.” He would say of what happened:

I was just over 12,000ft. It was a fine dark night. The stars were all out with no moon, no clouds, no bad weather and good visibility. A pleasant night for night flying. I had been airborne for about two hours and was somewhere in the Goulburn region, near Canberra. When I left Nowra, the radar there was not working, but they were hoping to get it on line by the time I returned. The operators asked me to call so that they could do a check-tune on me as I came in. I was surprised when I saw two aircraft, on either side of me, each with a single bright light above it, but with no navigation lights. In fact, it was quite a shock because everything was going well. I was keeping a lookout, constantly scanning from one side of the aircraft to the other. They came from astern and I looked out to one side and thought, ‘Gee, what is that?’ I continued to look around and there, on the other side, was another one. They were in formation with me, and holding their station with me and they were about the same distance out on either side. And then I thought about it for some time to make sure I wasn’t seeing things that weren’t there. But sure enough, I could see two dark cigar-shaped objects – not very long, about the size of a Dakota – but their central bright lights made their outline quite distinct. I could see no other details, no other lights – just one bright centrally placed light over the top of each mass.


Sea Fury aircraft


The two mysterious objects would be reported as approaching and later leaving extremely fast, much faster than his own aircraft, later estimated as having been moving at 1,000 mph or more, and the shocked O’Farrell contacted Nowra to see if their radar was online yet and whether they were seeing this. After telling the base what had happened they confirmed that they had two objects on their radar that matched the position he described, after which the two lights fell into the 9 o’clock position and sped off to the northeast. The radar team would lose track of the objects after that, and at the time there was no rational explanation for what they could be. In an interview with ufologist Bill Chalker, O’Farrell would later say of the incident and his conversation with the base:

I said, “Nowra, this is 921. Do you have me on radar?” “And a few seconds later they came back and said, “Affirmative 921. We have you coming in from the west. We have another two contacts as well. Which one are you.” “I said, “I think I’m the central one.” And so they said, “Do a 180…for identification.” So I did a quick 180 and then continued on around and made it a 360 back to where I was going. “They said, “Yes, we’ve got you. You’re the centre aircraft.” I said that’s correct. They then said to me, “Who are the other two aircraft,” and I said, “I don’t know. I was hoping you would tell me, because I didn’t think there was anyone up here. They said, “Well there shouldn’t be, and they certainly shouldn’t be that close to you.”

So the conversation went on like this and I was very pleased to be talking to somebody because it gave me a lot of reassurance. With that these two aircraft came in quite close to me and I could really see the dark mass and that they were quite big, but I couldn’t make out any other lights or any other form of an aircraft. With that they took off and headed off to the north east at great speed. I was about to press the button and tell them at Nowra that the two aircraft were departing when Nowra called me up and said, “The other two aircraft appear to be departing at high speed to the north east. Is that correct?” and I said, “Yes!”. And they said, “Roger, we’ll see if we can track them.” They tracked them for a while and then lost them. I came in and landed at 7.30 (1930) and when I got there there were quite a few people waiting for me. I thought it was a bit strange and so they came over, and they said, “You sure you had aircraft out there!” and I said yes.

Upon landing, he was met by the Surgeon Commander, who would give him a full medical check-up to find nothing physically wrong with him. Although the Directorate of Naval Intelligence deemed O’Farrell to be a seasoned, well-respected pilot and “an entirely credible witness,” and despite this and the corroboration from the base radar, he would claim that the main attitude around the base was that no one completely believed it. After this, the case was quietly kept secret until it began to leak into the news in December of that year. Before long there were headlines all over the papers talking about the “Sea Fury Incident,” forcing the Royal Navy to make a statement. Incredibly, the Navy Minister would be quite forthcoming about what had happened, while stopping short of saying that these had been aliens from outer space. He would say:

It is a fact that on a night cross-country flight from Nowra on August 31, at 13,000 feet above Goulburn, a pilot in a Sea Fury observed two lights on his radar, with vague shapes underneath. The lights passed ahead of him at a very fast speed as he flew at 220 knots (just under 250mph). The pilot made contact with Nowra and advised them. It was later ascertained that the only other aircraft in the vicinity was a TAA Convair. This was passed by Naval Intelligence to RAAF Intelligence.

