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The Strange Case of an Airliner Forced to Land by a UFO

Among all of the alleged UFO encounters out there, some of the most spectacular are those that have been reported by pilots and aviators. After all, these are people who have a firm grasp as to what to expect to see up in the sky, and know when something is wrong with this picture. There are numerous such accounts to be found, but one of the weirder is the time a Spanish airliner was actually forced to land due to a stubborn and very aggressive UFO.

One of the weirdest UFO incidents in Spanish history began on the evening of November 11, 1979, when Transportes Aéreos Españoles Flight JK-297 took off from Salzburg, Austria on a commercial flight to Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands. Aboard the TAE Super Caravelle airliner were 109 passengers, an experienced crew, and it was meant to be a totally routine flight. The plane made it to its refueling stop at the island of Majorca without incident, but as they headed out towards their final destination things would begin to get odd indeed. It started with a sudden request from ground control to pilot Francisco Javier Lerdo de Tejada to switch to his emergency channel because an emergency beacon had been detected in their general area. The pilot obeyed, and that’s when he and his crew noticed something very unusual to the left of their aircraft. Out in the night sky they could see two red lights, which seemed to be moving at great speed, and unsettlingly looked to be headed right towards them. It was alarming enough that Tejada immediately contacted the flight control center in Barcelona to get more information on the approaching lights, but they could see nothing on their radar to explain it. An original transcript of this initial conversation between the flight (TAE-297) and ground control reads:

– Barcelona, this is TAE 297
-TAE-297 tell me?
– Can you confirm me that we have a traffic next to us, to our left, more or less four five miles?
– TAE-297 negative. No traffic reported..
– We see two signals, red lights now. About three miles to ten in our position.. Approximately the same height..
-at ten of your position, three miles left now?
-yes
-TAE-297 received, thank you.
-(voice starting to panic) when you can, inform me about that traffic.
– 297 we Are not aware of any traffic on that route, you are the only one from Ibiza to Alicante.
-thank you very much (it is possible that traffic, yes)
-TAE-297 confirm me, those lights are on the sea or in the air?
-I repeat, is a traffic and it is in our high!
-TAE-297, received, thanks.
-Barcelona, this TAE 297, confirm me the type of aircraft that it could be that traffic!
-TAE-297 confirm me if it’s in the same direction?
-yes! We got closer and closer! … I can only see two red lights, no flashes
-TAE-297 we have no reported traffic around, we have also called Palma(Mallorca) to see if it’s a “lower level 240” and they told us they had no reported traffic either.

The military radar of Torrejón de Ardoz in Madrid could also not detect anything on radar except the airliner,there were no other flights scheduled to be in the area, and in the meantime, those lights were closing the distance fast. Tejada decided to take evasive maneuvers to avoid what he believed to be an incoming collision, rapidly lowering his altitude, but the lights mirrored this movement to stay on the same level as them, and at this time they were reported as no longer closing in, but rather maintaining an uncomfortably close distance of approximately half a kilometer from the airliner. If  this was another plane it was shamelessly ignoring safety precautions, and at this distance further evasive maneuvers were considered too dangerous, so Tejada requested to make an emergency landing at the airport in Manises, Valencia, which was granted.

As the plane approached its new destination, those eerie red lights continued to follow them with inscrutable purpose, still not showing up on radar anywhere, but very visible to the crew and passengers. These lights would follow them until they were nearly at Manises, after which they broke off to fly away just as mysteriously as they had arrived. At this point the lights were close enough to the airport that personnel on the ground were able to make visual confirmation of the anomalies, and then there were sudden radar signatures picked up of three more large flying objects estimated as measuring around 200 meters in diameter circling about. It was thought that there was perhaps an unregistered flight coming in for an emergency landing, but all efforts to hail what they believed to be an aircraft were met with silence.

This was all enough to put the Spanish Air Force on high alert, and they began scrambling a Mirage F-1 fighter jet at the Los Llanos airbase in order to get a closer look and see what was going on. The fighter pilot, Spanish Air Force captain Fernando Cámara, reported that the object was moving very rapidly, forcing him to speed up to mach 1.4 just to keep up. He then made visual contact with the mysterious object, which he described as a “truncated cone” with multi-colored flashing lights on it. This was about all he was able to make out, as the strange craft then sped away out of sight faster than he could possibly keep up. At that moment things got even more intense, when there was a report of another object that had appeared near Valencia, which the pilot dutifully went to intercept, yet as he drew closer he was forced to break off when his electronic flight systems were inexplicably jammed and his system additionally gave him an ominous warning that he was being locked onto by missile radar. Alarmed, he aborted his chase as the object allegedly sped off in the direction of Africa, after which his systems returned to normal.

After the harrowing incident, the crew of Flight JK-297 was allegedly strictly forbidden to speak about it to the press and public, but the story got out into the wild nevertheless, and it was indeed curious enough that a full government investigation was launched into what has come to be known as the “Manises UFO Incident.” For his part, pilot Tejada would adamantly deny that what had been seen was another conventional aircraft, although he stopped short of claiming that it was an alien spacecraft. As the media was picking up on the case there were some conspiracies popping up among passengers, many of whom had not actually seen the UFOs and believed it was all a story to get the airline out of having to give them a refund for the delayed and aborted flight. Of course, the airline denied this, saying that an unusual aerial situation had definitely played out on that evening. However, what exactly that was is open to debate.

The government would do its best to explain it through the usual suspects of mundane phenomena, such as the planet Venus, stars, even the lights from a distant chemical plant, but it seems highly unlikely that an experienced crew would all make that misidentification. As for the experience of the fighter pilot Cámara, it was suggested that his electronic systems had been disrupted by “powerful electronic warfare equipment” being used in military exercises being carried out in the area at the time by the United States Sixth Fleet. The pilot completely rejects this possibility, as the fleet was too far away and the disruption had only occurred as he tried to engage the unidentified flying object. Regardless of these arguments by the witnesses, the official explanations still stand, and the Spanish military, government, and the airline involved had constantly tried to downplay the whole affair.

Yet, the pilots and those involved, experienced airmen who know what they are doing, insist that this is wrong. So what are we to think of all of this? Was this misidentified planets and stars, a UFO, or perhaps even some sort of secret military experiment being carried out by the U.S. fleet? How can the government stick so strongly to the mundane explanations when none really seem to fit? What is going on here? As we search for answers, the Manises UFO Incident has attracted much discussion, and remains the earliest and perhaps only account of a commercial airliner being forced to land because of a UFO.