Thursday, 29 January 2015

So Australian Pilots ARE Reporting UFO Incidents!

As of 1995, the two government agencies responsible for air safety are Airservices Australia (ASA) and the Civil Aviation Safey Authority (CASA). Of the two, ASA describes itself as “…a government owned corporation providing safe, secure, efficient and environmentally responsible services to the aviation industry.” It has responsibility for airspace management and air traffic control, aeronautical information, aviation communication, radio navigation, etc. Indeed, ASA is one of the agencies that pilots can report a UFO event should that sort of extraordinary situation arise.

On the 30th of May, 2012, researcher Keith Basterfield submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to Airservices Australia for:

“any documents held by Air Services Australia, on the subject of “unidentified flying objects”.”

On the 18th of June, Keith was furnished with internal ASA material containing a number of media enquiries to ASA, enquiries to ASA from the general public, etc. The only significant material given to him was a 2004 “Event Report” involving a Qantas flight and an “unidentified object”. This material can be viewed on Keith’s blog site here: 

This was all ASA, apparently, had on unidentified flying objects.

Unfortunately it seems Keith was misinformed.

             In May, 2014 I found out, through a source within Airservices Australia, that any pilot UFO sighting reports would be kept in the “Electronically Submitted Incident Report” (ESIR) database. Furthermore, in September 2014 I consulted the Operations branch of ASA regarding the validity of this information, and was told that the ESIR database would indeed be the final resting place for UFO reports by pilots, and, furthermore, the ESIR database was being superseded by a new system called the Corporate Integrated Reporting and Risk Information System (CIRRIS).

            On the 24th of November, 2014 I submitted a formidable FOI request to ASA specifically asking for:

“….any incidences where flight crews have reported any:

1) Unusual, Unknown, or Unidentifiable Aircraft or Objects;
2) Suspected Drones/Unmanned Aerial Vehicles;
3) Meteoric Events, fireballs and the like;
4) Especially unusual weather phenomenon;

which are held on ESIR or CIRRIS database(s).

            After receiving an acknowledgment reply on the 25th of November, I waited for what I thought would be the usual “no material responsive to your request can be found” type nonsense. However, on the 10th of December, 2014 I was pleasantly surprised when I received quite the opposite:

“Dear Mr. Dean,

Please find attached an FOI access decision, table of documents and documents being released under the access decision re your request dated 25 November 2014.

Freedom of Information &
Privacy Contact Officer/Legal Inquiries Coordinator
Office of Legal Counsel
Airservices Australia”

Contained with this email were 3 attachments. One was the usual “Access Decision” which all FOI requests end with; one was a “Table of Documents” which is a list of any material being furnished; and the final PDF was the one that contained the smoke and fire… Dryly titled “Documents Being Released Under The Access Decision” this PDF was a full 3 pages, and in tiny font size at that, of tabulated pilot reports of UFO events over Australia. Below is an image of the “Table of Documents” page:

            The first thing that jumped out was the fact that some of these reports date back to 2007. So Keith Basterfield’s FOI request to ASA in 2012 failed to secure any of this material. Either ASA had done a very bad job with his very reasonable FOI request, or, someone at ASA simply didn’t want so much material coming out at that time. Infamous American FOI Act user and abuser Robert Todd, who filed approximately seven thousand FOI requests in just a 19 year period once said:

“Either we are dealing with morons at these government FOI and information branches, or, they are not morons and they are deliberately hiding the material I have asked for, and am entitled to, as an American citizen.”

Whatever the truth of the matter, we now have, for those who are interested in real data and real cases - rather than the pathetic “UFO theatre” that goes on in this caper – actual reports from pilots to Airservices Australia. The only problem is, I cannot understand half of it, and I am waiting on advice from people who can. Until then, here are some of the better cases in absolute raw form:

            Case ATS0126807, which occurred on the 26th of January, 2014, above Adelaide, states:

“At 2315Z TGW484, inbound on the ALEXI 05V STAR reported having traffic at 12 o'clock, 5NM. AAE reported there was no observed traffic in that vicinity. TGW484 then requested a turn onto heading 210. TGW484 then reported the traffic in their right, 3 o'clock 2.5 NM "visual", and were turning back for the VSA. TGW484 then asked if AAE had the traffic on radar, 3' o'clock at 4NM. AAE replied they had an A320 past the 3 o'clock at 6.8NM. AAE confirmed whether that was the traffic they had reported, which TGW reported they were not sure, they had had traffic showing 2.5 NM same level. Shortly after JST774 following TGW reported TCAS showing something at BATIP, "hovering" at A020, which then disappeared.”

            Case ATS0075593, which is listed as occurring on the 10th of April, 2009, in the region of “TOPS”, wherever that is, states:

“ANO332 tracking DNKU on descent, reported an airprox with an unknown aircraft approximately opposite direction, at approximately A090. Subsequent questioning of the crew elicited that the aircraft was observed approximately 34 NM east of the flight planned track and followed on TCAS, but there was no RA, nor was the aircraft sighted. Weather conditions were VMC. ANO332 reported unable to raise the aircraft on VHF.ATS surveillance is not available in this part of the airspace so the report was unable to be corroborated by ATC. No flights matching the aircraft were known to the ATS system.

