Some of the most spectacular and believable UFO accounts come from pilots of all types. These are those witnesses who are experienced with the skies above our heads and who tend to know what they are looking at, so when they report UFO phenomena, people tend to pay attention. There have been numerous pilot UFO encounters reported across the decades, and here we will look at a selection of accounts from the 1990s.
Our first case here takes us back to January 28, 1994, when Air-France flight AF-3532 had a rather bizarre encounter on its way from Nice, France, to London, England, along with the pilot and commander of the flight, Jean-Charles Duboc, copilot Valerie Chauffour, and 24 passengers on board. At the time the flight was in excellent weather conditions, with high visibility and clear skies, and the flight had gone smoothly until they reached an area somewhere above Coulommiers, France, where they saw something out the window that they at first took to be a weather balloon or another aircraft, but soon proved to be anything but. Duboc would later say of what they saw:
I first identified it like an aircraft facing us, at approximately 45 km (25 Nm), at an altitude of approximately 10500 meters (25 Nm) and at an angle close to 45°. I found this slope absolutely abnormal because aircraft are not inclined at this altitude beyond 30 degrees without risking to fall down. This object seemed to us then absolutely abnormal by its size which seemed immense, its dark red color and of the fuzzy edges. I had the impression to observe a gigantic lens in evolution. It did not resemble anything we had seen in our flying careers. This object, this phenomenon, remained motionless while we left it on our left side, still at an approximate distance of 45 km. We observed it during a good minute, conscious that we were seeing something utterly anomalous. We continued to observe it when it gradually merged with the environment. We saw it becoming translucent, transparent, diluted in space. That was absolutely amazing.
At the time they did not have radar operational because the radar was typically only used to locate storms, but they nevertheless contacted ground control at Rheims to report what they had seen and that was that. Duboc would not file any written report at the time for fear of tarnishing his reputation, but would later change his mind. He would say of this:
In the immediate, the continuations were non-existent, because I did not submit a written report to avoid being ridiculed. It was three years later, as I read an article from Paris Match, which described how a UFO has been detected above Paris, that I made the connection between this UFO and that what I had seen. I then submitted a report to the Gendarmerie Nationale (French police, having an SOP for collection of UFO reports). I barely speak about this encounter, and I had the surprise to note that about one out of ten pilot had observed a unidentified flying phenomenon.
After discussing about the observation, we concluded that the object was approximately 300 meters in diameter. I took note of the radar recordings by the CODED (Operational Center of Air Defense). There is a very curious characteristic for the trajectory of the UFO, as it shows that it would have almost collided with us. The minimal distance on the recording is less than 1 Nm, that is to say 10 seconds of flight. This kind of observation is traditional in electronic war. The modern military aircraft are furtive, and at the same time able to synthesize a virtual image of themselves by delaying the radar echo. If a missile had been drawn on this UFO, which was above Paris, it would be our A320 which would probably have been hit by the missile. I think that it is not desirable to shoot fire at this kind of phenomenon.
The following year we have the strange case of a commercial Boeing 737 that was flying towards Manchester Airport, in England on January 6, when a series of very odd and at times harrowing events played out. On the plane’s final approach, the pilot and co-pilot saw a bright light careening towards them at great speed, and before they even could react the object shot by the plane in very close proximity, such that they instinctively ducked and braced for impact. As it passed, they could see that it was “wedge-shaped with what could have been a black stripe down the side” and that it had “a number of small white lights, rather like a Christmas tree.” They also were perplexed that there was no sound at all from the craft, and even more oddly no turbulence caused by its passing. Also strange was that ground control at the airport could find no radar signature of the alleged object. A transcript of the pilot’s conversation with ground control reads:
B737 (1848) - 'c/s we just had something go down the RHS just above us very fast.'
Manchester - 'Well, there's nothing seen on radar. Was it er an ac?'
B737 - 'Well, it had lights, it went down the starboard side very quick.'
Manchester - 'And above you?'
B737 - 'er, just slightly above us, yeah.'
Manchester - 'Keep an eye out for something, er, I can't see anything at all at the moment so, er, must have, er, been very fast or gone down very quickly after it passed you I think.'
B737 - 'OK. Well, there you go!'
