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It was the strangest of times in our sky

by Marianne Gillingham
Thursday, 2 August, 2007

Some people are embarrassed to report sightings of things that flash or glow in the night but the establishment of the UFOcus group in New Zealand has one Gisborne woman recalling an episode a quarter-century ago that she will never forget.

Beverlea Parsons was a nurse in her late 20s when Gisborne was the centre of a high-profile wave of UFO sightings centred around the Waimata Valley.

Mrs Parsons was one of many people who experienced what was known as the Gisborne UFO "flap".

At the time, The Gisborne Herald received more than 200 reports of sightings of objects in the sky, of lit-up hillsides and valleys, and flashing lights.

Reports ranged from personal accounts of encounters with fast-moving objects and lights in the night sky, by a wide cross-section of the Gisborne community, to associated rumours of the "little green men" variety.

But there was little doubt that some of the many Gisborne people who spoke to The Herald over those months had strange and often frightening experiences.

In January 1978, a large patch of seared grass appeared on a hillside, where two farm workers had earlier reported sightings of weird lights.

Sightings continued from about 1977 until the end of 1979, by which time residents in the Waimata area were being kept awake by the noise of traffic generated by sightseers.

One of them was Mrs Parsons, who says the sightings were so common at one stage that patients could see them from the maternity hospital in back Ormond Rd and other parts of the hospital.

She and a few friends would beat a regular track to the Waimata Valley at night, for a spot of UFO watching.

The whole episode was somehow addictively compelling, and she and her friends were never afraid.

They had numerous sightings of strange "lights".

On one occasion, something flew over the car they were in, across the road and up the side of the hill.

These episodes remain vivid with her still.

"It has always been there — it does not go away. I am 56 now and should get on with life, but I will never get those things out of my memory."

Some of their experiences were so close that they felt a similar feeling to that of being almost sucked in by a truck passing by, she recalls.

She describes her first sighting as little lights flashing — like camera flashes —around her and her two friends.

"We got these prickly feelings up our legs," she said.

The next time they took with them a friend who was Christian, thinking that people would be more inclined to believe her.

That night they saw a huge light, similar to an enlarged falling star, which went into reverse after falling then split into three lights, which each veered off at great speed in different directions.

On another occasion they heard what they thought was the low monotonous sound of a truck coming up the valley road, except that the sound was monotonous and they could not hear any gear changes.

"It went right over the top of us," she said.

"We saw a big brilliant light passing in front of us."

On that occasion, a farmer further up the valley reported a similar sound and light across the valley.

Some of the lights they saw were rotating and flashing. On one occasion there was a green ring of light flashing over another one that was red and rotating.

Mrs Parsons was just one of many who reported incidents at the time, some from as far away as Tawhareparae and Tokomaru Bay, but all centred around the Waimata Hills.

A station manager reported at one stage that he and his family had seen a glowing orange egg shape, giving off a beam of white light.

It hovered around the sky for more than an hour, so they called in their neighbours to witness it.

Many people in the district reported seeing these lights.

A man driving along the Waerenga-a-Hika straight at night, reported a brilliant orange glow lighting up the inside of his car.

"I looked out the window and got the shock of my life. Outside, just 50 feet away, was a large oval object, floating alongside my car.

It looked to be huge, rising in the sky about 300 feet, orange with thousands of small flashing lights on its side.

He told a Herald journalist he had never seen anything like it before, and never wanted to again.

The flap episode tapered away that year and has never been explained.

UFO groups believed at the time that the Waimata Valley could be an "anchoring point" used by aerial phenomena orbiting the Earth. Sceptics put it down to tomfoolery with laser lights.

Mrs Parsons has since seen laser lights in action, and says they would never in a million years have come anywhere near what she and others had seen and experienced.

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