Frederick Valentich filed a flight plan at Moorabbin Airport in Melbourne on October 21st, 1978. At the time he had a Class Four instrument rating and roughly 150 hours of flight experience. He told officials that he wished to fly to King Island in order to pick up some passengers and then return to Moorabbin. He gave another story to family and friends, stating that he was making a run to collect crayfish. Neither appears to be true.

Valentich left Moorabbin a little after 6:00 p.m. in a Cessna 182-L and reported to the Melbourne Flight Service that he had arrived at Cape Otway at 7:00 p.m. Six minutes later, Valentich contacted Melbourne Flight Service Officer Steve Robey requesting information on any other aircraft which might be in the area. He stated that he could see some type of aircraft which appeared to have four bright landing lights and was moving at a very high speed. Robey replied that there was no known traffic and asked that Valentich confirm his altitude and the fact that he could not identify the alleged aircraft.

Valentich responded that his altitude was 4,500 feet and that believed the craft was toying with him. After a 30 second silence, he reported that the aircraft was ‘orbiting’ above him and he could make out a shiny, metallic surface. Another silence ensued, this time 28 seconds in duration, and then Valentich informed Robey that the craft had disappeared. Less than a minute later, it was back, this time approaching from the southwest. Valentich reported that he had begun having engine trouble and he was going to try to make it to King Island. The following is a transcript of the exchanges between Valentich and air traffic control taken from the first three pages of the Australian Department of Transport report (courtesy Wikipedia).

19:06:14 DSJ [Valentich]: Melbourne, this is Delta Sierra Juliet. Is there any known traffic below five thousand?
FS [Flight Services; Robey]: Delta Sierra Juliet, no known traffic.
DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet, I am, seems to be a large aircraft below five thousand.
19:06:44 FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, What type of aircraft is it?
DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet, I cannot affirm, it is four bright, and it seems to me like landing lights.
FS: Delta Sierra Juliet.
19:07:31 DSJ: Melbourne, this is Delta Sierra Juliet, the aircraft has just passed over me at least a thousand feet above.
FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, roger, and it is a large aircraft, confirmed?
DSJ: Er-unknown, due to the speed it’s travelling, is there any air force aircraft in the vicinity?
FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, no known aircraft in the vicinity.
19:08:18 DSJ: Melbourne, it’s approaching now from due east towards me.
FS: Delta Sierra Juliet.
19:08:41 DSJ: (open microphone for two seconds.)
19:08:48 DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet, it seems to me that he’s playing some sort of game, he’s flying over me two, three times at speeds I could not identify.
FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, roger, what is your actual level?
DSJ: My level is four and a half thousand, four five zero zero.
FS: Delta Sierra Juliet and you confirm you cannot identify the aircraft?
DSJ: Affirmative.
FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, roger, stand by.
19:09:27 DSJ: Melbourne, Delta Sierra Juliet, it’s not an aircraft it is (open microphone for two seconds).
19:09:42 FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, can you describe the – er – aircraft?
DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet, as it’s flying past it’s a long shape (open microphone for three seconds) cannot identify more than it has such speed (open microphone for three seconds). It’s before me right now Melbourne.
19:10 FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, roger and how large would the – er – object be?
19:10:19 DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet, Melbourne, it seems like it’s chasing me.[21] 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.
FS: Delta Sierra Juliet
19:10:46 DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet (open microphone for three seconds) It’s just vanished.
FS: Delta Sierra Juliet.
19:11:00 DSJ: Melbourne, would you know what kind of aircraft I’ve got? Is it a military aircraft?
FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, Confirm the – er- aircraft just vanished.
DSJ: Say again.
FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, is the aircraft still with you?
DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet; it’s (open microphone for two seconds) now approaching from the south-west.
FS: Delta Sierra Juliet
19:11:50 DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet, the engine is rough-idling. I’ve got it set at twenty three twenty-four and the thing is (coughing).
FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, roger, what are your intentions?
DSJ: 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 (open microphone for one second) it’s not an aircraft.
FS: Delta Sierra Juliet.
19:12:28 DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet. Melbourne (open microphone for seventeen seconds).

During those last seventeen seconds a metallic scraping sound was heard. Valentich never made it to King Island and a search and rescue alert was sent out at 7:12 p.m. Even though the plane had four life jackets and was designed to stay afloat for a few minutes after going down, no sign of any wreckage was found. A Department of Transport investigation concluded that the cause of Valentich’s disappearance could not be determined and his flight was presumed to be fatal. The sounds heard at the end of the transmission were analyzed but could not be identified.

There’s an interesting side note to this story. Plumber Roy Manifold had set up a time lapse camera on the shoreline, hoping to capture the sunset. What he caught instead was photos of what appeared to be a large object exiting the water near Cape Otway. This was a mere 19 minutes before Valentich first requested information on nearby aircraft. Skeptics claim that the object was just a cloud formation, but can give no explanation for its rate of speed, an estimated 200 miles per hour. Equally interesting are witness accounts which state that Valentich’s plane was being followed by a green light.

Apart from the UFO angle, one of the most common explanations given by skeptics was that Valentich perpetrated some kind of elaborate hoax and faked his disappearance. Melbourne Police had received reports of a light aircraft landing not far from Cape Otway around the same time as Valentich’s disappearance. However, recently uncovered documents suggest that parts of an airplane’s wreckage had been recovered in Bass Strait five years after the incident. They are a partial match to the serial numbers of Valentich’s aircraft. It’s seems that his plane did in fact go down.

Perhaps he became disoriented and ended up flying upside down. The ‘craft’ would have then been the reflection of his own plane. Aviation authorities ruled this out since that Cessna model was incapable of prolonged inverted flight. Nevertheless, a 2000 private investigation concluded that Valentich’s demise came about from a combination of disorientation and engine trouble. Even a 2013 review of data, including radio transmissions, yielded the result that he had mistakenly believed the horizon was tilted and overcompensated, sending his plane into a deadly spiral. Valentich certainly had a poor achievement record as a pilot, having failed his exams for a commercial license on numerous occasions. But how then does one explain the witness statements that he was being followed?