Reporting on something otherworldly carries with it the danger of being ridiculed. If you have a job with a degree of responsibility, acting like a Quayle may even get you fired. That’s why most of the freakshow incidents experienced by pilots go unreported, you see.
In 2001, an American airline company conducted a survey. They asked their pilots if they’d seen anything while flying they couldn’t explain. The response was encouraging; 23% said they had witnessed something “unexplained” - more than a handful. However, only one in four of these respondents had taken their sighting to authorities.
If the percentage figure is anything to go by, considering at any one time there are about 36.5 million flights a year (according to garfors.com), this means, on average, around 8 million flight crews experience something odd each year, hardly surprising when you think about the number of hours they spend hanging in the air.
According to research scientist Dr. Richard Haines, crew reporting rates are low because speaking about what they see carries with it “fear of ridicule, fear of having one’s competence questioned, fear of losing one’s career, fear of government reprisal, even fear of the phenomena itself,” which probably explains why so few are willing to take things further.
As a consequence of this and keen to uncover the truth, he and colleague Ted Roe set up the National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomena (NARCAP) in 1999; an agency pilots could approach to report their observations in confidence and also to facilitate the study of unexplained incidents. The number of military, airline, and private pilot oddities cataloged by NARCAP is currently around 1,500.
Although it's generally accepted that 95% of all sightings can be easily explained by known phenomena such as weather balloons and systems, the remaining 5% are not so readily dismissed. Surely, these 15 reports by credible witnesses prove the existence of something altogether nonlinear.
15 Perth, Australia – 2014
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau finally released documentation on an incident which occurred in March 2014 over Perth. While the Bureau denies the event was caused by anything other than a drone, researchers are still piecing together exactly what happened and coming up with startling conclusions -- conclusions that will have an impact on dozens of other dismissed cases.
Traveling at 3,800 ft., the aircraft with 53 passengers and crew on board was about to make a final descent. The captain and co-pilot noticed a bright strobing light in front of them approaching at speed. Horrified, they then realized the light was attached to some sort of craft, reported by the captain as being “cylindrical in shape and grey in colour.” The pilot was forced to take evasive action, and the object disappeared. Investigating this incident has led researchers to uncover 13 similar incidents in the previous year, all undisclosed.
14 Alaska, USA - 1986
Haines and his NARCAP colleagues prefer to refer to the term Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP), and this can include “a wide range of atmospheric phenomena and effects that might well be extraterrestrial craft, but they might well be something quite different that science doesn’t understand yet.” All well and good, but sometime in November of 1986, an event was eyeballed that defied any explanation.
While flying over Alaska, Kenju Terauchi and his crew aboard a Japanese Airlines craft caught a glimpse of two weird objects flying next to them. Whatever they were they soon vanished to be replaced by something the size of two aircraft carriers, according to Terauchi. Throughout the incident, Air Traffic Control in Anchorage acknowledged the presence of unidentified objects. The FAA investigated, as did the CIA and the FBI. The pilot was interrogated, and documentation on the event seized. No one has yet to come up with a worthy explanation for the objects.
13 Washington DC, USA - 1952
July 26th. Radar control operators at Andrews Air Force Base just outside Washington DC, plus those at Washington’s International Airport, saw targets on their screens indicating traffic hovering around a nearby radio beacon. Having exhausted the search through the flight plans filed for that day, both ATCs tried to make contact with whatever it was showing up on their cathode displays. The objects weren’t flying right; their direction and speed were changing violently.
Not getting any answers, fighter jets were scrambled to intercept the mystery target. On arrival, one of the jet pilots saw nothing, but the other reported seeing four orbs of light flying around erratically. It wasn’t long until the crafts simply vanished into thin air. The radar controllers offered no public explanation, nor was any evidence retained.
12 Eindhoven, Netherlands - 2015
En route from Eindhoven to Malaga in Spain, a Ryanair flight came close to disaster. The commercial airliner was just 10 minutes into its trans-European flight and climbing steadily through 4,000 ft. As a passenger sitting on the right of the plane videos the winter landscape below, we hear the surge of the plane’s jet engines as the airliner makes a dramatic course change. Just as it lurches to the right, the amateur videographer captures an object flying past the window.
Some people suggested it was nothing more than a bird, a drone, or even a military fast jet. Yet while its closing speed is certainly high, it has none of the discernible features of a plane and is far too big to be a bird. This unique eyewitness testimony has since been uploaded to YouTube and has been viewed 150,000 times.
