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Frederick Valentich Disappearance (Australia; 1978)

charliebrown

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Going back and reading about what had been said about Frederick, he was a “ disaster “ wanting to happen !

He was rejected from the RRAF, failed commercial license exams, strayed into a no-fly zone over Sydney, was a “ nut “ about UFOs, and this particular flight was a training night flight over water.

Night flights over water are very dangerous losing horizon orientation ( JFK, Jr. death over water ).

But the real key to all answers was his model Cessna was a gravity feed fuel system.

A lost horizon “ graveyard death spin “ would have stopped fuel flow immediately.

This was not a UFO “ thing “.
 

EnolaGaia

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The thing that bugs me most about the Valentich incident is that he was in radio contact with Melbourne air traffic control, but reports indicated he wasn't visible on radar. I've not been able to confirm whether he should have still been within radar range or not. If he should have been visible on radar at his alleged altitude and relative position, one has to wonder whether he was flying where he'd claimed to be going.

The Cessna engine cowl flap / panel that was found at Flinders Island 5 years later couldn't be positively identified as a piece of Valentich's rented Cessna. It was confirmed to have come from the same model Cessna, but it could have come from any of a multi-year production span of that same model. I've never seen any mention of checking for other same-model Cessnas that were lost off the southern coast of Australia prior to the cowl panel's discovery.
 

charliebrown

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Frederick violated Australia’s flying rules by not telling King Island Airport he was coming ( per wikipedia ).

By violating rules, Australia said Frederick could have flown anywhere.

But as EnolaGaia said, why was he not on radar if he was in voice contact with Melbourne ?

Was he flying too low for radar ?
 

BS3

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The main points about the case for me are contained in the DoT conclusion:

He'd failed his exams repeatedly, despite telling everyone (including his family, who were funding his study) that he had only one subject left to pass. He'd received a warning letter about the incident at Sydney not long prior to the flight. He does seem to have been under pressure, or "running out of time" on his ambitions as the DoT put it.

He'd told his girlfriend he'd meet her at 7:30 that evening; a time he couldn't possibly have made. In contrast he'd told his father he was going home after getting back.

Despite saying he was going to pick up crayfish, he hadn't actually ordered any, only had a single request from a friend for crayfish, and as it turned out none were available that evening anyway! Neither were friends waiting for him to pick him up, as he'd told the staff at Moorabbin.

Most critically to me he didn't ask for the runway lights to be turned on at King Island. A strange oversight which does suggest he didn't really intend to land there.

As far as the radio conversation itself went, the DoT noted that Valentich was said to be a rather anxious individual whose voice generally showed if he was under any kind of pressure; his voice during the incident was however said to be completely calm and normal.

So - lots of loose ends. Still, where's the plane?
 

BS3

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Frederick violated Australia’s flying rules by not telling King Island Airport he was coming ( per wikipedia ).

By violating rules, Australia said Frederick could have flown anywhere.

But as EnolaGaia said, why was he not on radar if he was in voice contact with Melbourne ?

Was he flying too low for radar ?

We know he was flying at 4500 ft by his own statements. I think Haines pointed out he would have been out of sight of radar for a lot of the time - certainly so if he started to descend.

He was in regular voice contact with Melbourne as I understand this was part of the agreed safety procedure for this particular flight (note that an alert first went out from ATC as soon as communications were lost at about 19:12, with a full alert issued when he didn't arrive at King Island on schedule at 19.33).
 

maximus otter

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BS3

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Going away from the inconsistencies in Valentich's own story, independent confirmation that there was anything odd in the sky is very tenuous.

Frankly I find it quite hard to accept McGaha and Nickell's claim that Venus and other astronomical objects could have given the effect Valentich described while seen from a circling plane, but McGaha is a pilot so his opinion has some weight. It's possible that Valentich was simply seeing what he wanted to see, assuming the whole thing wasn't fabricated (it's been suggested he might have been inspired by the ATC conversation towards the start of the film Close Encounters, itself inspired by a 1966 case from Charleston).

