|AKA:||Frederick Valentich disappearance|
Steve er (ATC)
|Location:||Bass Strait, Australia|
|Date:||21 October 1978|
|Status:||(Missing) Presumed dead|
The Valentich disappearance refers to the unexplained disappearance at around 7:12 pm on 21 October 1978 of 20-year-old Frederick Valentich while piloting a Cessna 182L light aircraft over Bass Strait in Australia. He intended to land at King Island and return to Moorabbin Airport.
During the 127-mile (235 km) flight, Valentich advised Melbourne air traffic control that he was being accompanied by an aircraft about 1,000 feet (300 m) above him. He described some unusual actions and features of the aircraft, saying that his engine had begun running roughly, and finally reported that the "strange aircraft is hovering on top of me again. It is hovering and it's not an aircraft."
Valentich and his aircraft were never recovered, and an Australian Department of Transport investigation concluded that the reason for the disappearance could not be determined.
The National Archives of Australia collection of the Department of Transport (DOT) files records that the association that a UFO was involved with this disappearance was initiated by the DOT and not the public. At 8:27pm Local (10:27 GMT) some seventy five minutes after his last communications by the pilot it is marked up as a ”UFO”. By 1:25am Local (16:25 GMT) - D24 Victorian, Police HQ, Russell Street, Melbourne, are contacted by teletext with a SITREP (Situation Report) and the newspaper police rounds reporters on duty that night at HQ gets the story and run with it next day.
Belated reports of a UFO sighting in Australia on the night of the disappearance led Ken Williams, a spokesman for the Department of Transport, to tell Associated Press that "it's funny all these people ringing up with UFO reports well after Valentich's disappearance."
Frederick Valentich was born on 9 June 1958 in Melbourne. He lived at home with his parents and three siblings in Avondale Heights and at the time of his disappearance was a shop assistant at an army disposals store at Moonee Ponds. Frederick attended Keilor Heights High School in East Keilor up until year 10, then he continued his studies at a private college.
He had twice applied to enlist in the Royal Australian Air Force but was rejected because of inadequate educational qualifications. He was a member of the Air Training Corps, determined to have a career in aviation. His student pilot licence was issued 24 February 1977 and his private pilot licence the following September. Valentich was studying part-time to become a commercial pilot but had a poor achievement record, having twice failed all five commercial licence examination subjects, and as recent as the previous month had failed three more commercial licence subjects. He had been involved in flying incidents, straying into a controlled zone in Sydney (for which he received a warning) and twice deliberately flying into cloud (for which prosecution was being considered).
According to Guido Valentich, Frederick's father, Frederick was a "firm believer in UFOs", and, prior to his disappearance, he had "worried about attacks from UFOs".
Valentich had a Class Four instrument rating and 150 hours of flight experience when he filed a flight plan at Moorabbin Airport, Melbourne, on 21 October 1978. His stated intention was to fly to King Island in Bass Strait via Cape Otway, to pick up passengers, and return to Moorabbin. However, he had told his family, girlfriend and acquaintances that he intended to pick up crayfish. During the subsequent investigations it was learned there were no passengers waiting to be picked up at King Island; and he had not ordered crayfish &ndash: and could not have done so because crayfish were not available anyway.
He was flying a Cessna 182L, with a cruising speed of 140 knots (260 km/h; 160 mph).[Note 1] Visibility was good and winds were light. He departed Moorabbin at 18:19, contacted the Melbourne Flight Service Unit to inform it of his presence, and reported reaching Cape Otway at 19:00.
At 19:06, Valentich asked Melbourne Flight Service Officer Steve Robey for information on any other aircraft below 5,000 feet (1,500 m) altitude[Note 2] and was told there was no known traffic at that level. Valentich said he could see a large unknown aircraft which appeared to be illuminated by four bright landing lights. He was unable to confirm its type, but said it had passed about 1,000 feet (300 m) overhead and was moving at high speed. Valentich then reported that the aircraft was approaching him from the east and said the other pilot might be purposely toying with him.
