Jonathan David Whitcomb
Paul Nation, of Texas, had visited Papua New Guinea twice when, in 2003,
he sent Jonathan Whitcomb videos of expeditions from the 1990’s and
2002. A few Americans had searched on Umboi Island and elsewhere for
the ropen, a flying creature they were convinced was a living pterosaur.
They failed to see any obvious pterosaur but videotaped eyewitnesses.
After reviewing the video footage, Whitcomb also became a believer.
In Papua New Guinea, the large flying creature of the night, known as
“ropen” on Umboi, is known by various names among villagers of various
languages, but it is distinguished from the Flying Fox fruit bat by its ability
to glow as it flies and by its reputation for robbing human graves. The glow
is thought by some cryptozoologists to be from bioluminescence.
After looking at Paul Nation’s videos, Whitcomb hoped to go on an
expedition with him, but by the summer of 2004 he was planning his own
expedition on Umboi Island, for Nation could not go that year, and
Whitcomb had applied too late to participate in a ropen expedition being
organized by two other American cryptozoologists for the end of the year.
Like many Americans, he grew up in a culture in which pterosaurs, more
often called “pterodactyls,” were often portrayed in films and on television
as giant Pteranodons, from the 1933 “King Kong” to the 2001 “Jurassic
Park III.” Before mid-2004, Whitcomb therefore assumed that the large
flying creatures described by natives in Papua New Guinea were some kind
of short-tailed Pterodactyloids, for long-tailed Rhamphorhynchoid fossils
are generally smaller than the Pteranodon-like varieties.
He was therefore surprised at the sighting report he received on September
10th, just days before his flight to Papua New Guinea. An Australian lady
sent an email to Whitcomb, informing him of the sighting she and her
husband had in Perth in 1997. He replied, asking if they might have
mistaken legs for a tail. She replied, “We believe it did have a tail, and don't
believe they were feet, but actually a tail.” They estimated the wingspan at
30-50 feet, far larger than any fossil of a Rhamphorhynchoid.
After four flights from Los Angeles, Whitcomb arrived at the city of Lae,
where he found an interpreter for the Tok Pisin language. The two of them,
according to Paul Nation’s instructions to Whitcomb, took a small ship to
Umboi Island and became acquainted with local villagers. In Gomlongon,
village leaders were given gifts, including sling shots (for shooting down
Flying Fox fruit bats for soup), school supplies, old American magazines,
and new guitar strings.
Whitcomb’s originally planned on hiking into the island interior to video-
tape a ropen in daylight. After a week of failure, being unable to get to the
most desirable mountain, he changed plans, videotaping eyewitnesses of
the ropen, which was more appropriate to his professional experience as a
forensic videographer: obtaining testimony while videotaping a witness.
After interviewing many villagers on Umboi Island, Whitcomb noticed two
things that suggested a real creature was involved, rather than hoaxes or
Most eyewitnesses had only an indistict view from a distance
No superstitions were included in testimonies
Should a real creature make occasional appearances in an area with some
human observers, most sightings would probably be poor, because people
would be too far from the creature. Whitcomb found the great majority of
witnesses did not see any form or features of the ropen, only a flying light,
making the overall evidence favoring a real creature, not hoaxes.
In addition, natives of Umboi have legends and traditions about the ropen,
some of them appearing to Westerners to be superstitions. A native hoaxer
would very likely use superstitious elements in a description, for natives
are unaware of what parts of legends are obviously superstitious to those
outside their culture. But Whitcomb found only one witness who included
superstitions in his testimony, and that witness was the only interviewed
person who was portrayed to Whitcomb, by other villagers, as one who is
less trustworthy; he was also the only one who wanted to be paid.
The opinions expressed are those of Jonathan David Whitcomb.
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More on Pterosaurs
Mount Barik, Umboi Island
Ropen Sighting by Woetzel
on Umboi Island, 2004
Duane Hodgkinson (right)
Gideon Koro interviewed by
Jonathan Whitcomb in 2004
Working as an independent forensic
videographer for attorney firms
helped Jonathan Whitcomb gauge
the honesty of native eyewitnesses
who had been interviewed while
being videotaped in Papua New
Guinea, (mostly on Umboi Island).
Many native eyewitnesses he
interviewed in Opai Village, etc.
Barik is one of several mountains,
on Umboi Island, where the ropen
might sleep in daylight. It is said to
fly from one mountain to another
and from a mountain to a reef.
Use of the above image requires
permission from Garth Guessman
Duane Hodgkinson was interviewed
by Whitcomb in August of 2004, by
emails and phone calls. The credibility
of the American World War II veteran
strengthened Whitcomb’s resolve to
explore Umboi Island to search for the
Luke Paina, interpreter (left), and
Whitcomb wait for ship at Lae
Whitcomb believes the Gitmo
pterosaur is a modern living
related to the ropen of Umboi
Americans who have searched
in Papua New Guinea for