A young pilot who disappeared in 1978 might have been having a little fun, Spielberg style.
Today we’re going back to 1978, when a young private pilot named Frederick Valentich rented a single-engine Cessna and literally flew off into the sunset, never to be seen again. Sadly there’s nothing unusual about that; the fact is that small planes crash every so often. But something was different this time. The case of Frederick Valentich has been called Australia’s most famous aviation mystery; not because he disappeared, but because his final radio transmissions reported a UFO. Ever since, a subculture of Australians, notably including Valentich’s own father, believed he was abducted by aliens and may yet be alive somewhere.
The Australian Department of Transport’s official accident investigation summary report gives a single line: The reason for the disappearance of the aircraft has not been determined. And that’s all; a sparse epitaph for a young man’s tragedy.
Frederick was only 20 years old, a member of the Air Training Corps, a volunteer youth cadet program sponsored by the Royal Australian Air Force. He’d had his private pilot’s license for a little over a year, and had a corresponding amount of flight experience. He lived with his parents, and by all accounts was a fine young man with no serious problems and was happily pursuing his career of choice. One day in October 1978, he showed up at Moorabbin Airport in Melbourne to rent a plane in order to fly out to King Island, a round trip of some 560 kilometers, about three and a half hours worth of flight time. He was turned away due to bad weather over the ocean. So he returned a few days later to try again, and this time got his plane, a single-engine Cessna 182L.
He took off at about a quarter after 6pm in the evening of October 21, for what would be his first (and only) night flight over water. The weather was clear. King Island is about halfway between Australia and Tasmania. To fly there from Melbourne, you typically don’t fly a straight line, because that would mean you’re over water nearly the entire way; and flying over water is, of course, riskier than flying over land. So pilots typically go from Melbourne, southwest along the coast, to Cape Otway, which is the closest point on the mainland to King Island. This longer route is mostly over land. However even this safest route includes a stretch of 85 straight kilometers over water.
Frederick’s flight proceeded uneventfully. About twenty minutes after sunset, he turned away from the coast at an altitude of 4500 feet and began the long stretch over water. It was at that moment when he made his first radio call. Recordings of the actual radio conversation do exist; but for whatever reason, there aren’t any publicly available copies, and documentary films of the disappearance have always made dramatizations from the printed transcripts, which are available.
Valentich: Melbourne, this is Delta Sierra Juliet. Is there any known traffic below five thousand?
Melbourne: Delta Sierra Juliet, no known traffic.
Valentich: Delta Sierra Juliet, I am, seems to be, a large aircraft below five thousand.
Melbourne: Delta Sierra Juliet, what type of aircraft is it?
Valentich: Delta Sierra Juliet, I cannot affirm, it is four bright, it seems to me, like landing lights.
Melbourne: Delta Sierra Juliet.
Valentich: Melbourne, this is Delta Sierra Juliet, the aircraft has just passed over me at least a thousand feet above.
The conversation continued this way for some five minutes:
Valentich: Delta Sierra Juliet, Melbourne. It seems like it’s stationary. What I’m doing right now is orbiting and the thing is just orbiting on top of me. Also it’s got a green light and sort of metallic, like it’s all shiny on the outside.
The conversation finally concluded after Valentich reported engine trouble:
Valentich: Delta Sierra Juliet, the engine is rough idling, I’ve got it set at twenty three twenty four and the thing is coughing.
(Twenty three twenty four means his engine power settings were typical.)
Melbourne: Delta Sierra Juliet, roger, what are your intentions?
Valentich: My intentions are to go to King Island. Melbourne, that strange aircraft is hovering on top of me again… It is hovering and it’s not an aircraft.
Melbourne: Delta Sierra Juliet.
Valentich: Delta Sierra Juliet, Melbourne…
Melbourne: Delta Sierra Juliet, Melbourne.
His final transmission was at 7:12pm and 28 seconds. Melbourne declared an alert, which was escalated to a distress situation 21 minutes later.
Before we accept the popular explanation that Frederick and his airplane were abducted by a UFO, it’s necessary to point out that a few things were fishy.
- Skeptoid #385: The Disappearance of Frederick Valentich (skeptoid.com)
- The Frederick Valentich Mystery…. (lookingthroughanotherseyes.wordpress.com)
- The Vanishing Aircraft Swallowed by a UFO (socyberty.com)
- The Valentich UFO mystery (ufoau.wordpress.com)
- Discovery Channel Investigatesthe Most Mysterious Occurencesacross the World in the Unexplained Files (teamatul.wordpress.com)