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Valentich and his aircraft were never recovered (though wreckage with matching partial serial numbers was spotted in the Bass Strait five years later), and an Australian Department of Transport investigation concluded that the reason for the disappearance could not be determined.
Belated reports of a UFO sighting in Australia on the night of the disappearance led Ken Williams, a spokesman for the Department of Transport, to tell Associated Press that "it's funny all these people ringing up with UFO reports well after Valentich's disappearance."
Frederick Valentich was born on 9 June 1958 in Melbourne. He lived at home with his parents and three siblings in Avondale Heights and at the time of his disappearance was a shop assistant at an army disposals store at Moonee Ponds. Frederick attended Keilor Heights High School in East Keilor up until year 10, then he continued his studies at a private college.
He had twice applied to enlist in the Royal Australian Air Force but was rejected because of inadequate educational qualifications. He was a member of the Air Training Corps, determined to have a career in aviation. His student pilot licence was issued 24 February 1977 and his private pilot licence the following September. Valentich was studying part-time to become a commercial pilot but had a poor achievement record, having twice failed all five commercial licence examination subjects, and as recent as the previous month had failed three more commercial licence subjects. He had been involved in flying incidents, straying into a controlled zone in Sydney (for which he received a warning) and twice deliberately flying into cloud (for which prosecution was being considered).
According to Guido Valentich, Frederick's father, Frederick was a "firm believer in UFOs", and, prior to his disappearance, he had "worried about attacks from UFOs".
Valentich had a Class Four instrument rating and 150 hours flight experience, when he filed a flight plan at Moorabbin Airport, Melbourne, on 21 October 1978. His stated intention was to fly to King Island in Bass Strait via Cape Otway, to pick up passengers, and return to Moorabbin. However, he had told his family, girlfriend and acquaintances that he intended to pick up crayfish. During the accident investigations it was learned there were no passengers waiting to be picked up at King Island, he had not ordered crayfish and could not have done so because crayfish were not available anyway.
He was flying a Cessna 182-L, with a cruising speed of around 256 km/h (160 mph), and visibility was good and winds were light. He departed Moorabbin at 18:19, contacted the Melbourne Flight Service Unit to inform them of his presence, and reported reaching Cape Otway at 19:00.
At 19:06, Valentich asked Melbourne Flight Service Officer Steve Robey for information on other aircraft below (5000 ft, 1524 m) and was told there was no known traffic at that level. Valentich said 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 it had passed about 1,000 feet (300 m) overhead and was moving at high speed. Valentich then reported that the aircraft was approaching him from the east and said the other pilot might be purposely toying with him.
At 19:09 Robey asked Valentich to confirm his altitude and that he was unable to identify the aircraft. Valentich gave his altitude as 4500 ft and said the aircraft was "long", but 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 said 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 silence before Valentich reported that the aircraft had vanished. There was a further 25-second break in communications before Valentich reported that it was now approaching from the southwest. Twenty-nine 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 until he said "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 given at 19:12. Valentich failed to arrive at King Island by 19:33, and a sea and air search was undertaken, and two RAAF P-3 Orion aircraft searched over a seven-day period. Search efforts continued until 25 October 1978. Analysis of a fuel slick found roughly near where Valentich had last radioed Robey proved that it was not aviation fuel, and 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. However, Australian researcher Keith Basterfield, who reviewed the "lost" 315-page government report, found that "parts of aircraft wreckage with partial matching serial numbers [to Valentich's Cessna] were found in the Bass Strait five years after the disappearance."
A two-week long Department of Transport (DOT) investigation into Valentich's disappearance was unable to determine the cause, but that it was "presumed fatal" for Valentich. A report published on 27 April 1982, summarised the radio conversations on the evening of 21 October 1978 between Valentich and Robey.
During Valentich's final recorded transmission to the Melbourne Service Unit, seventeen seconds of unexplained noise, described as being "metallic, scraping sounds", were recorded by DOT Air Traffic Control audio tape.
Researchers Paul Norman and John W. Auchettl received an edited copy of the original voice tape from the DOT. Auchettl had a copy analysed by the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (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 a speed of roughly 200 mph.
Dr. Haines wrote of the photographs: "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. No skeptical explanation has been given to account for the object's speed.
UFO sighting reports
After news of Valentich's disappearance became public, a number of individuals reported witnessing unusual activity in the area. Some 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, Victoria, stated that they saw a green light trailing or shadowing Valentich's plane, and that he was in a steep dive at the time. Ufologists said these accounts were 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.
Comments from Valentich's father
According to an Associated Press report, Guido Valentich, the father of the missing pilot, said "he hoped his son had been taken by a UFO and had not crashed. 'The fact that they have found no trace of him presents a possibility that UFOs could have been there.'"; Guido Valentich also told the AP that "his son used to study UFOs as a hobby using information he had obtained from the air force. He was not the kind of person who would make up stories. Everything had to be very correct and positive for him.'"
Several explanations have been put forward for Valentich's disappearance:
Unconventional explanations for Valentich's disappearance include speculation that the unexplained aircraft with the green light that he reported was a vehicle of some kind, which in turn either abducted Valentich or caused the destruction of his plane in some fashion.
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.
Open Government records
Australian Government's Department of Transport file was opened in 2012 under the 20 year rule. The National Archives of Australia (NAA) file reference on this document is: Series Number B1497, Control symbol V116/783/1047, Item Barcode 10491375, Title DSJ - Cape Otway to King Island 21 October 1978 - Aircraft Missing (Valentich). This document is 315 pages in length, and is open at the National Archives of Australia.
NOTE: To see a digitized copy of this report, go to the National Archives of Australia RecordSearch and do a Basic search using Keywords "DSJ - Cape Otway to King Island 21 October 1978 - Aircraft Missing (Valentich)". Then click on "View digital copy".
A Department of Transport's Marine Operations Centre, a MARSAR (Marine Search and Rescue) file also in the 2012 open category is listed in the collections of the National Archives of Australia (NAA). The file reference on this document is: Series Number A4703, Control symbol 1978/1205, Item Barcode 11485989, Title VH-DSJ Light aircraft overdue King Island. This document is 217 pages in length, and is open at the National Archives of Australia.
NOTE: To see a digitized copy of this report, go to the National Archives of Australia RecordSearch and do a Basic search using Keywords "VH-DSJ Light aircraft overdue King Island". Then click on "View digital copy".
Transcript of the transmissions
The following is a transcript of the exchanges between Valentich and air traffic control, from the first three pages of the Australian Department of Transport report:
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.
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 travelling, 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.
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?
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 chasing me. 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.
19:11:00 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
19:11:50 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 (open microphone for one second) it's not an aircraft.
FS: Delta Sierra Juliet.
19:12:28 DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet. Melbourne (open microphone for seventeen seconds).