It remains one of the more puzzling events in Australian aviation. On October 21st 1978, at 6:19pm in the evening, pilot Fredrick Valentich took off from Moorabbin airport in Victoria in a rented single-engine Cessna 182L with a proposed flight path to King Island, flying over the Bass Straight.
Just after 7pm however, Valentich radioed Melbourne air traffic control asking if there were any other aircraft in the area. He noticed strange lights, weird speeds and felt the aircraft was playing games with him. After the transmission abruptly ended, Valentich was never heard from again.
Here is a copy of the transmission released from Melbourne Air Traffic Control
19:06:14 DSJ FS Melbourne, this is Delta Sierra Juliet. Is there any known traffic below five thousand?’
19:06:23 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet—No known traffic.
19:06:26 DSJ FS Delta Sierra Juliet. I am—seems (to) be a large aircraft below 5,000.
19:06:46 FS DSJ D Delta Sierra Juliet—What type of aircraft is it?
19:06:50 DSJ FS Delta Sierra Juliet—I cannot affirm. It is four bright … it seems to me like landing lights.
19:07:04 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet. [This statement affirms to the pilot that the person on the ground heard his transmission.]
19:07:32 DSJ FS Melbourne, this (is) Delta Sierra Juliet. The aircraft has just passed over me at least a thousand feet above.
19:07:43 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet—Roger—and it, it is a large aircraft—confirm?
19:07:47 DSJ FS Er, unknown due to the speed it’s travelling… is there any air force aircraft in the vicinity?~
19:07:57 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet. No known aircraft in the vicinity.
19:08:18 DSJ FS Melbourne … it’s approaching now from due east~ towards me.~
19:08:28 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet.
19:08:42 DSJ FS //Open microphone for two seconds//
19:08:49 DSJ FS Delta Sierra Juliet. It seems to me that he’s playing some sort of game.’—He’s flying over me two—three times at a time at speeds I could not identify.’
19:09:02 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet—Roger. What is your actual level?
19:09:06 DSJ FS My level is four and a half thousand, four five zero zero.~
19:09:11 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet… And confirm—you cannot identify the aircraft.
19:09:14 DSJ FS Affirmative.’
19:09:18 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet—Roger… standby.
19:09:28 DSJ FS Melbourne—Delta Sierra Juliet. It’s not an aircraft’… it is //open microphone for two seconds// [This duration measured as three seconds. No information appears to have been removed from the tape.]
19:09:46 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet—Melbourne. Can you describe the…er—aircraft?
19:09:52 DSJ FS Delta Sierra Juliet… as its flying past it’s a long shape’ //open microphone for three seconds // (cannot) identify more than that. It has such speed //open microphone for three seconds //. It is before me right now Melbourne.’
19:10:07 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet—Roger. And how large would the —er—object be?
19:10:20 DSJ FS Delta Sierra Juliet—Melbourne. It seems like it’s (stationary).
[The author, Richard F Haines (USA) has determined that this word should be, ‘chasing me’, based on special filtering]. 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.~
19:10:43 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet.
19:10:48 DSJ FS Delta Sierra Juliet // open microphone for 5 seconds // [measured as 3 seconds] It’s just vanished.’
19:10:57 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet.
19:11:03 DSJ FS Melbourne would you know what kind of aircraft I’ve got?’ It is (a type) military aircraft?’
19:11:08 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet. Confirm the… er—aircraft just vanished.
19:11:14 DSJ FS Say again.
19:11:17 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet. Is the aircraft still with you?’
19:11:23 DSJ FS Delta Sierra Juliet… It’s ah… Nor //open microphone for two seconds// (now) approaching from the southwest.
19:11:37 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet.
19:11:52 DSJ FS Delta Sierra Juliet - The engine is, is rough idling. —I’ve got it set at twenty three—twenty four… and the thing is—coughing.
19:12:04 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet—Roger. What are your intentions?
19:12:09 DSJ FS 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 it’s not an aircraft.
19:12:22 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet.
19:12:28 DSJ FS Delta Sierra Juliet—Melbourne //open microphone for 17 seconds// [A very strange pulsed noise is also audible during this transmission.]
19:12:49 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet, Melbourne
An extensive search and rescue operation was conducted, however, the aircraft nor Valentick were ever found.
Some of the theories out there were that he was flying upside down and the lights on his plane were reflecting on the water which is why he saw lights above him, others claim he faked his own death and then there were conflicting reports about why he was headed to King Island. He had told his father he was heading there to get some crayfish, however, he told flight officials he was picking up his friends. King Island had no knowledge he was incoming with an intention to land, however, it is possible that he was waiting until he was closer to inform them of the approach. He had only been a pilot for 2 years and was still in training so it is also possible he became disorientated and crashed.
Of course then there are the UFO and abduction theories. Valentich himself was known to have a strong interest in UFO phenomena watching a lot of movies and collecting articles on the subject matter, however, his Father said he wasn't as obsessed as reports made out. It is also worth noting that in the transmission, Valentich himself never specifically said it was a UFO, although he probably suspected it.
Regardless of the theories, the case has not been officially solved and likely never will be.
In 2012, the documents surrounding the investigation were released to the public in which the conclusion is open for interpretation. The plane and pilot disappeared and were not found, and the pilot reported seeing suspicious lights. Interestingly, it seems that a photo was taken minutes before the radio transmission, reporting it was evidence of a UFO sighting with many using it as a link to this disappearance. In that year in particular, there had been many UFO sightings in that area through to South Australia.
It is not the first time someone has gone missing over the Bass Straight. In 1920 the ship Southern Cross was lost as well as veteran flyer Captain W.J. Strutt and his aircraft disappeared. In October 1934 a Holyman Airlines DH86 aircraft with 12 people aboard vanished. One of these passengers was the father of the man who would go on to create the Black Box recorder - now standard issue in aeroplanes.
A memorial plaque was erected at the Cape Ottway lighthouse in memory of Fredrick. Last year marked the 20th anniversary of his disappearance.
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