            Case ATS0105506, which occurred on the 25th of April, 2010 in the Canberra region states:

“Unidentified (upside down pyramid shaped) object drifting close to final rwy 35. First spotted at approximately 400ft AGL on the Western edge of Mt Jerrabomberra. Initially drifted West, towards final for rwy 35, before climbing and drifting to the Northeast. Two aircraft (QFA814 and VOZ259) were diverted through noise abatement areas (Southwest of YSCB) to avoid the object.”

            Another one, ATS0098025, 26th September, 2012:

“TGW581 reported a red cylindrical object passing the aircraft in the opposite direction when climbing through FL200 approximately 20 nm miles south of Sydney.”

            And so they go on. For three pages. All of this is completely raw data: No internal ASA opinions, no emotive statements by the pilots, no conclusions; just the actual tabulated entries on ASA databases, and little else. Even a cursory look at a not insignificant number of these entries tells me that the offending “UFOs” are nothing more than lanterns or model aircraft. But some are not. Right now, I am trying to have these cases – which admittedly come with limited data – put “into English” by the contacts I have to gain a clearer picture of what was actually happening in the skies to cause the pilots to submit such reports, some of which I suspect may have been made quite urgently.

            Aside from having this bundle of material analysed by my contacts, I have submitted a further FOI request to Airservices Australia for more details on some of the better looking cases. Specifically, on the 20th of January – just a few days ago – I have asked ASA to provide me with any documents (internal emails, investigation notes, pilot statements, messages, minutes of meetings, etc) which relate to some of these pilot submissions, and I will not be satisfied until the trickle becomes a deluge. Which brings me to another point: It occurred to me, when submitting a bunch of other FOI requests to other agencies last week, I seem to be the only one doing this in Australia. Why so? Why am I doing all the heavy lifting in relation to governmental enquiry and correspondence with those that may hold some keys? If Airservices Australia can furnish me with three pages of pilot UFO reports alone, imagine what the Defence Department’s Directorate of Aviation and Air Force Safety (DDAAFS) databases may hold? What might the Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s (ATSB) Accident and Incident Notifications files tell us? I would encourage other researchers out there to get acquainted, preferably sooner than later, with the current state of possible governmental UFO material, and attempt some correspondence with these agencies. The next “Halt Memo” may be sitting somewhere, and I don’t have to be the one to find it. 

Monday, 19 January 2015

The RAAF's "Contacts Of Interest"

          “The equivalent 41 Wing term to an “Uncorrelated Target” is a “Contact Of Interest” (COI), the COI process is documented in the publication “41 Wing Standing Instruction (Operations) 3-19 Contact Of Interest Reporting Process.”  This instruction defines how to report events that are detailed in the “41 Wing Tasking Intentions” as reportable items.”

                                   41 Wing, Surveillance and Response Group, Royal Australian Air Force

             The Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) 41 Wing of the is one of four wings which come under the banner of the Surveillance and Response Group. The primary role of 41 Wing is the air surveillance of Australia’s airspace and abroad. The Wing is divided into four units, three of which are operational: 1 Radar Surveillance Unit (1RSU), 3 Control and Reporting Unit (3RCU), and 114 Mobile Control and Reporting Unit (114MCRU). These units use some of the most advanced primary radar systems in the world, and are tasked with detecting, tracking, monitoring, identifying and reporting any unusual, unknown or even hostile intrusions into Australia’s airspace. The units, and 41 Wing as a whole, are also tasked with supplying a “recognised air picture” to such areas as the Air Battle Management Coordination Center (ABMCC) and the Australian Theatre Joint Intelligence Center (ASTJIC). I am satisfied, after much study, that if any system, or “system of systems”, is going to detect and track a UFO event above or near Australia, it would be one of the above mentioned units.
            Serious researchers of the UFO matter are well aware that such primary radar equipped air defence units, at least overseas, have been detecting startling UFO events for decades, sometimes correlated with visual sightings by pilots, or, better still, correlated on more than one primary radar system at the same time. We have tens of thousands of pages of released government documents to back this claim up, as well a formidable bevy of retired military officers swearing that such events do occur on occasion, and are unexplainable in mundane terms. One organisation I have studied in relation to the UFO matter is the joint American/Canadian North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD). NORAD has a long but little known history of tracking bona fide UFO’s – and I don’t mean stray Russian cruise missile test flights or hijacked aircraft with their transponders turned off. We this for a fact because we have a growing pile of NORAD or NORAD-related documents to prove it, all furnished through diligent and tiring Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. More on that in my next post.

              Having already asked, in August 2013, the Minister of Defence and the Chief of Air for any and all terms and terminology that would equate to unknown, unusual or unidentified air traffic used by anyone or any area of the Defence Department, and having been grossly misinformed by both of them, I decided to embark on a slightly different approach. On the 11th April I wrote to the Assistant Director of Freedom of Information, Defence Department, Melissa Davidson, explaining what terms and terminology NORAD uses for UFO events, and highlighting actual NORAD documents, to make it quite clear what I was after. My target was the RAAF’s 41 Wing. I was under no illusion that the systems used by the operational units of 41 Wing must use specific terminology to describe unknown or unusual air activity, just as NORAD does. For the record, NORAD uses the term “Uncorrelated Target” as a baseline to describe, at least initially, an air or space event that cannot be accounted for or ignored. To my knowledge, no researchers, surprisingly, in Australia have probed 41 Wing for information like this before. I was the first.

