On the night of October 1st 1978, at 6:19pm a 20 year-old Frederick Valentich took off in his Cessna 182lt, a light plane from Moorabbin in Melbourne on route to King Island. An island halfway from the mainland and Tasmania, and a round trip which should have taken him about three and a half hours to do. It was supposed to be just a training flight, Valentich having just clocked 150 hours of flight time and was eager to get started, it was after all going to be his first solo night flight. Now pilots don’t fly out straight out towards King Island, as that would mean that they would be out over water most of the time, so they they usually hug the coastline until they reach Cape Otway, which is the nearest point to King Island and cut across. Ask any pilot and they will tell you that flying close to land is a lot safer that across water so this line, though a little longer, is the main flight path that aircraft are want to take and it was the path that Valentich took.
The first part of his flight seems uneventful, at 7.00pm not long after the sun had set, he reported reaching Cape Otway and was turning away from the coastline and heading out towards King Island. At about 7.06pm he contacted Melbourne Air Traffic Control asking if there was any traffic in his area to which he was informed that there was no known aircraft in his vicinity. He told air traffic control that there was an aircraft above him and it appeared to be playing games with him. Here follows the actual transcript of the communication between Valentich and Melbourne Air Traffic Control.
Time (GMT) | From | To | Text
9:06:14 DSJ FS Melbourne, this is Delta Sierra Juliet. Is there any known traffic below five thousand?’
9:06:23 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet—No known traffic.
9:06:26 DSJ FS Delta Sierra Juliet. I am—seems (to) be a large aircraft below 5,000.
9:06:46 FS DSJ D Delta Sierra Juliet—What type of aircraft is it?
9:06:50 DSJ FS Delta Sierra Juliet—I cannot affirm. It is four bright … it seems to me like landing lights.
9:07:04 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet. [This statement affirms to the pilot that the person on the ground heard
9:07:32 DSJ FS Melbourne, this (is) Delta Sierra Juliet. The aircraft has just passed over me at least a
thousand feet above.
9:07:43 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet—Roger—and it, it is a large aircraft—confirm?
9:07:47 DSJ FS Er, unknown due to the speed it’s travelling… is there any air force aircraft in the vicinity?~
9:07:57 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet. No known aircraft in the vicinity.
9:08:18 DSJ FS Melbourne … it’s approaching now from due east~ towards me.~
9:08:28 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet.
9:08:42 DSJ FS //Open microphone for two seconds//
9:08:49 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.’
9:09:02 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet—Roger. What is your actual level?
9:09:06 DSJ FS My level is four and a half thousand, four five zero zero.~
9:09:11 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet… And confirm—you cannot identify the aircraft.
9:09:14 DSJ FS Affirmative.’
9:09:18 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet—Roger… standby.
9:09:28 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.]
9:09:46 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet—Melbourne. Can you describe the…er—aircraft?
9:09:52 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.’
9:10:07 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet—Roger. And how large would the —er—object be?
9:10:20 DSJ FS Delta Sierra Juliet—Melbourne. It seems like it’s (stationary).
Transcript of Frederick Valentich’s Final Communications with Melbourne Air Traffic Control 2 of 2
[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.~
9:10:43 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet.
9:10:48 DSJ FS Delta Sierra Juliet // open microphone for 5 seconds // [measured as 3 seconds] It’s just
9:10:57 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet.
9:11:03 DSJ FS Melbourne would you know what kind of aircraft I’ve got?’ It is (a type) military aircraft?’
9:11:08 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet. Confirm the… er—aircraft just vanished.
9:11:14 DSJ FS Say again.
9:11:17 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet. Is the aircraft still with you?’
9:11:23 DSJ FS Delta Sierra Juliet… It’s ah… Nor //open microphone for two seconds// (now) approaching
from the southwest.
9:11:37 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet.
9:11:52 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.
9:12:04 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet—Roger. What are your intentions?
9:12:09 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.
9:12:22 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet.
9:12:28 DSJ FS Delta Sierra Juliet—Melbourne //open microphone for 17 seconds// [A very strange pulsed
noise is also audible during this transmission.]
9:12:49 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet, Melbourne.
End of official DoT transcript
— normal pause in communications (based on the first author’s flying experience)
… longer than normal pause (several seconds)
‘ upward ending voice inflection (such as an interrogative question)
~ downward voice inflection
Parentheses ( ) enclose words that are open to interpretation because they are not clearly audible
Valentich shortly before he disappeared
Fredericks final communication was at 7:12pm and 28 seconds. An alert was declared and a distress emergency declared soon after. After a massive search the search and rescue effort was called off and no trace of Valentich or his plane was ever recovered and an opened verdict of missing presumed dead was announced. The story made national headlines, indeed many people came forward saying that they had seen erratic green lights around the area where Valentich disappeared. An interesting point is that are also the same reports which had been made years before the transcript or any reports that Valentich had seen four green lights of the craft above him. In fact there is a long history of strange sightings around the area.
Now I would be remiss if I failed to mention the many (and there are many) sticking points to this story. There is a lot to make you sit back and reevaluate what you think you know bout the disappearance of Frederick Valentich. Firstly, he had lied to pretty much everybody as to what he was actually doing on the night he disappeared. He told Moorabbin that he was picking up a group of passengers but there were no passengers waiting to be picked up, he told his family that he was getting some crayfish but there are no crayfish at King Island. He also told his girlfriend that he would be back at 7:30, she was in fact waiting at her place for him to pick her up for a date, but there was no way he could have made it on time. He also had a history of breaking the rules when it came to flying, having strayed into controlled airspace above Sydney airport and twice flying into clouds though he was not yet rated to do so. Also, and the main one which plays on my mind is his call into Air Traffic Control is very similar to the opening scenes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (my favourite film), which was only released a year before. But I also have to ask that if a pilot was reporting seeing something above them wouldn’t that be the way it would sound? Frederick Valentich was also a man who while he may not have been the worlds most brilliant pilot, he studied hard (he would usually turn up to an airport hours before he was due to fly and study) and I believe he took risks because he was trying to make himself the best he could be. However, he had also applied twice to the RAAF but was rejected due to poor education qualifications, he had also been studying to become a commercial pilot but had failed twice all the five commercial license subjects. He was determined though, he kept studying and he also never stopped applying to take the tests. He was set on making his dream of becoming a pilot a reality. Some believe that it was spatial disorientation that caused his crash, that with to visible horizon and he simply became confused and crashed, that he staged his own disappearance (though he had a girlfriend who he loved and wanted to marry and was close to his parents this seems unlikely).
A couple of years after his disappearance an engine cowl belonging to a Cessna 182lt washed up on Flinders Island (another island in the chain) and it’s numbers belonged in the range of the type of plane that Valentich has been flying. Though said cowl has since gone missing or been misplaced. A man by the name of Roy Manifold was taking photo’s of the sunset the night when Valentich disappeared and he claimed to capture what he said was a UFO with a plane attached to it’s side leaking oil. Though, to me, it kinda looks like a bug.
It’s impossible to say what actually occurred that night almost 42 years ago. While there are so many things about him which are contradictory I think Frederick Valentich did see something in the skies with him and whether he was abducted or he simply panicked and crashed into the dark Bass Strait waters we may never know. In any case, Frederick Valentich remains one of our most baffling mysteries in our Australian Sky.