At the time there was no known air traffic in the vicinity, and the lack of radar contact caused speculation that it had been a hang glider, paraglider or microlight, but a later investigation by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) would deem these possibilities to be very unlikely. The idea that there had been some sort of military test going on was also dismissed because it was deemed highly unlikely such a thing would have been conducted so close to an international airport, and furthermore the RAF denied having anything to so with it. There was also a lack of any radar contact, which should have happened with a military craft. Oddly, there were no reported sightings from any one on the ground, making the investigation more difficult to get to the bottom of. In the end, the CAA would conclude:
Usually, activity of this kind is accompanied by a rash of ground sightings in the same geographic area; in this case, as far as is known, there were no other reports and therefore the incident has to be viewed in isolation, with no other witnesses. The resources normally available when investigating airmisses are pilots' reports, corroborated by radar and RT recordings. Often these will provide all the clues necessary, but in this case there is no 'reported pilot', and radar recordings do not show any unknown contacts. The lack of a radar contact is not necessarily unusual if weather suppressors are in use on radar, particularly if the object generates a poor radar response.
In these conditions the radar an interpret a non-transponding (primary) contact as weather, and therefore disregards it. Enquiries into military activity did not reveal any ac in the area at the time, and it was considered inconceivable that such activity would take place so close to a busy airport without some sort of prior notification. members put forward other suggestions, such as large model aircraft or commercially operated remotely controlled craft, such as those which are used for survey or photographic work. Considering the prevailing conditions - darkness, high ground, strong NW wind and the proximity of a major international airport - the Group felt that this kind of activity, together with the hang glider/microlight theory, could not be regarded as a realistic possibility.
That same year there was a report from an America West B-757 passenger airliner flying over the panhandle of Texas, in the United States near Bovina, Texas, when First Officer John J. Waller and a flight attendant noticed a “row of white lights” that were flashing in a left to right pattern. These lights were somewhere below their position, but when ground control was notified, there could be found no radar target in the area, although one of the controllers contacted the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), and was told that they were tracking an unidentified object. In the meantime, the pilot and co-pilot could now see that the object was cigar-shaped and massive, an estimated 300 to 400 feet long. The whole of it then moved out of sight. When NORAD was contacted again about what they had picked up, they claimed that the thing had made several very fast accelerations and decelerations at speeds of between 1,000 and 1,400 mph. UFO researcher Walter N. Webb would take great interest in the case and not only procure transcripts of the pilot’s conversation with ground control, but also file several Freedom of Information Act requests and search military records, but nothing could be found that could account for what had been seen. It remains a mystery. You can read the transcripts on the case here.
Also in 1995 is a report from Long Island, New York, where on November 18 of that year airliner Lufthansa 405, an Airbus A-340, was on its way overseas to Germany. At some point the pilot called Boston Air Traffic Control to report a “long, cylindrical object with a white flashing light on its front, and a long, green, comet-like tail,” which was also seen by British Airways Flight 226 on a flight from London. The large mysterious object apparently sped by both airliners, but ground control could find no scheduled air traffic in the region to account for it. Part of the transcript between the Lufthansa flight (LUFT) ground control (FAA) and the British Airways flight (BRIT) reads as follows:
LUFT: Uh, Boston, Lufthansa 405/Heavy.
FAA: Lufthansa 405, go ahead.
LUFT: Uh, we just passed traffic on the left wing, uh, about 2,000 to 3,000 feet above us. What traffic was it?
FAA Is this Lufthansa 405?
LUFT: Affirmative, Lufthansa 405. We had opposite traffic on the left wing. Can you confirm this?
FAA: Lufthansa 405, negative. I show no traffic in your area within, uh, 20 or 30 miles.
LUFT: It should be now on our tail, about 10 miles... We passed it just one minute ago, and it was looking strange.
BRIT: Speed Bird 226 confirms that. It was just above us on our left-hand side about 3 minutes ago.
FAA What altitude does it appear to be at, Lufthansa 405?
LUFT: It was only 2 or 3 thousand feet above us. We are now passing (Flight) Level 260. That's confirmed, or not? Lufthansa.
FAA: Lufthansa 405, roger.
BRIT: Speed Bird 226, we confirm that. We had something go past us about two, well...about one to two thousand feet above on the left hand side. Uh, looked like a green trail on it, and a very bright light on the front of it. We assumed it was an opposite traffic.
FAA: Speed Bird 226, roger that.
LUFT: ((Garbled))..Lufthansa 405/Heavy. we are right now about 26 miles east of "Hotel Tango Oscar ((Hampton??))." And the Speed Bird is now ahead, or behind us ((or where)?
FAA: Lufthansa 405, the Speed Bird is in your 12:00 o'clock, and about 30 miles, 40 miles.
LUFT: That was not our traffic. Lufthansa 405 Heavy.
FAA: Lufthansa 405, roger. And the heading of the traffic, was it the same direction, or opposite direction?
LUFT: Exactly opposite. Lufthansa 405/Heavy.
FAA: Roger. Did it pass off your right side?