Paul Norman of VUFORS collected twenty individual accounts of people seeing a green light in the area around the time of Valentich's disappearance, but as often was the case these reports were collected after the event and I've never seen more details given of them. Why hasn't more been made of these? It implies they're not especially good.

The account of the pseudonymous 'Ken Hansen', of a plane with a large green light above it, is regarded as fairly strong by Haines (who interviewed 'Hansen') but has its own problems. If the plane was travelling as described then Valentich wasn't going in the direction he should have been going; Haines used this report to suggest that Valentich had ended up going north-east back towards Melbourne but descending below 3000ft (and therefore out of radio contact) before ditching. The problem is that at this time of evening and year the bay area at this point would have been full of visitors and no one else saw what 'Hansen' did.

Edit to add: sceptical ufologist Keith Basterfield put together a very useful catalogue of UFO reports from the same time frame and area.
 
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Lord Lucan

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A new video on the case I came across today. This one definitely belongs in the alien abduction school of thought, so make of it what you will. There's also questions in the YouTube comments about the authenticity of the sound clips within it, but that all adds to the enduring mystery and brings us no closer to a 100% concrete solution.

 

BS3

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I think what the above shows is that it's easy for people to project onto this case exactly what they want to believe (or hear). I suppose it's an ideal 'mystery', in that sense.
 

BS3

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I suppose this leads onto the final point that maybe Valentich actually intended to leave behind a mystery of this sort. The evidence from colleagues points to someone conscientious rather than reckless and I don't think he went up 'looking for UFOs' as Nickell implies.

Leaving this kind of mystery behind might have been a final bit of obfuscation, attempt to gain attention, whatever, before presumably ditching the plane in the water somewhere (maybe a long way from where he was supposed to be, hence the unsuccessful search). After all the bloke had seen his career ambitions frustrated and was now possibly facing having his licence taken away altogether. Maybe disappearing with a flourish seemed like an alternative?

It might not seem worth such drastic action but to an ambitious 20 year old (and he'd been extremely persistent about getting training despite multiple knock backs) it would have been very disheartening. I'm sure his family wouldn't want to believe he'd do this but he'd already repeatedly misled them about his exams.
 

BS3

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I've spent a bit of time looking at the actual DoT investigation documents that Keith Basterfield unearthed a few years back. It's hundreds of pages worth and there is a lot of relevant information in there.

One key thing that was stated is that sunset at Cape Otway was at about 18.50 and end of daylight at about 19.20, which settles that point I think.

An interesting point is that despite Valentich's oversight regarding the lights at King Island, they were actually turned on at roughly his supposed time of arrival as another light plane was about to depart. Given the alert issued by ATC, this was then used to perform several low level searches of the area starting within an hour of Valentich's disappearance - nothing whatsoever was seen, no plane, debris, or UFOs for that matter. Conditions were said to be perfect and a lot of lighted fishing boats were noted around the island, which might possibly be worth noting.

There is quite a lot of material on the pilot's background which does seem relevant when considering the impact his career problems might have had. One thing they pick up on is that he'd insisted on giving his girlfriend am anniversary ring a few days early, implying he might not have intended to be around on the day itself. There are also a few assessments from colleagues and the consensus seems to be that he was an "average" albeit conscientious pilot - certainly not reckless. He doesn't seem like an accident waiting to happen as some have implied.

In the conclusion it does state that wreckage would have been expected if the plane crashed; however it also notes controlled landing on the water could have led to the plane quickly sinking without wreckage being produced. It's also quite strongly implied that Valentich probably wasn't where he said he was. The radar data is in there and nothing interesting seems to have turned up.

Another significant point is that the aircraft had a hand held rather than headset microphone. Valentich's girlfriend said he had a habit of dumping the microphone in his lap after using it, which meant it got activated by accident. As Haines said the closest noise he got to the famous 'metallic sound' was by rapidly keying the microphone, I wonder if the cause for that sound is that Valentich simply put the microphone down where it got knocked around while he was doing something else.
 

maximus otter

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In the conclusion it does state that wreckage would have been expected if the plane crashed; however it also notes controlled landing on the water could have led to the plane quickly sinking without wreckage being produced. …

l have seen a video clip of a US WW2 carrier-borne fighter (a Hellcat?) ditching in the sea close to its parent carrier. The pilot made the best “landing” possible, scrambled out of the fighter and - IIRC - survived.*

From memory, from first impact to the aircraft sinking completely beneath the waves was just over 30 seconds.

l don’t think that we have to invoke any woo to explain the absence of craft or wreckage.

