School children saw it, businessmen saw it and little old ladies in their gardens saw it.

The meteor that blazed its way across Ashburton skies yesterday caught many by surprise and, so quick was its passage, most doubted what they had seen.

That doubt remained until reports of the fiery, moving light began to flood into newsrooms around the South Island.

Ashburton was spared the sonic boom that was heard in greater Christchurch as the fireball plunged through the earth's atmosphere, but our skies appear to have been the playground in which the meteor flared its last.Sightings have been reported to the Guardian from around the district and to a person, the meteor spotters are consistent in their recollection of the form the fireball took.

The sightings were all made just before 3pm.Alford Forest man Nigel Birt said the object was 'big, bright and iridescent".

"It was streaking through the sky. It didn't have any real shape but had a tail flaring off the back. Two bits broke off and it just burned up and disappeared," he said.The meteor was visible for just a few seconds and when it disappeared was heading in a north, north-east direction, Mr Birt said.

Just a few kilometres away at the Mayfield Golf Course, Paul Gardner saw a fiery object appear overhead. He shook his head and wondered if he was seeing things.

"It took about three seconds to cross the sky and was like a ball of orangey-blue fire with a tail."

Given the direction it was moving in and its speed of travel, Mr Gardner said it appeared to be heading towards Oxford.

He has absolutely no doubt that what he saw was a meteor."I knew as soon as I saw it that it wasn't a plane. I watched it and it just disappeared, it died. If this thing had been at night, it would have been incredible, spectacular," he said.

Real estate salesman Tony Sands was driving along Chalmers Avenue, his mind on an appointment with a Bridge Street home owner, when a bright light appeared in front of his car.

"It was about five to three and I saw this flash of light towards the top of my windscreen. It was there one minute and gone the next. It was travelling too fast to be a plane and was a yellowy, white light."

The object was moving towards Christchurch

"It was travelling inland at speed and it was very unusual because it wasn't high in the sky, I didn't have to crane my neck to see it through the windscreen," Mr Sands said.The bright, travelling light had no apparent body shape and it flared at the back like a jet.

"I've never seen anything move so fast," he said.And just down the road at the Ashburton Airfield, pilot Robin Corbett was out on the runway when he spotted the meteor.

"It was an awesome sight. I saw its full splurge of fire, but I didn't hear any sound. It was a broad band of light and as it got closer to the horizon it faded off and a few bits seemed to split away. It was an impressive sight," Mr Corbett said.

Like others who reported sightings of the meteor, Mr Corbett said the object was low in the sky and was heading in the direction of Hanmer.

September 13 2006