             On the 9th of May, 2014, Melissa Davidson wrote back to me stating that the RAAF had seen fit handle my enquiry, and came back with the following:

“The equivalent 41 Wing term to an “Uncorrelated Target” is a “Contact Of Interest” (COI), the COI process is documented in the publication “41 Wing Standing Instruction (Operations) 3-19 Contact Of Interest Reporting Process.”  This instruction defines how to report events that are detailed in the “41 Wing Tasking Intentions” as reportable items. Should a COI meet certain criteria it may be declared an “Unauthorised Aircraft Movement” (UAM). The criteria for this declaration and the processes for further investigating this activity is defined in “41 Wing Standing Instruction (Operations) 3-15 Unauthorised Aircraft Movements Reporting and Investigation Process” The above documents work in conjunction with the “OPTASK LINK Identification Supplement” which is promulgated by the Air and Space Operations Centre and defines how tracks are to be identified by all ADF air surveillance units. There is a standing document which covers operations conducted under peace time ROE and when we conduct exercises and operations under a different ROE an Identification Supplement specific to that exercise/operation is developed for that specific circumstance.”
Finally some truthful explanation of the facts. Here, in plain English, I was being furnished with the titles of four different RAAF publications, as well as terminology no one in the UFO community has seemingly heard before: “Contact Of Interest”. So much for the garbage I had been fed by the Defence Department previously. Without further ado, I immediately demanded, using the FOI Act, the above four mentioned documents.

          On the 27th of July, 2014 I was supplied all four publications, albeit with very significant redactions. Here, for the first time, I finally believed I was getting on top of how the RAAF may detect and track a significant UFO event just as has occurred all over the world. The publication I want to highlight in this post is, at six pages, titled “41 Wing Standing Instruction (Operations) 3-19 Contact Of Interest Reporting Process”. Imaged below is the first page:

Note, under the sub-heading “DEFINITIONS”, point 7 states:

“Contacts of Interest. A Contact of Interest (COI) is defined as any track which matches or potentially matches current 41WG Tasking Intentions.”

Unfortunately, the publication titled “41WG Tasking Intentions”, was nearly totally redacted when I received it. So we don’t know exactly what 41 Wing is looking for in the skies at any one time. But, one could be fairly certain that the units within 41 Wing, who are tasked with monitoring the skies, do indeed search far and wide for potentially hostile combat jets, light aircraft behaving suspiciously, and any unknown or unusual airframes which may pose a threat to Australia. Our air defence capability would be in a sorry state indeed if we weren’t. 

             Furthermore, note under the sub-heading “INSTRUCTIONS” point 10 says:

“Recording of COI details. The surveillance unit responsible for the COI will record all relevant details pertaining to the COI. Annex A details the units responsibilities and processes for the recording, compilation and storage of COI details.”

This means that the details of any COI’s tracked by 41 Wing units are recorded. I have it on excellent authority that potentially menacing COI’s are dealt with astoundingly quickly, and multiple Defence operations centers throughout the country can instantly patch in to the data stream which would be coming into the units radar systems and synthetic displays. Thus, as one would hope, different areas of Defence can make decisions on how to handle the situation. Of course, of interest to us is Annex A, mentioned above. What, precisely, is recorded for any given Contact of Interest? Below I have imaged one of three pages which are used by 41 Wing units to record basic COI data: 

So, here we have it. Despite what the Department of Defence told us, in 1996, in a 3 page Instruction “Defence Instructions (General) ADMIN 55-1” publication, ie that UFO events were not of interest to the RAAF any longer, it is quite clear that 41 Wing units are indeed tasked with recording out of the ordinary aerial events. Note Annex A imaged above makes the unamiguaous statements:

“Once a COl is declared, accurate Information on the track is to be recorded in the COI database.”

Also, in relation to the recording and handling of incoming data, note the information which must be generated:

Parametric Data. Any track declared as a COI is to have the following details recorded:

A.         System track number.

            B.         Sensor track number.

C.        Tail number/callsign – If available.

D.        Type/suspected type – If available/determinable.

E.         Detection time.

G.        Detection heading.

H.        Detection speed.

I.          Faded time.

K.        Faded heading.

L.         Faded speed.

M.      Approximate Average Speed for the track - Refer para 4 for average speed calculation Information. Average speed is to be calculated generally as total distance travelled divided by total time taken. Refer to figure A 1 for examples of Average Speed Calculation.

O.      Other comments - Include important information that may describe the activity. Include Information of track behaviour e.g. times and locations of deviations or estimations of origin or destination, details of manoeuvre, justification for COl declaration, tracking and ionosphere details relevant to tracks/area

Four of the points contained in this Annex are redacted under “Section 33” of the FOI Act. Section 33 “exempts documents that affect Australia's national security, defence or international relations”. The points redacted on the above imaged page are obviously F, J, N and P. Now, I am not really sure what these points may contain, but I am using my appeal powers granted to me under the FOI Act to find out. 