* l have searched carefully to trace this clip, but frustratingly with no joy.

maximus otter
 

BS3

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l don’t think that we have to invoke any woo to explain the absence of craft or wreckage.

* l have searched carefully to trace this clip, but frustratingly with no joy.

maximus otter

Indeed, though I think what it also suggests is that Valentich wasn't disorientated, which was more likely to have produced an uncontrolled impact with the water and hence wreckage.

The general implication of the DoT report is that he probably put the aircraft down deliberately, possibly away from the area he was supposed to be flying through. The fact that an aircraft searched the vicinity a short while later, going as low as 1000ft, but saw nothing also perhaps points to this. Incidentally I do wonder if some of those 'UFO' reports from the following couple of hours were in fact people seeing lights of this aircraft.
 

BS3

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so, another classic knocked?

Not really. I just think that as usual all we have to go on is the witness report, and in this case we don't even have the witness.

Edit to add a bit more detail to explain this answer: I think really we need to weigh up the evidence in favour of the three main 'hypothesis'. Disregarding the arguments against, there's something in favour of all of them, ie.

1. Valentich was in some way interacting with a UAP, advanced (earthly) weapons test, etc:

- The 'witness' statement talking about a craft of some sort
- The one, relatively weak, account of 'Ken Hansen', who claimed to have seen a light plane and UAP together
- A handful of other, weaker accounts of various UAPs around the time

2. Valentich became disorientated, perhaps while distracted by some mundane lights, and crashed:

- The twilight conditions meant the horizon between sea and sky would have been difficult to make out; while he had a fair number of hours, had flown at night and had done the King Island trip before, he'd not done it at night
- Venus was very bright and there were other lights (a lighthouse; fishing boats) or astronomical objects that could be misperceived
- The engine trouble might suggest he was not flying in a normal attitude
- Valentich might have had some interest in UFOs, though there's disagreement as to how deep his interest actually was, perhaps encouraging misperception
- A previous pilot of the aircraft had described it as "rough", saying that a thin film of oil that sprayed onto the windscreen produced very "odd visual effects"

3. Valentich deliberately disappeared or ended it all, hoaxing the sighting as part of it
- Complete disappearance of plane suggests this, DoT investigators also seem very interested in his relationships, mood etc
- Voice during incident described as matter-of-fact rather than surprised or concerned
- DoT report makes the point that the case had attracted "charlatans" and concludes that no-one would likely ever know the truth about his mental state, (without coming out and saying what they seem to imply)
- Totally contradictory stories about why he was flying, with an implication he wasn't going where he said he was
- Described as someone who bottled problems up; he'd not only concealed his failure of his commercial licence exams to family and colleagues, he'd actively lied about passing them; the DoT described all this as a "facade"
- Facing possible withdrawal of his private licence too. Flying was clearly important to him and he felt he had to prove to others he could make it his career despite being academically weak
- A colleague mentioned an unspecified family argument a few weeks earlier; Valentich Sr also felt his girlfriend's story about planning to go out with him later that day was "fishy"

In short it's a mystery with lots of disjointed or circumstantial evidence onto which it's quite easy to project whichever solution you feel comfortable with. For the incident itself we are completely reliant on what Valentich said to Melbourne Flight Service. I don't know - I have a feeling that it was possibly a mystery Valentich intended to create, but whether he did so consciously, I doubt we'll ever know.
 
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BS3

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Two additional bits from the DoT files:

- There was a meteor shower - the Orionids, I guess - peaking that evening. Several sightings from ships and aircraft of fast moving, bright white lights are also recorded. One opinion given is that Valentich, given the discontinuous nature of his sighting, could have been seeing meteors at least part of the time.

