The Mysterious 1978 Disappearance Of Frederick Valentich

Back in 1978, George Lucas' "Star Wars" franchise was sweeping the nation while Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" was mystifying it (via Herald Sun). Spielberg's "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" would come soon after (via IMDb), foreshadowing an upward trend in questioning the unknown and looking to the stars for answers. With that uptick in otherworldly interest, there were, of course, more sightings of such entities. Whether said witnesses were being worked over by the impending alien craze, or genuinely witnessing things most Earthlings never get the chance to, is unknown for certain.

But, the story of Frederick Valentich is that of an overall reputable fellow who happened to go missing on October 21, 1978; he also happened to be a pilot with an interest in aliens, but more on that later. In fact, some of his last words refer to a shiny craft with piercing green headlights that was hovering above his plane the night he disappeared (via Journal of Scientific Exploration).

The Story

Frederick Valentich was a 20-year-old Australian pilot who had everything going for him (via Australian Broadcast Network). He was working on getting his Commercial Pilot's License (CPL) and had ample flying experience for someone his age (via Herald Sun). His family, colleagues, and friends believed he was generally happy, trustworthy, and had goals, plus he was in a stable relationship.

On that October night, Valentich tragically went missing in a night flight over the Bass Strait off the southern coast of Australia. Air traffic controllers and Valentich's loved ones were left with no explanation, aside from a bizarre radio transmission that sparked debates for decades to come. Many people have different theories, due to some bizarre facts and Valentich's description of the night, but let's get into the details so you can decide for yourself.

The most common theory is out of this world

Even though Frederick Valentich did not yet have his CPL at the time of his possible death, he was only one subject away from obtaining it (via Herald Sun). His previous five failures in pilot studies were not due to a lack of experience — he had already racked up 150 flying hours. However, he had been in trouble with the authorities for flying into controlled airspace around the time of his disappearance. Some may say he was headstrong, while others say his behavior could have led to tragedy. Overall, his final words outline the main theory surrounding his death.

According to Australian TV producer, screenwriter, and historian Reginald James Watson, who has studied the unsolved phenomenon for years, Valentich undertook this flight from Moorabbin in Victoria to King Island to increase the required flying experience hours (via Australian Broadcast Network). He left for his trip just before 6:20 p.m. and first contacted air traffic control with a bizarre and panicked story just over a half hour later, around 7 p.m. His words described a shiny, unidentified flying object, with green lights shining down on him (via Journal of Scientific Exploration).

Why most theorists cry: Aliens!

The last person to hear from Frederick Valentich was Steve Robey, an air traffic controller in Melbourne who happened to be working that night (via The Sydney Morning Herald). Although Robey said Valentich sounded distressed during this final call, he did not sound confused, disoriented, or as if he were lying, having once said "he sounded genuine when he was talking to me" (via Herald Sun). Valentich asked Robey if there were any registered aircrafts in the area, as he was being followed by a metallic aircraft with bright green lights displaying rapid, irregular movements for an average aircraft. He also said "It seems to be playing some sort of game ... he's flying over me," and then reported that it vanished, and returned too fast to comprehend (via Australian Broadcast Network).

The actions of the UFO bewildered both men, as Robey reported to the pilot there were no other aircraft in the vicinity. Valentich spoke to the air traffic controller for a bit longer until declaring, "it's not an aircraft" at 7:12 p.m., followed by a 17-second long unidentifiable metallic noise, according to Robey. Several witnesses in the area that night reported odd sightings of bright lights, and cigar-shaped objects zooming through the sky, but some researchers chalk this up to meteor showers in the area at the time. One person reported a sighting just 15 minutes before the pilot went missing, and Robey said another pilot reported a similar experience just five days later (but luckily survived the ordeal).

Foul play or tragedy

Although authorities searched for Frederick Valentich for four days with vessels and an Orion aircraft, no evidence was found, making some question the legitimacy of the disappearance (via Australian Broadcast Network). According to Valentich's father, Guido, who passed away in 2000 firmly believing his son was abducted by aliens, the pilot left 40 minutes late for his flight that night. He never told the King Island flight service he was flying there and he gave different reasons for the trip. The explanation he gave his family was he was picking up crayfish, but there were no crayfish at King Island at the time of his flight (via Herald Sun). He also informed Moorabin Flight Control he was collecting passengers, but no one was ever found to have been waiting for him.

Valentich was also an alien fanatic, having seen the first "Star Wars" film with his brother Richard earlier that year, and had a conversation with his girlfriend about alien abductions. The pilot even accessed confidential Royal Australian Air Force files about UFO sightings in the months leading to his disappearance, and his mother had reported a UFO sighting earlier that year. However, most of his loved ones and those who knew him well reject any implications of disillusionment or foul play. Others think Valentich could have faked his disappearance, committed suicide, or crashed at sea yet his family cited him as having been a honest, stable and happy man.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Odds are, something horrible happened

Five years after the disappearance of Frederick Valentich, possible evidence washed up on shore at Flinders Island in the Bass Strait (via Herald Sun). A cowl flap from the same model of the plane — a Cessna 182 — Valentich was flying was found with partial matching serial numbers. Although a valid lead to an otherwise unsolved mystery, the Flinders Island Airport manager at the time, Arthur Withers, said there were two other Cessna 182's in the area around that time who lost the same part, in 1983.

Although not the most solid bit of evidence, many rejecters of extraterrestrial theories believe Valentich crashed. Witnesses that night reported an aircraft flying at a steep angle, while a larger aircraft with green lights hovered above it (via Journal of Scientific Exploration). Combined theories, witness reports, and Valentich's own recounting of where he was at the time make researchers believe he crashed somewhere at sea, southeast of Cape Marengo, up to 12 miles from shore. His family have never accepted any of these theories, but in 1998 they honored him with a memorial in Cape Otway. (via Australian Broadcast Network). Steve Robey, the aircraft controller who was the last person to speak to Valentich that night, helped unveil it to honor him and his family.