When? 24 July 1948
Where? Montgomery, Alabama
What happened? This case was one of the very first UFO sightings reported by commercial pilots. Whilst flying from Houston to Atlanta, pilots Chiles and Whitted encountered a large, cigar-shaped craft flying close to them, barely missing them at times. At one point, the object appeared to stop abruptly before vanishing into thin air. The pilots agreed that it was a long, thin craft, with two rows of windows that emitted a blueish glow. It was moving really fast, leaving a trail of orange/red exhaust in its wake. What makes this sighting more credible is that this sighting wasn’t only reported by Chiles and Whitted. Several witnesses at an airbase in Georgia claim to have seen an identical object half an hour before the pilots’ experience. Government officials were able to rule out the possibility of it being a military or commercial flight as there were no fitting flights scheduled at that time.
How was it explained? After an investigation, government debunkers wrote the sighting off as an illusion caused by temperature inversions, and later changed their minds and claimed it was a meteor. However, as the description of the object does not at all fit that of a meteor, this sighting is still classed as ‘unexplained’.
When? 21 October 1978
Where? Bass Strait, Australia
What happened? Frederick Valentich disappeared whilst piloting a light aircraft over Bass Strait. During his routine flight, Valentich reported to Melbourne Air Traffic Control that a ‘strange aircraft’ 1,000m above him was following him. He also complained that his engine was running roughly and his craft began to act in strange ways. The transcript from Valentich’s conversation with Melbourne tells us that the unidentified craft was a long ‘shape’, moving at three times his speed and orbiting him. He also said that its lights were beaming and looked a little like landing lights. Perhaps the most chilling extract from the transcript comes just before Valentich is cut off for good. He says: “It’s hovering – and it’s not an air craft…” Valentich and his aircraft disappeared shortly after this conversation. There was an extensive 7-day search of land and sea and not a single trace of Valentich or his plane was found. The Department of Transport were never able to determine the cause of Valentich’s disappearance, but it was ‘presumed fatal’ for him.
How was it explained? The Australian government came up with several potential explanations. Firstly, as he had enough fuel to fly 800km, they have suggested he may have staged his own disappearance. However there were no reports of matching aircrafts plotted on any radar at this time. Secondly, they claimed that he may have been disoriented and was flying upside down – meaning that the lights he saw were actually a reflection of his own in the water. Finally, they have suggested that he may have committed suicide. However, many believe that – as there was no trace of him or his craft, and he was a competent and qualified pilot with a happy life – he was abducted.
When? August-September 1951
Where? Lubbock, Texas
What happened? On the night of 25 August 1951 Dr. W.I. Robinson was standing in the back garden of his home with two of his colleagues from the Texas Technological College, Professor Ducker and Dr. Oberg. All of a sudden all three men saw several lights fly across the sky, silently. They flew across the whole horizon within a matter of seconds, and the same thing happened again a few moments later. Between August and November Professor Ducker claims to have seen 12 similar flights, and several of his colleagues witnessed some as well. Hundreds of other non-scientists claimed to have seen the lights too. On the evening of 30 August, Texas Tech student, Carl Hart Jr. spotted the lights and was able to take five successive photos of them with his 35-mm Kodak camera. He was paid $10 for the photos and they were printed in papers nationally. However, the professors stated that these photos did not accurately portray the lights they had been seeing. Carl photographed the lights flying in a V formation – the professors had consistently seen them flying in a U shape.
How was it explained? Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, who would later become the first director of Project Blue Book, was sent to Lubbock to investigate the lights. To this day, an extraterrestrial explanation for the lights has never been fully debunked, however, other possible explanations have been cited. It was suggested that it was a group of Plover birds, shooting stars or comet fragments – though none of these explanations ever really fit the bill.
When? 1989 - 1990
Where? Across Belgium
What happened? These sightings began in 1989 but peaked with the events on 30/31 March 1990. On that night several unknown objects were tracked by two Belgian aircrafts and photographed. Additionally, they were witnessed by around 13,500 people with 2,600 filing official written statements detailing what they saw. The general description of the sighting is of three unusual lights, brighter than stars and changing colour, flying across the sky towards the South-East of Brussels. Patrols of Belgian aircraft were sent to investigate and try to track the lights, which had formed into small triangles. They managed to obtain a radar lock onto the unidentified crafts on three occasions, but their targets rapidly accelerated each time before descending to ground level. The pilots never made visual contact with the targets. The sudden changes in speed of the unidentified crafts should have been fatal to their pilots. Ground witnesses, the police and the pilots all give identical accounts of this sighting.
How was it explained? Many people are sceptical about these sightings, mainly because the only photo to emerge from the wave turned out to be a hoax. A lot of people explain the sightings as mass delusion, from misinformation spread by the media and the UFO logical organisation. Others argue that they were simply helicopters, their silence explained by a strong natural wind, or other noise drowning their engine sound out. However, nothing has been confirmed or verified, and the Belgian UFO Wave remains unexplained.
Where? Los Angeles, California
What happened? On the night of 24 February 1942, not too long after the attack on Pearl Harbor, air raid sirens rang out across Los Angeles. Thousands of people witnessed searchlights around Los Angeles fixing on a target hovering over the city, and the Coast Guard Anti-aircraft guns were ready to fire. They assumed it was an attack from Japan – but they were wrong. To this day, the Japanese claim they never attacked and there is no wreckage or other evidence to say that they did. People inland started to report seeing the large craft, or fleet, and Air Raid Wardens put the city into blackout. Some witnesses describe the sighting as a tremendous single object, crawling through the sky, whilst others say it was a group of smaller objects. At 3.16am a barrage of AA shells began, and the firing at the object continued throughout the night until the blackout was lifted at 7.21am. Several buildings were damaged in the firing and six people were killed – three by friendly fire and three from stress caused by the attacks.
How was it explained? The next morning the papers were filled with several different explanations. Some reported that it was Japanese planes that were shot down – though there was no evidence to say that this was the case. The LA Times ran a front-page picture showing an image of an odd object caught in the searchlights. The Government denounced the whole story, calling it a false alarm caused by ‘war nerves’, however many witnesses confirm that they believe what they saw was extra-terrestrial.