             So what does all this actually mean for UFO researchers? Does 41 Wing actually detect and track UFO events that cannot be whatsoever explained? And if so, who is tasked with the investigation of such events? Indeed, there is not a single piece of information contained here that shows anything untoward. One would have to obtain actual cases where extremely unusual 41 Wing generated radar data has been recorded and handled by higher authorities. I am in the process of doing this right now. What these documents do show us is that the RAAF still take seriously unknown tracks, just as they did in the past. The RAAF indeed used to investigate unusual radar tracks under the UFO banner, though they termed them Unusual Aerial Sightings (UAS). As stated above, “Defence Instructions (General) ADMIN 55-1” told the public and the press in 1996 that UFO events – either civilian or military – were not of scientific interest to the RAAF any longer. They essentially “got out” of the whole matter. Yet here we see that they are still recording and handling exactly the same events as they did before. 

Friday, 9 January 2015

Armidale, 21st September, 2014

On the 24th September, Astronomer David Reneke kindly bought to my attention a UFO/UAP sighting report from Armidale, NSW, which had been very recently sent to him by one of the witnesses, Sandy Sweeney. Having reviewed the original report details, I enlisted the assistance of my colleague James, an investigator with the Victorian U.F.O. Research Society (VUFORS), and Victorian UFO Action (VUFOA) and immediately initiated a detailed investigation.

At the time of writing this investigation has not yet been concluded, and I am presenting here a preliminary report describing the investigation thus far.

Narrative of Events

According to the initial report from Sandy:

“A group of us were returning home and what we saw was something of interest. Coming toward us from the SW was an object with three large orange lights, two in front and one behind. They were travelling very low and very slow. It appeared to be gliding and there was no noise It came from almost the centre of town and moving to the North. The two front lights were a short distance apart. It was very close and heading towards a large gum tree, two residential house blocks from where we were standing and would have come across my house if it hadn’t veered to the left to avoid this tree and then it slowly moved out of site into the clouds in the distance. It looked like a spotter of sorts and I would have liked to have seen underneath to determine a shape as it was totally indescribable.  I’m thinking of ASIO and secrecy and drones and terrorism!! I did look at the UFO QLD web site with similar sightings from QLD residents in 2012 but nothing was identified in those reports. My daughter and son-in-law lives a block away from me on a hill, he could still see it far into the distance until the clouds blocked its visibility. We were able to view it for 10 minutes or more from our position. What didn’t connect was why this object veered to the left to avoid the tree!  There was no wind or breeze it was a still night.”

 Via both e-mail correspondence and phone interviews with a number of the witnesses, we soon establish all the essential narrative details. Starting at 8:42pm on the evening of 21st of September, 2014, no less than five people witnessed, essentially from two different locations, three distinct orange lights travelling toward the North-North-East above homes on the northern suburban fringe of Armidale. Two of the lights were close together at the “front”, and the third trailed well behind. No noise whatsoever was apparent. The witnesses closely watched the formation as it came towards them. The three lights then turned West to avoid hitting a large gum tree at the bottom of the street. The lights travelled in perfect formation off well into the distance over the landscape never to be seen again. During the event, one of the witnesses phoned a very nearby family member who was able to watch it from his house as well. Two of the witnesses then left the main viewing location and drove up the road to watch the event from the home of the family member they had phoned. At all times the lights were distinctly viewable by all, and appeared to have a degree of “purpose”, especially when they avoided the gum tree.

 Specifically, Lee Townsend, was waiting at her mother Sandy Sweeney’s home after being dropped off, and was awaiting the rest of the family. As they arrived, Lee noticed the three orange orbs drifting towards them over the town. She brought this to the attention of Sandy, as well as her husband James Urquhart, and a family friend Bev Philp, as they arrived in the driveway. Perplexed, the four witnesses watched the three orange orbs moved silently straight towards them travelling in a nearly dead North direction. When it became apparent that the objects were very low, they gently changed direction to avoid a large gum tree at the bottom of the street, and moved off West-North-West. The objects appeared to actually turn rather than all move off “sideways” – much like a truck with headlights would turn, as if the three objects were all part of the same body. Lee called her father-in-law, just one street away, and asked him to go outside and determine if he could see the objects as they drifted over the horizon behind Sandy’s home and began to be obscured. Lee’s father in-law indeed saw the phenomena from his front doorstep upon receiving the phone call. He agreed it was moving silently off into the distance, seemingly West. At this point, Lee and Jamie got into their car and drove up the road to where the father-in-law was watching, and continued to veiw the objects. They felt that the phenomena turned slightly North again, thus now travelling in a North-Westerly direction.

The Investigation

 The witnesses were sent a package of documents by post, including a map and requests for descriptions of the relevant apparent elevation, bearing (azimuth), angular size and angular momentum. The maps returned to us were in close agreement, indicating the lights’ arrival from the SE: according to Sandy, beginning at a bearing of 120; according to Lee/Jamie, coming from a position a little further South - roughly SSE), moving to a position South of the witnesses. The lights then altered course (apparently just south of the trees), towards: according to one witness (Sandy) the NW, so arriving at a position, after the turn, of 220; according to another witness (Lee/Jamie), heading almost directly West. This was then followed by a course correction back to essentially the original heading, now NNW away from the witnesses. Finally, one witness (Lee/Jamie) indicated the course gradually curving eastward as the lights receded. The witnesses agreed on an apparent elevation of between 45 and 50 degrees. However, to which portion of the event this estimate referred, was not clearly indicated. This in one of the issues for which further, clarifying data will be sought. However, this data is sufficient to establish, in accordance with the reports received, that the lights were not low to the horizon, as is often the case when misidentifications occur. Working from these details, we next began the long process of collecting as much relevant data as could be secured.