11 New Brunswick, Canada - 1953
One of hundreds of UFO reports filed with the National Archives of Canada, this story relates to a flight headed due north over Chatham, New Brunswick. The mid-afternoon sun was thankfully behind the crew who were then cruising at a comfortable 9,000 ft. between layers of soft cloud. Both pilot and co-pilot were experienced on the type and worked well together.
Both men soon realized that just below them and traveling in more or less the same direction was another craft, although it was still too far away to tell what it was. Then, within 20 seconds, the aircraft was virtually on top of the Maritime Central Airways, close enough for both pilot and co-pilot to get a good look. They agreed it had a metallic shine and was about 25 feet in diameter. After the incident, both pilots were questioned by authorities and told to say nothing.
10 Kansas City, USA - 1989
If you fly out of Kansas City, Missouri, you'll see golf courses and neat residential lots nestled between expanses of green pasture. You’ll also be sitting there, confident the pilot knows how to fly the plane, that he’s experienced, level-headed, and professional. And on the whole, you’d be right. That’s why, generally, pilots’ reporting of weird stuff carries a little more weight than the average Joe out on the first tee.
First Officer Andrew Danziger was co-pilot for a flight out of Kansas City headed for Waterloo, Iowa. Once at 15,000 ft., Danziger and his captain happened to notice a white disk visible through clouds on the right-hand side of the aircraft. Danziger later observed the disk to have changed into a massive red ball, which was hovering over the cloud and keeping up with the plane. As they descended, the ball disappeared behind the clouds in flash of brilliant colored light.
9 Guernsey, UK - 2007
A small Aurigny propeller plane was making a routine day flight from Southampton, England to the island of Guernsey. As the island moved into view, something hovering in the sky caught Captain Ray Bowyer’s eye. Lifting his binoculars, he made out a group of flat yellow disks hovering around 2,000 ft. near the airport. He dismissed it as a reflection from greenhouses on the island.
But the light coming from them wasn’t reflective sun. Whatever they were, the objects emitted their own light. As he got closer, Bowyer started getting nervous. He said, “At first, I thought it was the size of a 737. But it must have been much bigger because of how far away it was. It could have been as much as a mile wide,” reported the London Evening Standard. The objects were also seen by passengers on the plane and other pilots in the area. As Bowyer made his approach, they disappeared.
8 Montgomery, USA - 1948
Pilot Clarence Chiles and his co-pilot John Whitted flew Douglas DC-3s out of Montgomery, Alabama in the 1940s and '50s. On July 24, 1948, both were drifting the Eastern Airlines Douglas at a steady 5,000 ft. At around 2:45 AM, Chiles hollered to Whitted that he could see a “dull red glow above and ahead of the aircraft,” according to Wikipedia.
Thinking it was a new type of jet engine (this being just after WW2), the crew wasn’t overly concerned. But as the craft headed straight for them, they were dumbfounded. It had the appearance of B-29 fuselage, except it had no wings and was moving very fast. It raced past the DC-3 and then headed “up with a tremendous burst of flame out of its rear and zoomed up into the clouds." Just one of the passengers reported seeing anything odd; Mr. McKelvie said he saw a "bright streak of light" flash by his window.
7 Fargo, USA - 1948
According to the 1948 book “The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects,” George Gorman’s dogfight with an unknown object was one of three "classic" UFO incidents of the 1940s that “proved to intelligence specialists that UFOs were real.” It remains one of UFO investigators’ greatest mysteries. And the story proves that even a P-51 Mustang was no match for an extraterrestrial pirouette.
Ex-WW2 veteran and all-around rogue Gorman took off for a night flight in October of 1948 and soon spotted a craft off to the West that, while flying, didn’t appear to have any wings or fuselage. What happened next remains a standout piece of dogfighting history, but after half an hour of chasing the object around the sky, Gorman gave up. He later reported it looked like “a man-made craft that, while governed by the laws of inertia, was still able to out-maneuver his own aircraft.”
6 Lake Erie, USA - 1995
Lifting out of Detroit, Air Shuttle Flight 5959 began a standard nighttime crossing to Cleveland. The air space around them was quiet -- nothing to report. The wheels whirred up, and the plane was climbing well. A few moments later, the captain of 5959 noticed some traffic almost directly in front but hovering over Lake Erie. As 5959 approached, he reported to Air Traffic Control that the craft was pulsating light and hovering near the plane.
