An email interview in 2007 is hardly news now, but this account of a sighting of a possible pterosaur has not previously been covered on this blog.
The Australian Steven Cottingham was the government’s Officer-In-Charge (Kiap) of Umboi and surrounding islands, and he lived on Umboi Island for one and a half years (natives call this island “Siassi,” although that word is also used for the group of islands that include “Big Siassi”).
His first email included:
My sighting occurred at night near Lab Lab on the southern tip of Umboi. The light lasted for four to five seconds, and until reading your reports now, have never been able to explain the sighting. The natives I was with simply said it was a spirit light!
I asked him a few questions:
Thank you, Steven
Thank you for telling me about your sighting. May I ask some questions?
1) Do you recall the time of night?
2) What direction was the light traveling (or was it stationary)?
3) Was there any color to the light or was it just white?
1) Approximately 7 pm. I had been out fishing off the reef.
2) Horizontal, across the top of the Coconut palms. It was moving slowly and in a wavelike motion. It was too high and covered too much distance to be a person walking with a lantern, but I checked at daybreak to see if there was a walking track on a hill behind the coconut palms. There was nothing at that height. The coconuts were on flat ground.
3) Yes, dull orange. Not as round as the moon, but bigger than what a Coleman lantern would be.
I suspected that the “wavelike motion” related to wing flapping, but I asked him an open question: “Was the wavelike motion from side-to-side or up-and-down?” He answered, “Rhythmic, gentle UP-AND-DOWN as the light flowed in the direction of left to right.” This confirmed the possibility that he had observed a flying creature.
Cottingham in Context
A sighting by the biologist Evelyn Cheesman, a few decades before Cottingham’s sighting, is described in one of her books:
In her book, The Two Roads of Papua, she said that the flash lasted “about four or five seconds, but that flash had been a little distance away from the first. Flashes continued at intervals. . . . a most intriguing mystery; because by no possibility could there be human beings out there using flash-lamps at intervals . . .”
Cheesman’s sighting was on the mainland of what is now Papua New Guinea, west of Umboi Island.
Notice that the government official said, “The light lasted for four to five seconds,” and the biologist said that the flashes lasted “about four or five seconds.” That is very close to what natives on Umboi Island have said about how long the ropen light lasts.
On a different note of the same composition:
“Some skeptics have suggested that this flying creature is just a misidentified bird. One or two skeptics have even suggested it is just a Manta Ray or Singray, for those fishes, at times, can jump out of the water and might appear to fly.
“There are major problems with a gliding-fish interpretation, however. One skeptic said a little about two sightings in New Guinea: the Hodgkinson sighting of 1944 and the Hennessy sighting of 1971. Details were entirely absent in this critic’s writing, however. Neither sighting could have been from any fish.”