The news brought a great amount of unwanted attention to O’Farrell, who was afraid that this was going to ruin his career. He was approached by numerous news agencies who constantly harassed him, even as the military tried to distance itself from the whole affair and sweep it under the carpet. As this was going on he also faced a good amount of ridicule from those who didn’t believe him, including close colleagues. The other pilots thought he had lost his mind, and it all took its toll of O’Farrell, who continued to insist that he was telling the truth but just wanted to leave it behind him. He would say:

I was bit ashamed about it all. People thought that I had flipped my lid, lost control, done something silly. And it was a bit of a joke by the rest of the aircrew. People would have a few drinks and say to you, ‘Have a drink O’Farrell and tell us more about the flying saucers.’ As the years went by I became more embarrassed and I just wiped it out of my memory and never worried about it again. It has always intrigued me. It has always worried me. To this day I am as certain as I was then that I saw two objects flying in close formation with me. And I am convinced that they weren’t aeroplanes that come from the Navy, Army or the Air Force, or Civil aviation. Whatever they were, they were very fast craft and they very, very good performance. I saw no explanation, but I didn’t see any need to tell anybody else about it or talk about it.

However, he would never really be able to escape it. Over the years, O’Farrell’s case would be pursued by several UFO researchers, including Australian ufologist Bill Chalker and American UFO researcher Dr. Allen Hynek, who interviewed him and could find no rational explanation for what he had experienced. In particular, O’Farrell would remember how when he had met Hynek in 1973, the researcher had been very interested in the case, in that it was in his opinion one of the stronger cases he had come across. O’Farrell would say of this:

The interesting thing he (Hynek) said was that all of these sightings had been made by professional people in aviation. By that he meant they were military pilots, military aircrew, civil aviation operators, air traffic controllers, and the like, or airline pilots. These were the ones he was now (1973) going around meeting the people themselves and investigating. All the others he had written off and had been able to explain down to some other phenomena. It came to the point where he said, “Your sighting cannot be explained away.” And he left it at that. To this day I wouldn’t know where it came from or where it went.

Interestingly, the official files on the case would be classified for decades, and it was only after they were declassified that it would be learned that O’Farrell had not been as nuts as many had made him out to be. It would turn out that there had actually been two further independent witnesses to the event. One was an officer from the Department of Aviation who had been out repairing a navigation beacon when he had visually seen the two lights streak past shortly after the incident, and the objects had also been detected by an air traffic controller in the tower at Sydney’s Mascot Airport, who had logged in two strange fast-moving lights passing to the south of the city. Why had these reports been kept under wraps while O’Farrell was being lambasted by everyone as being a liar or a kook? Also rather odd is that the original tape of O’Farrell’s communication with the base during the incident has disappeared, as have several official files on the matter. Without those files, it is hard to say what is really going on here, but Chalker is convinced that this is a very credible account that deserves serious consideration, saying on the TV program The Extraordinary:

One has to bear in mind the credentials that come with the sighting. You have a highly qualified and experienced pilot, you have confirmation from the ground from the radar operator. You have two separate ground witnesses all confirming the presence of two unidentified aircraft of some description. And doing things that were apparently inexplicable beyond the capabilities apparent at that time.

The Sea Fury case has gone on to be considered one of the most credible unexplained UFO encounters out there, and there are many questions still lingering about it. What did O’Farrell see out there? Was this some kind of experimental aircraft or something else? Why were the other witness accounts covered up and why were the files doomed to be classified or to go missing entirely? It is hard to say that he could have possibly just been seeing things because there are other corroborating reports, such as the radar evidence and the other sightings, so what was going on here? Whatever the case may be, the Sea Fury UFO incident has managed to become a classic case that has continued to elude understanding.

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