ATC confirmed no other traffic was in the area. The captain described the light anomaly in detail as we can see from the transcript of the very report he made to Cleveland Control Tower: “It’s a light that kind of . . . it goes dim, and it gets bright. I don’t know if we’re getting closer to it or what? But it looks like a rotating light around it, like a Frisbee-type thing that’s going around it.” At the same time, a small Mesaba flying Detroit to Pellston confirmed exactly what the captain was seeing.
5 Bariloche, Argentina – 1995
A late scheduled arrival at Bariloche airport, an Aerolineas Argentinas flight was on its final descent. 15 minutes from landing, the tower requested captain Jorge Polanco to reduce speed and height. As he did, he spotted something odd directly in front. “I suddenly saw a white light, which came directly on us at full speed in front of me,” Polanco is reported to have said.
To make matters worse, as the plane was on its final runway approach, all the lights in the airport, as well as the runway lights, went out. In fact, the whole winter resort suffered a power cut. Being forced to take the plane back up to a hold, the captain again got a good look at the craft: “The saucer -- the size of an airliner -- changed color, two green lights appearing at the ends with an orange gleam in the center, which ignited intermittently”. While still in the holding pattern, Polanco watched the craft disappear from sight.
4 China – 2011
Always a nation reluctant to spill secrets, China is not immune to visitations. In fact, unlike the West, who deems UFO reportage the domain of fruit loops, China’s outlook is more sanguine and welcoming to the idea of mystery. As a Xiamen Airlines flight descended into Jiangsu province, the captain reported “a blue-and-white, oval-shaped object drifted soundlessly across its path.” It was then observed accelerating away and disappearing into a cloud bank.
The very same craft was spotted by the crew of a Shandong Airlines flight that was 120 kilometers (70 mi) to the north over Jiangsu province. They, too, described the object in exacting detail. What’s more, the pilot of another plane sent a similar report to a control tower 300 kilometers (190 mi) south in Zhejiang province. Yet again, his description of the craft was spookily similar to that given by the crew of the Xiamen Airlines flight.
3 London, UK – 2014
Near misses are to be avoided. With modern traffic control technology and state of the art radar systems, accidents are more easily preventable these days. However, there's always the possibility of pilot error, which is precisely what caused the Überlingen mid-air disaster of 2002.
Flying at 37,000 ft. 20 miles west of London, a British Airways Airbus A320 was at its cruising altitude. Within a fraction of a second, the captain noticed, out of the corner of his eye, the approach of another aircraft. He ducked instinctively and alerted his co-pilot by nudging him (there wasn’t even enough time to talk). The object passed within feet of the cockpit overhead. Following its movement, the co-pilot reported it was “cigar/rugby ball-like” in shape, bright silver, and apparently “metallic” in construction.
It's common procedure to report near misses in the UK, which the captain promptly did; although what exactly the thing was is still a mystery.
2 Newport News, US – 1952
First Officer William B. Nash and Second Officer William H. Fortenberry were the two-man crew of a Pan American World Airways DC-4 flying Miami to New York. While cruising, the two men saw what looked like a large orange light hovering over the town of Newport News. As they looked closer, they realized the one light was actually six, and all were “streaking toward us at tremendous speed,” they're reported as saying.
Instinctively, both men kept an eye on the craft as they approached. “Their shape was clearly outlined and evidently circular; the edges were well-defined, not phosphorescent or fuzzy in the least, and the red-orange color was uniform over the upper surface of each craft,” they continued later on. The craft performed what seemed to be some sort of flying display before disappearing West at an impossible speed.
1 The North Sea, Europe - 1970
A long-serving pilot in the United States Air Force, Captain William Schaffner was an experienced airman. In the '70s, he was based at RAF Binbrook in England, flying BAC Lightnings. One chilly evening in September, an object was spotted over the North Sea by several NATO radar stations around the globe. Since Binbrook was then part of a strategic early warning station, the base went on high alert, and Schaffner was scrambled.
Tracking and then intercepting a “conical object,” Schaffner requested further instructions, but shortly afterward, contact with him was lost. His plane was found intact underwater with the cockpit canopy shut. There was no sign of Schaffner.
Sources: huffingtonpost.com, royalaviationmuseum.com, telegraph.co.uk
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