Astronomical and Satellite Data

 James undertook to assess the pertinent astronomical and satellite data. A careful check of all satellites with an apparent magnitude greater than 8 (effectively invisible to the naked eye), between the times of 8:30 and 8:55, indicated that whilst a number of satellites were present at different times, almost all were extremely dim and unlikely to have been observed at all, much less reported as bright, orange light sources. At no time did any individual satellite or collection of satellites traverse the sky on a manner that could possible account for the sighting details. Indeed, the only satellite of significant magnitude to appear in the relevant sector of the sky, in the time period assessed, was the ISS, which rose briefly to a position just above the horizon before almost immediately being eclipsed.

Two bright planets, Mars and Saturn, were present low in the sky west-south-west, in Scorpio and Libra respectively. These positions render their potential significance to the case negligible, and thus they were excluded as part of any reasonable explanation. A major factor in this determination was both the planets’ being visible in entirely the wrong direction, and  the significant degree of movement ascribed to the three, apparently associated, unknown lights. Further, at no time did any visible satellite appear in a position relative to Mars and Saturn that could account for the specific relative dispositions reported of the lights being investigated. Planetary bodies and satellites could thus be excluded as potential explanations.

Weather Conditions

Keith Basterfield supplied initial data from the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM). However, as the freely available data did not include readings from any period sufficiently close to the reported time of the sighting, an application to the BOM was made by Paul Dean to purchase a complete list of half-hourly readings including cloud cover, wind strength and average wind direction taken from the Armidale Airport weather station, situated some 8 kilometres from the witnesses’ position. Although data for winds aloft was not available, the ground readings secured show that the wind was blowing at 24 kilometers per hour, from 80 degrees – 10 degrees North of East. Maximum wind gusts were recorded as being 30 kilometers per hour. As the three orange lights were travelling from the South-South-East to the North-North-East, wind direction cannot account for their movement. When the reported phenomenon turned at the gum tree, they then travelled West, which would be in line with wind direction. This effectively excluded the possibility of any explanation in terms of any wind-blown object or objects. It should also be noted that the witnesses believed the lights to be extremely low – roughly at tree top level – thus the winds at the height of the lights, assuming the witnesses were even moderately correct in their estimate of altitude, could not have diverged significantly from those recorded at the Armidale Airport weather station.  Also, as the lights eventually drifted off into low slung cloud far to the West, they vanished into low foggy cloud, meaning that certainly the phenomenon was not mistakenly reported as a being of low altitude. I wish to reference and thank the Bureau of Meteorology, Armidale Weather Station for this important data.


A thorough check of local media sources for any clues as to possible mundane sources for the reported lights revealed three separate sources of drone activity in the area: 1) A research project based at the University of New England; 2) A trial weed location project within the New England Weeds Authority, and 3) A surveillance operation run by an animal rights group, Animal Liberation NSW. An attempt was made to contact each of these groups to determine if their drones may have contributed to the UAP report. A University of New England representative responded only with the statement that “I am not aware of any such movements”. Animal Liberation responded by stating that their drone “…most definitely was not operating in the place and time you’ve provided”. The New England Weed Control Authority, at time of writing, has not yet responded.

 Despite lacking a useful response from two potential sources of drone activity, it is possible to effectively rule out drones as a possible cause of the report, due to the details provided by the witnesses. We were able to determine the specific type of drones operated by each of the sources listed,   and compare their characteristics with those of the unidentified lights, with negative results. This will be fully explicated in the final report. It should also be noted that the operation of such drones in populated areas is prohibited, and indeed it is most unlikely that such drones would be in flight in the hours of darkness. Further, the witnesses reported no discernible noise, despite the apparent close approach of the light sources, and whilst some drones produce very little noise, these tend to be those types utilised for military purposes. The type of drones identified as being employed in the Armidale area would most likely be audible at the distances indicated for the light sources in the witnesses’ accounts.


A suggestion was made  relative to the initial report received by David Reneke  that gliders may potentially serve as an explanation. In order to confirm our understanding that gliders were neither employed in darkness nor carried lights, we made contact with the President of the Victorian Gliders Association, who confirmed these points in no uncertain terms. Thus gliders too could be excluded from our list of possible causes. (Contents of email to be included in final report)


           As is evident from the above, we have to this point been unable to establish any reasonable mundane cause for the reported sighting. As such, it seems reasonable to tentatively treat this as most likely a genuine UAP event, although until the investigation is finalised this conclusion is of course subject to revision. The ongoing investigation will continue to focus on the possibility of drone involvement as the most likely potential mundane cause. In any case, it is in modern times almost impossible to conclusively rule out drones as the cause of such Nocturnal Light reports, and it may be at best possible only to establish the relative probability of such an explanation. Further clarification of the witnesses’ reports will also be sought in furtherance of establishing more precisely the characteristics of the reported ‘lights’, which will further contribute to establishing the probability of potential explanations.

