While on a 125 nautical-mile training flight on October 21, 1978, Australian pilot Frederick Valentich went missing, never to be found again. Frederick informed air traffic control that he was being accompanied by another aircraft about 1,000 feet above him before finally reporting, "It's not an aircraft".
There were reports of a UFO sighting in Australia the same night, however, the Department of Transport was skeptical that a UFO was involved in the disappearance. Officials speculated that Frederick became disoriented during the flight and saw his own lights reflecting in the water.
BACKGROUND AND DISAPPEARANCE
20-year-old Frederick Valentich had about 150 flying hours during his pilot training. He had authorization to fly at night, but only in "visual meteorological conditions". He had applied for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) twice, but was rejected for lack of qualifications. But despite this, he was still determined to make a career for himself in aviation.
He was a member of the RAAF Air Training Corps, and was studying part-time to become a commercial pilot. However, he had failed all 5 commercial license examinations, and in the month before his disappearance, failed 3 more commercial license subjects.
On top of these on-paper failures, he had been involved in incidents in the air, as well. Once, he strayed into a controlled zone in Sydney, for which he received a warning. And, 2 times, he deliberately flew into a cloud, which was such a bad flying offense that prosecution was being considered.
According to his father, Frederick was a huge believer in UFOs, and was always a bit paranoid of being attacked by them. Which seems like the opposite of what you'd want for someone who's job is in the sky.
During a training flight, Frederick radioed air traffic control just past 7pm on October 21, claiming an unidentified aircraft was following him. Control told him that there was no known traffic in that area. He persisted, saying he could see a large aircraft illuminated by 4 bright landing lights. He kept them up to date with its movements, and even said he believed that the pilot may have been toying with him.
He went on to say that the aircraft was orbiting above him with a shiny metal surface with a green light on it. Then, he reported that his own aircraft was experiencing engine problems. In a pretty creepy string of last words, when air traffic control asked him to identify the aircraft, he responded: "It's not an aircraft." The transmission was then interrupted by a noise that sounded like metallic scraping before all contact with Frederick was lost.
A sea and air search was launched that covered over 1,000 square miles. The search ceased 4 days later on October 25 without any notable findings.
The Department of Transport was unable to determine the cause of the disappearance, but concluded that it was "presumed fatal". The only piece of potential evidence came 5 years later when an engine cowl flap was found washed ashore on Flinders Island. The Bureau of Air Safety Investigation confirmed that the part was from an aircraft with a certain range of serial numbers, which included Frederick's, meaning it was possible, but not confirmed.
There are a variety of theories as to what happened to Frederick Valentich.
Some have proposed that he staged his own disappearance. In theory, his plane would have had enough fuel to make it to Cape Otaway. Melbourne Police received reports that a light aircraft had made a mysterious landing not far away from the cape at the same time as Frederick's disappearance. However, since he has never been seen again, and the loss of connection did seem legitimate, not a lot of officials subscribe to this theory.
A more realistic proposed explanation is that he became disoriented while flying at night and ended up upside down. Because of this, the lights he believed to be another aircraft were his own lights reflecting in the water. This does seem possible, given the fact that Frederick was not really excelling at his pilot courses and it would be easy to become disoriented while flying alone at night. In this case, he would have crashed into the water. However, some plane experts claim that the model of aircraft he was flying would not have been able to fly inverted for long, casting doubt on the fact that he thought another aircraft was following him for quite a while.
Another possibility is that Frederick committed suicide. Interviews with people who knew him "virtually eliminated this possibility" - however, I never take that to hold much stock. Many people commit suicide who you would never believe we depressed. If he was struggling to achieve his dream, maybe taking his life while living out his dream one last time would be ideal. And, because he was obsessed with UFO's, it may have been his plan to bring them into his final moments.
There are a few other realistic explanations that come down to his inexperience and disorientation, including the "graveyard spiral", a downward spiral that may have happened for a variety of reasons... but of course, there is the theory that there actually was a UFO.
Ufologists have speculated that, perhaps, some extraterrestrials destroyed his aircraft and abducted him. They claimed that some people saw a green light moving in the sky that night, corroborating Frederick's description of the aircraft.
Now, is this the most likely scenario? No. But boy is it interesting to think about. Those who have listened to his final moments claimed that he was absolutely terrified. While that could absolutely be true for any of the above scenarios, it would also be pretty scary to come to the realization that you were flying around the sky with something entirely unidentified.
Again, it probably didn't happen... but if it did, we would never know. Right? I mean, if someone confirmed that it was a UFO, or that any of the other explanations weren't feasible, no one would say a UFO was the official cause for the disappearance. If his aircraft couldn't invert that easily, and if he was giving updates for a significant period of time, does it make sense that something like a downward spiral or upside down aircraft is the explanation?
But, this is me just trying to believe a fun conspiracy. Honestly, it is more likely that he just messed up. He was an inexperienced flyer, failing most of the licensing tests he needed to become a pilot. He had gotten in trouble for intentionally breaking the rules before. It is absolutely possible (and plausible) that he was trying to do something he shouldn't have, or got disoriented and thought he was seeing something he wasn't. That, or he was intentionally giving air traffic control misinformation because he wanted to mess with them, or because he planned to commit suicide.
I don't think we will ever know what happened, and I feel terrible for his family who has to live with no closure... just a vanishing with absolutely no sign of him in 42 years. I hope Frederick Valentich is resting in peace, wherever he ended up on this earth.