- There is a handwritten note recording a conversation with a person who lived in the Cape Otway area. They state that at the time of the sighting they'd had, and I quote, a "plague of very large moths" and on the morning of 22nd had noticed large numbers of them dead on the shoreline. The person wondered if a large group of moths at altitude could have damaged Valentich's engine (!) but what I do think is that this seems like an excellent explanation for the Manifold photograph, which does look like an insect close to the camera lens.

Screenshot_20221204-184803_Drive.jpg


The migratory bogong moth seems like a good candidate!
 
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BS3

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Oh, and one more bit I forgot to add.

- The person who had flown the plane previously that day noticed a smell in the cockpit, possibly from the heater, which later disappeared.

Now - these small Cessnas draw cabin heat from the engine muffler. It is theoretically possible that a fault could have meant that exhaust gases could have been finding their way into the cabin. All a long shot, but I don't need to elaborate on the potential for CO poisoning to cause hallucinations and disorientation.
 

charliebrown

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I was surprised to read that the high wing Cessna 182 L had a tricky gravity feed fuel system that drew many complaints from pilots.

Why would a pilot fly an unsafe plane.

It seems that Frederick had all kinds of “ crap “ against him.

Inexperienced at flying over water a night, bad heater, bad fuel feed, and broke the rules by not telling Kings Island what he as doing.

But on the “ flip side “, it was aliens !
 
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BS3

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One curious addendum to the story - if you're wondering whether it's really feasible for someone to take a small plane and deliberately 'vanish', then eight years prior to Valentich a 19 year old New Zealander called Robert Bakhuis did precisely that.

In Bakhuis' case he took a Cessna 150 from Otago Aero Club, disappeared and was widely assumed to be dead for two years. He later turned up at his mother's house - he'd crashed the plane in a lake in the bush, survived there for several weeks with minimal food, before hiking out and absconding to Australia. On his return he was arrested for theft of the plane, which was later retrieved and returned to service.

There are a few parallels to Valentich - he was studying to be a pilot, though had far fewer hours flying than Valentich had; both men were a similar age; both had legal woes (Bakhuis' sound more serious, in fairness). His case did attract some media coverage at the time apparently.

I'm also struck by the comment that he'd flown off without any real plan or purpose - really just seeing where fate took him - and reminded of Valentich's oddly purposeless flight.
 
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charliebrown

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It is funny how another detail somehow comes to light after rereading information.

This plane he was in was a rental plane he rented in the moment.

Was he OK in a plane he never used before ?

Melbourne claims was he was never on radar, thus Fredrick could have done anything or gone anywhere, so he could have been sitting in a house somewhere.

I am sure the airplane rental company was really mad losing a plane.
 

Paul_Exeter

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One curious addendum to the story - if you're wondering whether it's really feasible for someone to take a small plane and deliberately 'vanish', then eight years prior to Valentich a 19 year old New Zealander called Robert Bakhuis did precisely that.

In Bakhuis' case he took a Cessna 150 from Otago Aero Club, disappeared and was widely assumed to be dead for two years. He later turned up at his mother's house - he'd crashed the plane in a lake in the bush, survived there for several weeks with minimal food, before hiking out and absconding to Australia. On his return he was arrested for theft of the plane, which was later retrieved and returned to service.

There are a few parallels to Valentich - he was studying to be a pilot, though had far fewer hours flying than Valentich had; both men were a similar age; both had legal woes (Bakhuis' sound more serious, in fairness). His case did attract some media coverage at the time apparently.

I'm also struck by the comment that he'd flown off without any real plan or purpose - really just seeing where fate took him - and reminded of Valentich's oddly purposeless flight.
Really good find, it may have been a tragic accident whilst he was trying to create the UFO abduction and then reapearance story
 

Erinaceus

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I'm not sure whether this story has been mentioned above. It sounds unlikely!

https://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/f...y/news-story/5d495b78d705f6d2efdcd8d8a4a7797e

The Victorian UFO Action group wants help to identify a farmer near Adelaide who reportedly witnessed the 30m craft hovering over his property the morning after Mr Valentich went missing.

