Did Pilot Frederick Valentich See A UFO Before He Mysteriously Disappeared?

People have flying-related phobias for a number of reasons: Maybe they're worried the plane will malfunction or that they'll see something strange while they're up there. After all, plenty of pilots have reported seeing all sorts of weird things miles off the ground. 

Frederick Valentich was one of these pilots - he radioed into traffic control midair one night to report seeing an object flying near him in the sky. His last words were, "It's not an aircraft," before being cut off by a metallic scraping sound, followed by radio silence. Valentich was never seen again.

What happened to him? We may never know for sure, but here's a full breakdown of the situation and some of the most likely theories surrounding the mystery.


  • Pilot Frederick Valentich Was Flying Over Australia When He Saw Strange Lights

    On October 21, 1978, Australian pilot Frederick Valentich departed Moorabbin Airport in Victoria to head to King Island, his route carrying him over the Bass Strait. While he told operators at Moorabbin that he planned to greet some friends there, he mysteriously had not notified anyone on King Island of his intentions or arranged any aerodrome lighting for his landing, which could have led to him flying in the dark with no communication.

    That wasn't the only strange thing about his journey. At 7:06 pm, he made contact with Melbourne air traffic control to report an anomaly: Four bright lights were traveling erratically around him at high speed, first above, then below, then coming straight towards him. Valentich said over his radio, "It seems to me that [it]'s playing some sort of game." 

    Air traffic controllers assured the pilot that he should be alone in the area and that they didn't know of anyone who should be traveling that way. When they asked him to identify the strange craft, Valentich gave a chilling response: "It's not an aircraft."

  • What Valentich Described Sounded Nothing Like Another Plane

    What the pilot described over the radio sounded nothing like any sort of man-made craft. Aside from four bright lights (landing lights, Valentich assumed), he described the thing has having "a long shape," continuing, "It’s got a green light and sort of metallic - it’s all shiny [on] the outside."

    What's more, the object was flying at incredible speeds and making seemingly impossible acrobatic movements around the pilot. Near the end of his transmission, Valentich even said it was "stationary," then "orbiting on top of" him. Whatever it was, it didn't move in ways contemporary - or even current - technology would have allowed. Valentich asserted multiple times over his short transmission that he couldn't identify the craft as anything from Earth.

  • Valentich's Audio Cut Out, And He Was Never Heard From Again

    After the object's bizarre series of movements, Valentitch radioed in again to say that it had disappeared. Unfortunately though, his struggles weren't over. At 7:11 pm, his engine began to rough idle. In other words, his speed had decreased, and his engine was struggling to keep him aloft. 

    At this moment, his mysterious visitor returned. Valentich reported, "That strange aircraft is hovering on top of me again... It is hovering, and it’s not an aircraft." Then silence on his end. There was open static on his radio for 17 seconds, followed by a metallic scraping sound. Then, finally, the audio cut off. Melbourne air traffic control was unable to establish any more communication. The conversation had barely lasted seven minutes.

    Valentich never landed on King Island, nor did he return back the way he came. When his disappearance was announced in the local papers and the subsequent search and rescue turned up nothing, the theorizing began.

  • Some Believe The Pilot's Disappearance Was Planned

    Had any sign of Valentich or his plane been found by the near-immediate search party that the Australian Department of Transport launched, it would be easier to chalk the incident up to a freak mishap, especially since they had a relatively specific, shallow area to search. If the pilot had fallen out of the sky, how far could the wreckage have really traveled in such a short time span? Instead, the vanishing was so complete and so sudden that some of the first theories authorities investigated centered on the notion that Valentich must have either staged his escape or taken his own life.

    As for evidence, first there's the murky reasoning as to why he was going to Kings Island. He told air traffic controllers he intended to pick up friends, and he even packed extra life jackets. Others close to Valentich said he had mentioned picking up a shipment of crayfish, while his father said it was lobsters. Whatever the reason, no friends or fish were waiting for him at the airport - acquaintances and local seafood vendors interviewed after the fact were clueless about these supposed plans.

    All of this led investigators to wonder if Valentich sunk his own plane and simply staged a "UFO sighting" to protect his love ones from the truth of his theoretical suicide. Or perhaps he flew off to start a new life - he did have five times the fuel needed to reach his destination, and could have flown a significant distance before anyone realized he was gone.

    Unfortunately, these initial theories were also the most quickly dismissed. Whatever Valentich's true intentions were for his trip, interviews conducted during the investigation with his friends, family, and even his girlfriend revealed no signs of instability or flightiness. They all said he was working hard towards his license, often discussed his future and plans with them, and didn't really drink or have any other vices. Overall, he seemed like a happy, normal person - not someone who wanted to leave their life. Those close to him placed such faith in this notion that his friends continued looking for him even after the official search was called off.

  • Some Theorize Aliens Abducted Valentich

    Some Theorize Aliens Abducted Valentich
    Photo: Stefan-Xp / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

    Naturally, given the strange way Valentich described his in-flight visitor, some of the most popular theories suggest he had an encounter with extraterrestrials. According to him, the thing didn't look or move like any known aircraft from Earth. The lack of a body or even pieces from his plane fits neatly into an abduction narrative, and even his father, Guio Valentich, believed this theory - or at least hoped it was true himself.

    Guio said, "The fact that they have found no trace of him really verifies the fact that UFOs could have been there... He was not the kind of person who would make up stories." Finally, numerous reports of UFO sightings occurred all along the coast the night Valentich disappeared.

    Of course, it's easy for anything to be lost in the vastness of the ocean. His father's hope for his son's abduction - as opposed to a more dire fate - is also understandable. As for the other UFO reports from the same area, they were made retroactively, only after the disappearance had made the news. Authorities said of this fact, "It seems people decide after the event, they too, had seen strange lights." They did not, however, discourage the public from making such reports, acknowledging that every piece of information helps.

    Still, it's clear that many of the supporting pieces of evidence for this theory can easily be debunked.

  • The Area In Which Valentich Disappeared Has A Bad Reputation

    The Area In Which Valentich Disappeared Has A Bad Reputation
    Photo: TVJunkie / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    What complicated Valentich's story even further is the specific area in which he disappeared: the Bass Strait. Located between mainland Australia and the northern coast of Tasmania, the area has a long history of strange activity and disasters both in air and at sea, so much so that it's earned the moniker "The Bass Strait Triangle" (in the fashion of the Bermuda Triangle). 

    Some of the most notable incidents include the 1858 disappearance of Royal Navy ship HMS Sappho, which was last seen at the entrance of the Strait before it vanished with around 100 people on board, and the 1934 vanishing of the airliner Miss Hobart and its passengers: seven men, two women, and a small child; the airliner was presumed to have fallen into the Strait. In addition to vanishings, countless people have lost their lives crashing in the area over the years. 

    Does this pattern factor into Valentich's situation? Possibly, though whether it may do so supernaturally or simply because it's a dangerous and well-traveled waterway is up for debate.