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The strange sea lights of Madang

Foo fighters
Foo Fighter photographs are very rare. Two are seen here following RAF Lysander aircraft during World War II in Europe. There were reports from both sides of sighting these mysterious orbs


DAGUA – You may know the Tok Pisin term, ‘lait toktok’. Well, if you don’t, it’s used in Madang to describe a phenomenon similar to the ‘foo fighters’ aerial phenomenon observed in Europe and the Pacific during the World War II.

‘Lait toktok’ describes moving lights over the water; luminous objects or lights dancing over the horizon and appearing to move back and forth or remain stationary while emitting their strange glow.

When observed from the coast, these moving orbs appear as if they are communicating or ‘talking’, hence, the Tok Pisinlait toktok’.

Whether the light is of a source that can be explained, for example an aircraft, ship or submarine, is a matter of conjecture.

Certainly, people who have sighted this phenomenon attest that the lights they saw were not from a ship, submarine or aircraft.

So they continue to remain a mystery to observers, most often witnesses onshore looking out to the sea.

The ocean is so huge humans are yet to explore and map it all. Its depths are one of the last frontiers of human exploration and conquest.

The ocean is also full of danger, mystery and intrigue. Much is unknown about what lurks in its depths.

These mysteries are exemplified by tales like the strange lait toktok in and around Madang, there being also numerous accounts of strange and mystifying occurrences observed on dry land.

Despite many reports of such phenomena, information is distorted and discussions end up as conspiracy theories, paranormal studies or pseudoscience for researchers, skeptics and paranoids.

What then would be a plausible explanation of these strange moving lights or pulsating luminous orbs to someone unfamiliar with the phenomenon?

Apart from the bioluminescent planktons that light up the ocean which sailors call ‘The Burning of the Sea’, there are occasional observations of inexplicable and strange lights that appear and disappear over the ocean.

These observations are reported the world over and are supposedly identified with the UFO or ‘foo fighters’ phenomenon.

There are numerous real time video capturing these lights, as well as eyewitness accounts of these ocean peculiarities.

In a recent conversation, two colleagues of mine described their experiences of seeing and observing these lights over the sea.

They could not provide an educated explanation of what they saw. They remain mystified and baffled by what they had observed.

It was on an ordinary evening while on a return trip from Walis Island to Karasau Island near Wewak when my colleague, who was with someone, witnessed a sudden appearance of light some distance from where they were on their small dinghy.

He said this bright light just shot out of the sea and hovered some meters above the surface of the water.

It gave off a strong white light that lit up the sea. They could feel and see its glare. It looked like a street light just suddenly appeared in the middle of the ocean.

He noted no sound emitting from this light source, which remained stationary.

He and his companion, in fear, maintained their course for home, without speaking a word and not daring to turn and look back at this strange occurrence.

Another colleague related his story of an orb of white light that suddenly appeared and seemed to move back and forth over the horizon while he was fishing at a beach in Yabob, Madang.

These strange pulsating lights, he explained, were quite common around the waters of Madang. He said Madang people describe this phenomenon as lait toktok.

The incident also made my colleague abandon his fishing plans and return home in haste.

Both men, when recounting their tales, said the lights were strange, not natural or manmade. They said the experience of those fateful evenings remained etched in their memories.

These are just two of numerous incidents reported by many eyewitnesses of this strange phenomenon.

Whatever lait toktok is, it is certainly something to wonder about.

It would be too much to expect closure any time soon.


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Raymond Sigimet

The Min Min lights is an interesting phenomenon in Australia, Peter. The mirage effects or Fata Morgana through the refraction of light to explain the Min Min is beyond me.

Bernard, thank you. This inquiry is becoming a learning curve. The answers (through the experiences and links posted so far) are as light is to day (but questions linger still).

Peter Kranz

Queensland also has the Min Min lights. Here's one possible explanation.

“The Min Min light occurs when light, from a natural or man-made source, is refracted to an observer who is tens, or even hundreds, of kilometres away, by an inverted mirage, or Fata Morgana.”

Bernard Corden

The philosophy of science (scientism) often generates more questions than answers and it is worth delving into Paul Feyerabend, Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn:

"Scientific theory is a contrived foothold in the chaos of living phenomena" - Wilhelm Reich

Raymond Sigimet

Bernard - Elmo's Fire may be an explanation of this phenomenon. It occurs during thunderstorms and there has to be a pointed object to create this effect.

Elmo's Fire also gives off a bluish or purplish colour. Yet one of the accounts of this light occurred out in open sea on a clear night, observed from a small dinghy.

Your link got me reading also about Ball Lightning. Another weather phenomenon that may also explain these "lights" or ball of fire. The science and enquiry into this phenomenon remains cloudy, though.

Bernard Corden

Raymond Sigimet

Thank you Arthur for sharing your daughter's experience.

I got interested in this "light" because apart from these tales of lights out at sea, there are others that had been observed farther inland.

My father (and siblings) had experienced being "followed" a couple of times by a glowing light in an oil palm plantation in Kimbe, WNBP. This was in the 1990s.

From their observation, it seemed like someone was walking with a lamp. They related that whatever this light was, it wasn't a person with a lamp or even a vehicle or motorbike because there was no sound.

They could tell that whatever that light was, it was moving at a constant pace in the air, one or two meters, above the ground. On one occasion, it moved for some time and then it disappeared into the night. On another occasion, it followed moving parallel to them and then disappeared.

It was sometimes a hair-raising experience to come across such extraordinary sights in the dark.

Arthur Williams

My daughter had similar experience one moonless evening on the wharf at Meterankang, South Lavongai in the early 1980s.

She said she was terrified as the ‘light’ seemed to be following her and she left her fishing string and ran home.

Raymond Sigimet

Thank you Bessielah, for sharing what you heard about this phenomenon from your home in Manus.

I believe this aerial phenomenon is quite common and there are other regions of the country with similar tales.

The best description of it is that it is some sort of luminous orb, spherical in shape, that easily defies gravity in its manoeuvre and movement.

It is most likely an aerial object of some sort, observed but is still unidentified.

From other accounts, it emits a bright white light or a yellow glow (like a lamp).

It can remain stationary or suspend itself in space with ease or manoeuvre at angles and at a speed not yet possible for man made aerial craft. It is commonly observed near large bodies of water or at high altitude.

It does not emit sound but it likely burns some form of fuel to release the luminous effects observed. It can manoeuvre and move with ease in both air and water.

It cannot be ascertained if it is terrestrial or extraterrestrial in nature or whether it is part of the earth's biosphere or from someplace else.

Bessielah David

This is a phenomenon indeed. Growing up in my home Province, Manus, I recall talks about these peculiar lights from our fishermen and elders.

Some said it appears like a fireball or firebird and flies. Others said it's like a bright torch hovering over water for a minute second or two and then disappears.

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