It is claimed the Cessna was stuck to the side of the craft, leaking oil. The farmer even scratched the plane’s registration number on to his tractor but never came forward with the information because he was ridiculed by the few friends he told.
 

BS3

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I'm not sure whether this story has been mentioned above. It sounds unlikely!

https://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/f...y/news-story/5d495b78d705f6d2efdcd8d8a4a7797e

Yes this is the story that came via a man called Laurie Ryder:


As one of the commenters on that video notes, the Cessna is largely aluminium so not sure what mechanism could cause it to 'stick' to something!

The odd bit to me was the follow-up section of story where someone else claimed to have seen a Cessna (without flying saucer) in the farmer's "top paddock" shortly afterwards.
 

BS3

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It is funny how another detail somehow comes to light after rereading information.

This plane he was in was a rental plane he rented in the moment.

Was he OK in a plane he never used before ?

Melbourne claims was he was never on radar, thus Fredrick could have done anything or gone anywhere, so he could have been sitting in a house somewhere.

I am sure the airplane rental company was really mad losing a plane.

I think Valentich would have done most of his flying in aircraft of that type and had probably rented it before, if it was available at his local airport. Strangely there is barely anything from SAS (the rental company) in the DoT file.

On the subject of radar, we get a note from the radar operator for this sector detailing from memory the returns seen. These were: 1. A "strong and well defined" Otway return, ie from landscape features; 2. A 'rolling' return observed a couple of hours before the incident, probably anaprop from waves; 3. A stationary "steady return" present from prior to 09.00 GMT (ie just prior to the incident) until 11.00 when the operator finished his shift (the operator notes this was considered "possibly the Wx return", no idea what that means) and lastly a return from King Island.

They added "I had not had any light aircraft during the period...and cannot give an indication of the extent to which they painted", so I suppose it's doubtful whether Valentich should have shown up on radar if he'd been there. Either way, he clearly didn't register.
 

maximus otter

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3. A stationary "steady return" present from prior to 09.00 GMT (ie just prior to the incident) until 11.00 when the operator finished his shift (the operator notes this was considered "possibly the Wx return", no idea what that means)…

“Wx return” seems to refer to a radar unit’s response to the weather conditions it’s “observing”, i.e. a radar return from water droplets in the air:

https://studyflying.com/weather-wx-radar/

maximus otter
 

BS3

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Incidentally, I believe I've come up with a substantial objection to the Nickell / McGaha / Sheaffer 'disorientation / graveyard spiral' solution, for what it's worth.

Valentich was flying at only 4,500 ft. Even at small Cessna speeds this would have meant any 'graveyard spiral' would be expected to end at ground level quickly - within a couple of minutes, perhaps. Sheaffer argues that although Valentich survived for about 6 minutes after becoming disoriented, this is within the expected range of time.

However according to Haines, line of sight radio contact would have ceased at 3,000ft (Haines used this to reconstruct what he thought Valentich's actual flight path might have been). What this also, to me, seems to imply is that by the time his engine was "rough idling" - supposedly, argue Nickell and McGaha, because his plane was already deeply banked in a spiral towards the sea - he was still in radio contact and therefore above 3,000ft at the minimum.

In other words, he'd actually descended very little in the 6 minutes since supposedly becoming distracted by the 'lights', and was therefore unlikely to have been spiralling down into the water at the time communications ended. Now - a controlled descent, whether due to the engine trouble or for some other reason, would be another matter.
 

catseye

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I just keep coming back to the fact that Valentich was 20 years old. An age where problems can seem insuperable and consequences for actions such as lying about progress might seem to be absolutely unbearable. Not quite enough life wisdom to be able to shrug off bad stuff and resolve to do better, but old enough to be able to have got into a good deal of trouble. And also the age at which psychosis and other mental problems can really start to rear their heads.

Maybe a combination of a lot of things, causing him to want to 'run away', possibly start again, but then getting into trouble and having to ditch the plane in water.
 
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