At 19:09 Robey asked Valentich to confirm both his altitude and that he was unable to identify the aircraft. Valentich gave his altitude as 4500 ft and said the aircraft was "long", but that it was travelling too fast for him to describe it in more detail. Valentich stopped transmitting for about 30 seconds, during which time Robey asked for an estimate of the aircraft's size. Valentich said the aircraft was "orbiting" above him and that it had a shiny metal surface and a green light on it. This was followed by 28 seconds of silence before Valentich reported that the aircraft had vanished. There was a further 25-second break in communications before Valentich reported that it was now approaching from the southwest. Twenty-nine seconds later, at 19:12:09 Valentich reported that he was experiencing engine problems and was going to proceed to King Island. There was brief silence until he said "it is hovering and it's not an aircraft". This was followed by 17 seconds of unidentified noise, described as being "metallic, scraping sounds", then all contact was lost.
Search and rescue
A search and rescue alert was given at 19:12. Valentich failed to arrive at King Island by 19:33, and a sea and air search was undertaken, and two RAAF P-3 Orion aircraft searched over a seven-day period. The aircraft was equipped with four life jackets and an emergency radio beacon, and was designed to stay afloat for several minutes. Search efforts continued until 25 October 1978. Analysis of a fuel slick found roughly near where Valentich had last radioed Robey proved that it was not aviation fuel, and no trace of the aircraft was found.
A two-week long Department of Transport (DOT) investigation into Valentich's disappearance was unable to determine the cause, but that it was "presumed fatal" for Valentich. A report published on 27 April 1982 summarised the radio conversations on the evening of 21 October 1978 between Valentich and Robey. On 6 July 1983, five years after VH-DSJ went missing, an "engine cowl flap" was found washed ashore on Flinders Island. The Royal Australan Navy Research Laboratory (RANRL) examined the part and noted "the part has been identified as having come from a Cessna 182 aircraft between a certain range of serial numbers". The RANRL also noted ït is not unknown for cowl flaps to separate from aircraft in flight" but there was no evidence that this part was from VH-DSJ and more "information" was needed.\
- It has been proposed that Valentich staged his own disappearance: even taking into account a trip of between 30 and 45 minutes to Cape Otway, the aircraft still had enough fuel to fly 800 kilometres; despite ideal conditions, at no time was the aircraft plotted on radar, casting doubts as to whether it was ever near Cape Otway; and Melbourne Police received reports of a light aircraft making a mysterious landing not far from Cape Otway at the same time as Valentich's disappearance.
- Another proposed explanation is that Valentich became disoriented and was flying upside down. What he thought he saw, if this were the case, would be his own aircraft's lights reflected in the water. He would then have crashed into the water. This was ruled out by aviation authorities, as the Cessna 182 has a high wing with a gravity fed fuel system, making prolonged inverted flight impossible in this model.
- In 2000 a private investigation of the incident concluded that Valentich had become disoriented and experienced engine and radio problems that caused him to crash into the sea. It further suggested that the Bass Strait's strong prevailing currents might have carried his relatively light aircraft a long distance before it finally sank.
- Another proposed possibility is suicide, although it has been suggested that he had a content lifestyle.
- A 2013 review of the radio transcripts and other data by astronomer and retired U.S. Air Force pilot James McGaha and author Joe Nickell proposes that the inexperienced Valentich was deceived by the illusion of a tilted horizon for which he attempted to compensate and inadvertently put his plane into a downward, so-called "graveyard" spiral which he initially mistook for simple orbiting of the plane. According to the authors, the G-forces of a tightening spiral would decrease fuel flow, resulting in the "rough idling" reported by the pilot. McGaha and Nickell also propose that the apparently stationary, overhead lights that Valentich reported were likely the planets Venus, Mars, and Mercury along with the bright star Antares which would have behaved consistent with the pilots description.