Finally, it is noteworthy that this report appears to fit clearly within the well established pattern of a common type of UAP report – involving many independent observations of amber coloured lights moving silently through the night sky. It may therefore be that any final ‘answer’ as to the cause of this report will require analysis of this event type more generally. 

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Final Report

Near Collision Between Passenger Plane and "Unknown Object", Perth, 19 March, 2014

By Paul Dean and Keith Basterfield

In Australia, according to the website of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), they are ...Australia’s national transport safety investigator...The ATSB is Australia’s prime agency for the independent investigation of civil aviation, rail and maritime accidents, incidents and safety deficiencies.” On the ATSB website is a listing of “Aviation Safety Investigations & Reports”. The listing provides details of incidents such as near collisions between aircraft. In April, 2014, I noted, after some searching, that a March 2014 report involved a near collision between a passenger plane and an “unknown object.”

 The ATSB report number AO-2014-052 read as follows:

“The ATSB has commenced an investigation into a near collision with  an unknown object involving a De Havilland DHC-8, VH-XFX near Perth Airport, Western Australia on 19 March 2014. Whilst passing 4,000ft on descent the crew observed an unknown object tracking directly towards the aircraft. The crew manoeuvred the aircraft to maintain separation. As part of the investigation the ATSB will interview the aircrew. A report will be released within several months.”

This ATSB preliminary report goes on to provide general details as follows:

Date: 19 Mar 2014
Time: 0913 WST
Location: Perth Airport, NNE 23km
Investigation type: Occurrence investigation
Occurrence class: Operational
Occurrence category: Serious incident
Report status: Pending
Expected completion: June 2014
Aircraft details: de Havilland Canada
Model: DHC-8-314
Registration: VH-XFX
Serial number: 313
Type of operation: Charter
Sector: Turbo prop
Damage to aircraft: Nil
Departure point: Kambalda, WA

Destination: Perth, WA.

             On 26 May 2014 the ATSB released their four page report on the incident. The first page was simply a cover sheet, below:

Page two (not imaged here) is merely ATSB information, and Page three, headed “Near collision between an unknown object and a De Havilland DHC-8”, contains further details of the event, imaged below:

For clarity, the above page reads:

“On 19 March 2014, at about 0913 Western Standard Time (WST) a de Havilland DHC-8, registered VH-XFX was on approach to Perth Airport from Kambalda, Western Australia. When about 23km north-north-east of Perth, at about 3,800ft above mean sea level (AMSL), the crew sighted a bright strobe light in front of the aircraft. The light appeared to track toward the aircraft and the crew realised that the light was on an unknown object, possibly an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV.) The pilot took evasive action turning towards the west to avoid a collision with the object. The object passed about 20m horizontally and 100ft vertically from the aircraft.

 The pilot reported that the object was cylindrical in shape and grey in colour. It was at about 3,700ft AMSL and in controlled airspace. The crew did not receive a traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS) alert. The airspace below 3,500ft AMSL was military restricted airspace and the Australian Defence Force was not operating UAVs and was not aware of any UAV operations in the area at the time of the incident. The ATSB was not able to confirm the details of the object or identify any UAV operator in the area at that time.”

General details:

Occurrence details
Date and time: 19 March 2014 - 0913WST
Occurrence category: Serious incident
Primary occurrence type: Interference from the ground
Location: 23km NNE Perth Airport, Western Australia
Latitude 31 deg 44.62min S

Aircraft details:
Manufacturer and model: De Havilland Canada DHC-8-314
Registration: VH-XFX
Serial number: 313
Type of operation: Charter-passenger
Persons on board: Crew-4 passengers-unknown
Injuries: Crew - nil.  Passengers - nil
Damage: Nil.
About the ATSB:

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is an independent Commonwealth Government Statutory Agency. The ATSB is governed by a Commission and is entirely separate from transport regulatory, policy makers and service providers. The ATSB’s function is to improve safety and public confidence in the aviation, maritime and rail modes of transport through excellence in independent investigations of transport accidents and other safety occurrences; safety data recording, analysis and research, and fostering safety awareness, knowledge and action.”

The ATSB is responsible for investigating accidents and other transport safety matters involving civil aviation, marine and rail operations in Australia that fall within Commonwealth jurisdiction, as well as participating in overseas investigations involving Australia registered aircraft and ships. A primary concern is the safety of commercial transport, with particular regard to fare-paying passenger operations.

The ATSB performs its functions in accordance with the provision of the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003 and regulations and, where appropriate, relevant international agreements.

The object of a safety investigation is to identify and reduce safety-related risk. ATSB investigations determine and communicate the safety factors related to the transport safety matter being investigated.

It is not a function of the ATSB to apportion blame or determine liability. At the same time, an investigation report must include factual material of sufficient weight to support the analysis and findings. At all times the ATSB endeavours to balance the use of material that could imply adverse comment with the need to properly explain what happened, and why, in a fair and unbiased manner.

About this report:

Decisions regarding whether to conduct an investigation, and the scope of an investigation, are based on many factors, including the level of safety benefit likely to be obtained from an investigation. For this occurrence, a limited-scope, fact- gathering investigation was conducted in order to produce a short summary report, and allow for greater industry awareness of potential safety issues and possible safety actions.”

