Valentich Disappearance

The Frederick Valentich Disappearance is an event that occurred on October 21, 1978, in which 20-year-old Frederick Valentich disappeared in unexplained circumstances while piloting a Cessna 182L light aircraft over the Bass Strait to King Island, Australia.

Prior to his disappearance, Valentich reported, via radio, encountering an unidentified craft which was moving at the speed of, and which hovered over his plane. The case attracted significant press attention and became part of UFO lore.

No trace of Valentich or his aircraft was ever found, and a Department of Transport investigation concluded that the reason for the disappearance could not be determined.

Final flight

On October 21, 1978, Valentich, a pilot with a Class Four instrument rating and 150 hours flight experience filed a flight plan from Moorabbin Airport, Melbourne to King Island, Tasmania. Visibility was good and winds were light. He was flying a Cessna 182-L, with a cruising speed of around 160 miles per hour.

Valentich departed Moorabbin at 18:19 hrs local time and contacted the Melbourne Flight Service Unit to inform them of his presence. He reported reaching Cape Otway at 19:00 hrs; records do not indicate that he reported anything out of the ordinary before reaching Otway

At 19:06 hr, Valentich contacted Melbourne FSU controller Steve Robey and requested information on other aircraft at his altitude (below 5000 ft, 1524 m); he was told that there was no known traffic at that level. Valentich then reported that 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 that it had passed about 1000 ft (305 m) overhead and that it was moving at high speed. Valentich then reported that the aircraft was approaching him from the east and voiced the opinion that the other pilot might be purposefully toying with him.

At 19:09 hrs Robey asked Valentich to confirm his altitude and that he was unable to identify the aircraft. Valentich confirmed his height and began to describe the aircraft, saying that it was "long" but that it was traveling 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 then came back saying that 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 then a further 25-second break in communications after which Valentich returned and wondered if he was being tailed by a military aircraft.

Robey attempted to gather more information about the unidentified aircraft and its location; Valentich reported that it was now approaching from the southwest. 29 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 then he came back to say "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 initiated at 19:12 hrs. Valentich had failed to arrive at King Island by 19:33 hrs. A search was undertaken by sea and air. Two RAAF P-3 Orion airplanes conducted an aerial search over a seven-day period. Efforts to locate Valentich continued until October 25, 1978.

A slick of fuel was discovered on the sea roughly near where Valentich had last radioed Robey, but analysis proved that the slick was not aviation fuel. No trace of the aircraft was found. The aircraft was equipped with four life jackets and an emergency radio beacon, and was designed to stay afloat for several minutes.

Official findings

An official Department of Transport (DOT) investigation was launched into Valentich's disappearance. It lasted two weeks but was unable to determine the cause. DOT findings on the incident read "The reason for the disappearance of the aircraft has not been determined", and that it was "presumed fatal" for Valentich.

A summary report was finally published on April 27, 1982 which included all known radio traffic occurring the evening of 21 October 1978 between Delta Sierra Juliet (Valentich) and the Flight Control Unit at Melbourne (Steve Robey).

Other findings

Unexplained sounds

During Valentich's final recorded transmission to the Melbourne Flight Control Unit, seventeen seconds of unexplained noise, described as being "metallic, scraping sounds," was recorded by DOT ATC tapes.

Researchers Paul Norman and John W. Auchettl received a full copy of the original voice tapes from the DOT and later from the pilot’s father for analysis. Auchettl had a copy analysed in Melbourne by RMIT and another was taken to the United States by Norman for analysis by Dr. Richard F. Haines, a former researcher with NASA-Ames and Associate Professor of Psychology at San Jose State University.

Haines described the sounds as "Thirty-six separate bursts with fairly constant start and stop pulses bounding each one," and said that there were "no discernible patterns in time or frequency." The significance of the sounds, if any, has remained undetermined.

The Manifold photographs

Shortly before Valentich's last reported contact with Robey, plumber Roy Manifold set up a time lapse camera and tripod on the shoreline in order to photograph the sun setting over the water. When his pictures were developed they appeared to show a fast moving object exiting the water near Cape Otway lighthouse. Manifold gave the time that the pictures were taken as being approximately 6:47 pm (18:47 hrs), or 20 minutes before Valentich reported having difficulties.

The pictures were later examined by Phoenix, Arizona, based UFO group Ground Saucer Watch (GSW) and by a number of independent experts. Though the pictures were not clear enough to identify the object, UFO groups argue that the distance that the object moved between frames, relative to clouds in the background, indicate that it was traveling at a speed of roughly 200 mph.

Of the photographs, Dr. Haines wrote: "Based on the computerized data of the pictures, it is the consensus of the GSW technicians that the images represent a bona fide unknown flying object, of moderate dimensions, apparently surrounded by a cloud-like vapor/exhaust residue." The suggestion that the objects are solid has been dismissed by UFO skeptics who believe the object to be a cloud formation. Though no skeptical explanation was given to account for the object's speed.

UFO sighting reports

After news of Valentich's disappearance became public, a number of individuals came forward claiming to have witnessed unusual activity in the area.

Among the accounts given were 20 in which people claimed to have seen “an erratically moving green light in the sky” and in one instance witnesses, located about 2 km west of Apollo Bay, stated that they saw a green light trailing or shadowing Valentich's plane, and that he was in a steep dive at the time.

According to Ufologists, these accounts are especially significant as most were recorded several years prior to the 1982 release of transcripts in which Valentich had described the object above him as having a green light.

Proposed explanations


Several prosaic explanations have been put forward for Valentich's disappearance, including that he encountered - and was subsequently killed by - drug smugglers, that he was struck by lightning from a lenticular cloud, or that his final radio message was setting the stage for an elaborate suicide attempt, despite Valentich living a seemingly content life. In 1992, prominent UFO skeptic Philip J. Klass made unsubstantiated charges that Valentich was a drug smuggler, which irritated Valentich's relatives to no end.

Another proposed explanation, (discussed on the ABC television programme 'Can We Help?' in 2007), 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 quickly ruled out by aviation authorities, as the Cessna 182 has a high wing with a gravity feed fuel system, inverted flight is impossible in this model.

Noted ufologist Jerome Clark writes that most proposed explanations have been found to be inadequate or unsubstantiated and have since been rebutted.


Unconventional explanations for Valentich's disappearance include speculation by ufologists that the unexplained aircraft with the green light that he reported was an extra-terrestrial vehicle, which in turn either abducted Valentich or caused the destruction of his plane in some fashion.

A private investigation of the incident, published in 2000, concluded that Valentich had become disorientated and experienced engine and radio trouble, causing him to crash into the sea. The report worked on the presumption that the “green light” that Valentich reported was a physical object with which he shared his airspace, and that it was behind his disorientation. It provided no conclusive explanation as to what the light was, leaving open the possibility that it could have been a controlled craft of some kind, either terrestrial or extra terrestrial in origin.

Speculation that a UFO was involved has been fueled by a number of factors, including Valentich's last transmission, in which he described the aircraft shadowing him as “hovering” and “not an aircraft”, the unexplained sounds that were heard at the end of his transmission, and a rash of UFO reports from the area.

Transcript of the Valentich-Robey transmissions

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.

19:07 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 traveling, 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.

19:09 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?

DSJ: Affirmative.

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 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

1911:50 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 it's not an aircraft.

FS: Delta Sierra Juliet.

1912:28 DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet. Melbourne (open microphone for seventeen seconds).

(An unexplained sound abruptly terminated the voice communications.)

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