UFOlogists have speculated that extraterrestrials either destroyed Valentich's plane or abducted him, asserting that some individuals reported seeing "an erratically moving green light in the sky" and that he was "in a steep dive at the time." Ufologists believe these accounts are significant because of the "green light" mentioned in Valentich's radio transmissions.
Phoenix, Arizona- based UFO group Ground Saucer Watch claim that photos taken that day by plumber Roy Manifold show a fast moving object exiting the water near Cape Otway lighthouse. Though the pictures were not clear enough to identify the object, UFO groups argue that they show "a bona fide unknown flying object, of moderate dimensions, apparently surrounded by a cloud-like vapor/exhaust residue."
Open government records
Australian Government's Department of Transport file was opened in 2012 under the 20 year rule. The National Archives of Australia (NAA) file reference on this document is: Series Number B1497, Control symbol V116/783/1047, Item Barcode 10491375, Title DSJ - Cape Otway to King Island 21 October 1978 - Aircraft Missing (Valentich). This document is 315 pages in length, and is open at the National Archives of Australia.[Note 3]
A Department of Transport's Marine Operations Centre, a MARSAR (Marine Search and Rescue) file also in the 2012 open category is listed in the collections of the National Archives of Australia (NAA). The file reference on this document is: Series Number A4703, Control symbol 1978/1205, Item Barcode 11485989, Title VH-DSJ Light aircraft overdue King Island. This document is 217 pages in length, and is open at the National Archives of Australia.[Note 4]
Transcript of the transmissions
Australian Department of Transport report (page 1)
Australian Department of Transport report (page 2)
Australian Department of Transport report (page 3)
19:06:14 DSJ [Valentich]: Melbourne, this is Delta Sierra Juliet. Is there any known traffic below five thousand?
FS [Flight Services; Robey]: Delta Sierra Juliet, no known traffic.
DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet, I am, seems to be a large aircraft below five thousand.
19:06:44 FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, What type of aircraft is it?
DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet, I cannot affirm, it is four bright, and it seems to me like landing lights.
FS: Delta Sierra Juliet.
19:07:31 DSJ: Melbourne, this is Delta Sierra Juliet, the aircraft has just passed over me at least a thousand feet above.
FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, roger, and it is a large aircraft, confirmed?
DSJ: Er-unknown, due to the speed it's travelling, is there any air force aircraft in the vicinity?
FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, no known aircraft in the vicinity.
19:08:18 DSJ: Melbourne, it's approaching now from due east towards me.
FS: Delta Sierra Juliet.
19:08:41 DSJ: (open microphone for two seconds.)
19:08:48 DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet, it seems to me that he's playing some sort of game, he's flying over me two, three times at speeds I could not identify.
FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, roger, what is your actual level?
DSJ: My level is four and a half thousand, four five zero zero.
FS: Delta Sierra Juliet and you confirm you cannot identify the aircraft?
FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, roger, stand by.
19:09:27 DSJ: Melbourne, Delta Sierra Juliet, it's not an aircraft it is (open microphone for two seconds).
19:09:42 FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, can you describe the - er - aircraft?
DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet, as it's flying past it's a long shape (open microphone for three seconds) cannot identify more than it has such speed (open microphone for three seconds). It's before me right now Melbourne.
19:10 FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, roger and how large would the - er - object be?
19:10:19 DSJ: 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.
FS: Delta Sierra Juliet
19:10:46 DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet (open microphone for three seconds) It's just vanished.
FS: Delta Sierra Juliet.
19:11:00 DSJ: Melbourne, would you know what kind of aircraft I've got? Is it a military aircraft?
FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, Confirm the - er ~ aircraft just vanished.
DSJ: Say again.
FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, is the aircraft still with you?
DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet; it's (open microphone for two seconds) now approaching from the south-west.
FS: Delta Sierra Juliet
19:11:50 DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet, the engine is rough-idling. I've got it set at twenty three twenty-four and the thing is (coughing).
FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, roger, what are your intentions?
DSJ: My intentions are - ah - to go to King Island - ah - Melbourne. That strange aircraft is hovering on top of me again (open microphone for two seconds). It is hovering and (open microphone for one second) it's not an aircraft.
FS: Delta Sierra Juliet.
19:12:28 DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet. Melbourne (open microphone for seventeen seconds).
- Bass Strait Triangle, the area where Valentich and his plane disappeared
- Westall UFO, a 1966 case reported in Melbourne
- Australian ufology
- Aircraft use the nautical mile per hour or "knot" as the unit of measure of airspeed
- Aircraft use feet instead of metres to measure height above the earth's surface (altitude)
- To see a digitized copy of this report, go to the National Archives of Australia RecordSearch and do a Basic search using Keywords "DSJ - Cape Otway to King Island 21 October 1978 - Aircraft Missing (Valentich)". Then click on "View digital copy"
- To see a digitized copy of this report, go to the National Archives of Australia RecordSearch and do a Basic search using Keywords "VH-DSJ Light aircraft overdue King Island". Then click on "View digital copy"
- Department of Transport - Commonwealth of Australia (1982-04-27). "Aircraft Accident Investigation Summary Report Ref. No. V116/783/1047". Wikisource. Retrieved 2008-02-03.
- Associated Press (24 October 1978). "Pilot Missing after UFO Report". Waterloo Courier. p. 1.
- National Archives of Australia 
- National Archives of Australia 
- Haines, Richard F. (1987). Melbourne Episode; Case Study of a Missing Pilot. Lighting Design Association. ISBN 0-9618082-0-9.
- Clark, Jerome (1998). The UFO Book: Encyclopedia of the Extraterrestrial. Visible Ink. ISBN 1-57859-029-9.
- P.R., Graham (10 December 1981). "DSJ - Cape Otway to King Island 21 October 1978 - Aircraft Missing (Valentich)". National Archives of Australia. p. 52. Retrieved 10 September 2013. "On two occasions he sat for and failed all five CPL subjects and during July 1978, sat for three CPL subjects and failed them. He had penetrated Sydney Control Zone during a flight...and just prior to this flight he had received a counselling letter..."
- Doc 12 - National Archives of Australia Record Search and do a Basic search using Keywords "DSJ - Cape Otway to King Island 21 October 1978 - Aircraft Missing (Valentich)". http://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/NAAMedia/ShowImage.asp?B=10491375&S=12&T=R
- Doc 14 - National Archives of Australia Record Search and do a Basic search using Keywords "DSJ - Cape Otway to King Island 21 October 1978 - Aircraft Missing (Valentich)". http://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/NAAMedia/ShowImage.asp?B=10491375&S=14&T=R
- Melbourne Age, 28 October 1978, p. 1
- The Australian, 24 October 1978, pp. 1-2
- Discussed on the ABC television programme Can We Help? in 2007
- Haines, Richard F.; Norman, Paul (2000). "Valentich Disappearance: New Evidence and a New Conclusion". Journal of Scientific Exploration (Society for Scientific Exploration) 14#1: 19–33. ISSN 0892-3310.
- Kemp, Miles (6 July 2012). "'Truth' was out there after all". The Advertiser. Retrieved 26 October 2013.
- McGaha, James and Nickell, Joe, "The Valentich Disappearance: Another UFO Cold Case Solved",Skeptical Inquirer, November/December, 2013
- News Story (1980-07-23), The Standard (Melbourne)
- Rule - http://www.naa.gov.au/collection/fact-sheets/fs10.aspx
- Page 8 http://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/NAAMedia/ShowImage.asp?B=10491375&S=8&T=P
- Page 9 http://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/NAAMedia/ShowImage.asp?B=10491375&S=9&T=P
- Page 10 http://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/NAAMedia/ShowImage.asp?B=10491375&S=10&T=P