The Investigation:

The Authors:

1. Secured secondary radar data on the event.
2. Secured primary radar data on the event.
3. Obtained weather details.
4. Interviewed the command pilot.
5. Located similar events of this type in this area.
6. Obtained additional information from the ATSB.
7. Checked previous ATSB reports involving UAV.

1. Secondary Radar Data:

The “Webtrak” website is run by Air Services Australia and allows a view of secondary radar data superimposed over a ground map. It shows the location of aircraft near major Australian airports. You can view an area up to 50 kilometres from selected airports. Only aircraft carrying transponders show on the screen. For each aircraft you can find details such as its flight number; originating and destination airports; an aircraft’s moment to moment height (AMSL), plus the type of plane. Time wise, you can check from 40 minutes to three months into the past.

Keith went to the “Webtrak” website and set the system for 19 March 2014 beginning at 0904WST. At 0909WST a DHC-8 aircraft , shown as flying from YKBL appears on the radar replay, near the locality of Chidlow. This was the aircraft described in the ATSB report.

The following screen capture is from Webtrak at about 0913WST on 19 March 2014. The DHC-8 aircraft is the smaller red aircraft middle top of the screen:

The DHC-8 aircraft is shown following flight VOZ1432, registration VH-YIU, a B738 flying Darwin to Perth. Some 20 kilometres behind the DHC-8 plane was flight QFA485 Melbourne to Perth, an A332 at 6243 feet. The crew of this aircraft would have had the DHC-8 to the front of them. Close to QFA485 was a general aviation aircraft, a C82R at 8186 feet. However, the direction of flight of this aircraft was facing away from the DHC-8 plane.

The radar replay shows VOZ1432 landing at 0916 WST, the DHC-8 landed at 0919WST and the QFA485 at 0920WST.

Zooming in on the secondary radar image reveals that at about 0913WST, the DHC-8 aircraft was shown at a height of 4124ft. Looking at the track of this aircraft as displayed, there does indeed seem to be a slight direction change at the reported time of the near collision with the “unknown” object. There are absolutely no other aircraft shown, near the DHC-8 on the radar replay. However, it should be remembered that secondary radar only shows returns on the display when an aircraft is carrying a transponder which provides identification to air traffic controllers. If the object was an aircraft not using a transponder, then it would not show up on this type of radar.

2. Primary Radar Data:

Primary radar shows returns of any kind. In theory it should show only objects reflecting the generated radar waves. Perth international airport shares a primary radar system with the RAAF’s Pearce Air Force Base. We therefore sought copies of primary radar data from both the Department of Defence (Keith Basterfield) and Air Services Australia (Myself), using the Freedom of Information Act.

The length of the DOD FOI process exceeded the length of time that the RAAF holds its radar data for (apparently 30 days) and thus this was unsuccessful. However, ASA did provide us with a DVD with a replay of radar data for that location, date and time. An air traffic controller who looked at this DVD for us, confirmed that it showed both primary and secondary radar data. What did it show? It showed all the aircraft which Webtrak had shown, but absolutely nothing near the DHC-8. Whatever, was seen visually by the pilot, did not appear on radar.

3. Weather Details:

The Bureau of Meteorology’s website provided the following weather information for Perth international airport. Daily minimum temperature 18deg C; daily maximum 32.4degC. Nil rain. Evaporation 6.6mm. Sun 11.0hrs. Maximum wind gust south-west 37km/hr at 1445hrs. At 9am temperature was 24.5degC; relative humidity 51; nil cloud; wind from the north-east at 13km/hr. MSLP 1021.0.

4. Interview With Pilot In Command:

We both independently communicated with Skippers Aviation, the company who owned VH-XFX and sought their permission to interview the main pilot. I also spoke by telephone to a number of Skippers’ employees to achieve the same aim. After several months, I was advised that he had permission to speak to the pilot, and did so on 2 and 3 July 2014. The following dot points were recorded, from the conversation:

 * The pilot, male, age 26 utterly ruled out the possibility of the object being a weather balloon
 * The object was travelling in the opposite direction to him, not merely hovering or floating
 * He and the co-pilot registered “complete shock”
 * Air Services Australia confirmed that no other flight crew reported seeing the object (via ground radio when he landed)
 * When he thought the object might collide with his plane, he sought a heading change from ATC, but this was denied. He therefore changed course himself
 * The object was still going “up,” as well as travelling horizontally when it passed his aircraft
 * He estimated it was only 100m from his aircraft at most, he said it could have been as close as 30m
 * It had the ratio dimension wise of a cigarette, i.e. long and thin
 * He said it was green in colour, military green actually, even though the ATSB report cites the colour as grey
 * The strobe light on front had a flash frequency of a second interval at most. It was whitish in colour, and not red, or blue, or any other colour
 * The total duration of the event did not exceed 15 seconds
 * A very rough estimate of the speed of the aircraft at the time was perhaps 450km/hr, despite being on a landing approach
 * No other aircraft crew reported seeing anything. There was no radar image of the object. ASA staff saw nothing on radar
 * It definitely went past the aircraft on the left hand side
 * The pilot undertook a voluntary drug, urine test upon landing
 * He has no idea what it was, and didn’t want it to happen again
 *There were 53 passengers on board at the time
 * No one told him, not to discuss the incident.