LUFT: Uh, left side.
BRIT: Yea, Speed Bird 226 confirms that. We saw the same thing. It certainly looked like an aircraft initially, but it may not have been one.
LUFT: ((We can't tell then??)) It was looking very strange, with a long, uh, light, in the tail.
BRIT: Yea, a big bright white light on the front, and a greenish tail coming out the back.
FAA: Speed Bird 226, did it go over...did it go overhead. The traffic go overhead you, or was it below you?
BRIT: It was overhead and off to the left, much the same as ((garbled)). It actually looked about...opposite traffic, 2000 feet above. That's what it initially looked like. But then it did have a very strong trail to it...a vapor trail, which looked more like smoke. And the light on the front was very, very bright, and as it went past us, it seemed to ((just?)) disappear and ((went)) 5 miles behind us.
LUFT: Can you confirm this, Lufthansa 405/Heavy.
FAA: OK, Lufthansa 405, Speed Bird 226. Thanks, we'll look into it.
LUFT: It was pretty close, and like Speed Bird said, it looked like ((four??)) or three thousand feet above on the left wing, just one mile and, uh, on opposite track... It doesn't have, ...it didn't have any uh, lights...((normal)) lights, beacon lights, or red or green lights. Only a white light in the front, and with a long green light. It looked like a U-F-O.
FAA: Lufthansa 405, roger that. Like I said, we had nothing flying in the area. You are just north of a military operating area, but the traffic shouldn't have varied out that far out,...out of the area.
LUFT: Must have been a military. Lufthansa 405/Heavy.
FAA: Roger. Giant Killer, ((garbled)) 59.
GK: Giant Killer.
FAA: Hey, you got anything flying out in the area?
GK: Negative, ((105 is??)) turned over. 0300.
FAA: Well, I just received a couple of UFO reports.
GK: Oh, is that right?
FAA? Yea, I had a couple of guys that reported lights, just moved all over their heads. I have no traffic whatsoever in the area. They said it passed within a mile of them, like at 2-3 thousand feet above them, opposite direction. ((Garbled)) green trail out the back.
What was going on here? Who knows? Our next case comes from the following year, when on February 28, 1996, the crew of Air Shuttle flight 5959 reported something bizarre while flying near Cleveland, Ohio, in the United States. It was reported that the crew witnessed a bright light below them, which soon began flashing with multi-colored lights a few thousand feet below their plane. The strange lights were also seen by another aircraft, a Mesaba Airlines flight 3179, but Cleveland Air Traffic Control were unable to pick the object up on radar. Flight 5959 decided to descend to get a closer look at what they were seeing, and the pilot reported that it was spinning and pulsating, with “a rotating light around it like a Frisbee type thing that's going around it,” and in the meantime Mesaba 3179 flashed its lights at the UFO in an effort to communicate to no effect. Apparently, some passengers took photographs of the UFO, but happened to these remains as mysterious as the identity of the object.
The following year there would be another case involving what are called “near-misses,” when a UFO passes within dangerously close distance of an aircraft. The report comes from August 9, 1997, when a Swissair Boeing 747 was on a short flight from Philadelphia International Airport to Boston Logan International Airport. At approximately 5:07 p.m., both the pilot, Capt. Phil Bobet, and his co-pilot saw an unidentified bright light go speeding past them the opposite direction at close proximity, “like a rocket” and too fast to be another plane. The object apparently came out of nowhere and disappeared just as fast. There has never been any explanation.
On February 3, 1999, there is the spectacular case of several pilots off the Danish coast above the North Sea reporting having been buzzed by a massive cylindrical UFO “as big as a battleship.” One of the pilot reports in particular stands out, that of the pilot of a Debonair BAe146 aircraft who claimed that the object had approached extremely close and lit up the plane with an “incandescent light.” A spokesperson with the CAA would say of the incident:
The captain reported seeing an unnatural bright light below his aircraft while flying at 28,000 ft. The area below him was illuminated for about 10 seconds by incandescent light and it was certainly not a light from another plane. Three other aircraft saw it moving at a high speed or static. However, air traffic control were informed and they confirmed that there were no other planes in the vicinity. Then, five minutes later, there was a brief radar return from a spot 75 miles away. We believe there was no danger involved.
The case would later sort of be brushed off and the military would not comment, despite the fact that it was reported that a military radar station in Yorkshire had tracked it after it had entered UK air space. This case, like all the others mentioned here, has gone on to be unexplained, and we are left to wonder what we are dealing with. What is zipping about up in out airspace menacing these aircraft? Is there some rational explanation, or is there something more mysterious at work? It remains to be seen.