Aeronautical Mysteries Week I: The Valentich Disappearance
An esteemed commenter suggested I write a post about the Frederick Valentich disappearance. It’s an interesting case in its own right, and I realized there are a number of historical aeronautical mysteries I could write about. So enough of current events for the moment, dreadful though they may be. A few posts on aeronautical mysteries, followed by a few posts on nautical mysteries. Heck, maybe even some train or automobile mysteries. And by the time I’m done, we’ll no doubt be at war with a few more countries, and I will have fresh horrors to rant about.
OK, the mysterious disappearance of Frederick Valentich, an unsolved mystery of the air. And beloved of UFO theorists. And, unlike so many things beloved of UFO theorists, and like the Kecksburg case, there’s actually a there there. The story itself is very simple. In 1978 a 20 year old man took off in a small plane to pick up some friends on an island south of Australia. During the flight he called air traffic control and claimed he was having a strange encounter with a mysterious aircraft. There were 17 seconds of unexplained background sounds on his last call. Neither he nor any part of his plane was ever seen again.
The beauty of this case is that the information is so limited that a good logical and comprehensive analysis can be made. And the first point to establish is that there is nothing unexplainable in this case. By that I mean that many planes, small and large, have disappeared without a trace. This is especially true about planes flying over oceans. “He became disoriented somehow and flew his plane into the sea” is not only a perfectly reasonable explanation, its the most likely explanation.
That being said, the most likely explanation being the correct one doesn’t always pan out. There is more to this case. The UFO sightings. Mr Valentich himself reported a harrowing encounter with an unknown flying vehicle with green lights. Air traffic control saw nothing on radar, in fact they couldn’t even pick up Mr Valentich’s plane on radar. Many people reported seeing green UFOs around the time of the disappearance. A few even reported witnessing the plane’s encounter with a mysterious flying thing. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell from my limited investigation of this case, these reports were collected after the plane’s publicized disappearance. There’s no polite way to say it, this means the UFO reports are garbage data. It doesn’t mean they are necessarily wrong, what I am saying is that cases like this will generate all sorts of false positives so-to-speak, after the fact. There is as yet no scientific way to separate the credible reports from the not credible ones, so they have to all be discounted.
Next we come to the seventeen seconds of mysterious sounds. And here, who the hell knows. They are described as a metallic scraping sound. Few have heard them apparently. Maybe the plane was suffering some sort of mechanical failure. Maybe it was some strange audio/electrophonic event. Maybe an alien probe was cutting through the skin of the plane to acquire a big juicy biological sample.
One last thing to discount, is Mr. Valentich’s testimony. I haven’t gone into it in detail, because it doesn’t really matter. He was clearly disoriented. We don’t know what was happening. There is no evidence to examine. Whatever he was experiencing before he vanished, we simply no way to corroborate it. Any analysis of it is guesswork at best.
So where does this leave us? Well, it leaves us with a disappearance that has reasonable explanations, plus some perplexing facts and testimony that are as yet unexplained. It’s entirely possible that he simply became disoriented somehow, electrical and/or mechanical problems on his plane possibly contributing, and he simply flew his plane into the ocean. After that, it’s all speculation. Maybe he staged his own disappearance. Maybe he committed suicide. It’s a single incident, which means that there might have been some really unlikely explanation.
What the Valentich case is not, is proof of UFOs. It’s interesting anecdotal evidence that there might be something to the idea that some UFO reports are indeed reporting unknown phenomena. I suspect Mr Valentich is a few bones on the seabed. Maybe he started a new life somewhere in Australia and is living happily ever after. I hope he’s not pickled alive forever in a jar on Gliese 581 g.
(The above image is a public domain image so long as it is credited to NASA. NASA: Good job. It’s a new improved picture of Hanny’s Voorwerp. It’s green, it’s in space, and it’s still a mystery. Clearly, it’s a suspect in the Valentich case.)