Perhaps the single most important difference between the pilot’s account and the ATSB report is that the ATSB said the object was grey in colour, whereas the pilot said it was green, military green, in colour.

5. Similar Events In The Area:

A check was made for similar events from this area. Two were found:

a. In 1998, as part of a response to an FOI request to the ATSB, Keith received the details of a 1998 incident. At 1515hrs on 8 November 1998, an aircraft was 28kms NW of Perth airport. The pilot reported that an unidentified flying object, bright red/orange in colour, passed 30 meters below his aircraft. It was travelling very fast, as the aircraft passed 9,000 feet. The object was estimated to be approximately 2 metres across. The pilot said he believed that the object might have been a model aircraft.

b. The “West Australian” newspaper of Saturday, 18 April 2009, on page 7, ran the headline “Toy plane crashes into jet.” The story was that a radio controlled model aircraft had collided with a jet, either a Virgin Blue or Qantas aircraft. Two young men had been observed operating the model, some 500 metres from the runway thresh hold. A more detailed account appeared on page 9 of the Tuesday 21 April 2009 issue of the same paper. At 0800hrs on 17 April 2009 a model aircraft “...came within seconds of colliding with the 160 seat 737 aircraft...” The model plane was said to be 88cm long with a one metre wingspan and weighed 850g. A video taken by the operator is available for viewing on You Tube.

6. Additional Information From the ATSB:

I communicated with the ATSB seeking additional information. Part of the ATSB’s email response read:

 “In this incident, the primary source of factual information was the flight crew of the aircraft involved. The aircraft had tracked from IFR waypoint ROLOB to WOORA, a heading of about 285 degrees, or WNW. After the aircraft passed WOORA, the next intended waypoint was HAIGH, a track of about 234 degrees (south-west). As the pilot in command commenced the turn, the crew sighted a strobe light tracking directly towards the aircraft. The pilot elected to turn onto a heading of 270 (or west), rather than continue the turn to the SW, to avoid the object which was on a reciprocal track. The object then passed down the left side of the aircraft.

 The ATSB attempted to identify the object and its operator. However, as stated in the report, was unable to verify what the object was, where it had been launched from, or the identity of the operator. The incident was reported to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and the Australian Defence Force.”

7. ATSB Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Reports:

A check of the ATSB’s database located two previous reports involving UAV.

a. AO-2014-056. Near collision between an unmanned aerial vehicle and a Bell 412 helicopter, VH-WSB, near Newcastle Westpac base (HLS) NSW on 22 March 2014. 2200hrs and climbing to 1200 feet, observed a steady white light. Helicopter then descended. Pilot noted the light made an abrupt right turn and tracked towards the helicopter. The object’s rate and radius of turn indicated it was not an aircraft. “...more likely to be a small unmanned aerial vehicle...” The UAV was seen as close as 100m away and level with the helicopter.

b. AO-2013-167. Aircraft separation issue involving an Ayres S2B VH-WBK and an unmanned aerial vehicle 37km SSW of Horsham aerodrome, Victoria on 12 September 2013. At about 0930hrs EST aerial agricultural operation was occurring on a property. An operator of a UAV Sensefly EBee 178 was conducting aerial photography. The operator radioed his intention to launch a UAV. Flight of UAV was at 390 feet AGL. The UAV came near to the aircraft.

Discussion and Analysis:

1. The “unknown” object was not picked up on primary or secondary radar from the ground. It also did not activate the aircraft’s TCAS. This all suggests that the object was not an aircraft. The pilot’s visual observation confirms this.

2. Was it an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) as suggested in the ATSB report? Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) Australia Advisory circular AC101-1 provides that UAVs are permitted only up to a height not exceeding 400 feet AGL, and there are tight controls if flown in controlled airspace. Recall that the aircraft at the time was near 4,000 feet. Recall also that the Department of Defence is cited as saying that it was not operating UAVs at the time itself, and was not aware of any UAV operations at that time. In addition, the ATSB was not able to identify any UAV operator in the area. Thus if it was a UAV, it was an illegal operation.

I contacted two Perth based UAV operators, namely “Coptercam” and “Altitude Imaging.” Neither company was aware of any current UAVs shaped like “cigarettes” i.e. pencil shaped. In addition, one should also note the pilot’s description of the object. It was not of a multi rotor, circular UAV, nor of a fixed wing model aircraft, but of a military green coloured, cylindrical object of dimensions ratio similar to a cigarette, i.e. long and thin. Note also, that the pilot did not report seeing any wings, tail, or propulsion system on the object, even though he had a close visual observation. In our opinion, the probability of the unknown object being a conventional UAV, is extremely low.

3. So, what was it? By any definition it was an “unknown object,” an unidentified flying object if you will, or an example of unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP.)

Could there still be a conventional explanation, if it was not an aircraft or a UAV? Perhaps the colour and ratio of its dimensions provide a clue? Could it have been a rocket or a missile, of some kind? If so, why would such a thing have a strobe light on it? Apparent lack of wings, tail or a propulsion system would all fit this conjecture. If it was a rocket or missile, where did it come from and who launched it? And, frighteningly, was it a deliberate act against the aircraft?


At this point, with no definite explanation, Keith and I consider the report should be regarded as an example of UAP.