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Air Misses:

Some "skeptics" are still making ironical comments about UFO. One of the most frequent comment is "If there were UFOs, how do you explain that pilots do not meet them in the air?". Well they do meet. Sometimes pilots wonder if they will not meet just a little too close...

UFO and airliner air miss near Manchester, U-K., 1995, Daiy Mail article:

Source: Daily Mail newspaper, London, U-K.

Date: Monday 5th August, 1996.

The Daily Mail article:

Is this the proof that UFOs exist?

By Jane Kelly

In January 1995, two BA [British Airways] pilots saw this object in the sky above Britain. After 18 months investigation the aviation authorities are left with only one explanation...

Out of the winter darkness, on January 6th last year, BA flight 5061 from Milan began its descent into Manchester's Ringway Airport, flying into a strong north-westerly wind. Visibility was good, stretching over six miles, and the crew and passengers were looking forward to touching down.

At 6.48pm, as the Boeing 737 cruised over the Pennines, just above the rugged cumuls cloud-cover, the pilot, Captain Roger Wills, and First Officer Mark Stuart, saw something which stunned them.

They ducked instinctively as a triangular, silver-coloured object with a dark stripe down one side hurtled towards them from the opposite direction. It disappeared down the right-hand side of the aircraft, only feet from Officer Stuart's cockpit seat.

For two or three seconds the two men were able to track the object through the cockpit windscreen and a side window. It was one of the most reliable sightings of an unidentified flying object ever to have taken place in Britain. Both men are sensible, well-trained pilots with thousands of miles between them.

Since that mysterious incident above the Pennines, neither pilot has spoken in public about their encounter. They have spent months being teased mercilessly by their colleagues. Should they keep quiet and forget the incident, or reveal publicly what they saw?

Eventually, Officer Stuart decided that it was, indeed, time to talk about the extraordinary encounter above Manchester, and to set the record straight once and for all.

Tomorrow evening, in a television documentary, Officer Stuart vividly recreates the moment when he thought his aircraft was about to collide with a strange and fast moving flying object.

"We were coming back from Milan and were on the last stages of approach, at about 4,000ft," recalls Stuart. "We were on a northerly course direction heading towards the airfield, just in the tops of the clouds."

"The captain was flying the aircraft. I was monitoring what was going on; my job was to keep an eye on the settings."

"My peripheral vision was drawn to something out of the front window. I actually saw the object coming towards me. It was a silvery grey wedge-shaped object"

"My reactions was to reach for the control column, to try to get away from what I felt was an object in very close proximity. My hands never really went further forward than maybe an inch or two. The object passed very, very close down the right-hand side."

"I asked the Captain if he had seen it, to which he replied 'yes', he had. We decide to ask air traffic control if they had seen anything on the radar. They replied that they hadn't and asked us if we'd like to file an air miss, which would lead to an investigation."

"The object didn't alter its course. There was no deviation on the part of either aircraft. It just came down the side, making no attempt to avoid us, and we didn't have a chance to take any evasive action. It was over very quickly, so there wasn't much that could be done."

On landing, both pilots discussed what they had seen. "I suggested to the Captain that it would be a good idea to draw what we had seen. We both did so."

"The objects we drew were the same shape, but they differed in texture - mine was a solid object which I believed had black or grey stripes down the side."

"I didn't see any windows or anything like that. The Captain drew a similar shape, but his was made up of lots of different little lights."

"I felt his drawing could be explained by a reflection from our landing lights as the object went down our right-hand side."

"We then phoned air traffic control and decided that we would file an air miss, which meant that all the traces from radar would have to be examined in further detail."

By filing that report, the two men launched themselves onto the treadmill of rumour mystery that accompanies all such unexplained sightings.

Many airline pilots talk anecdotally of seeing UFOs. But very few report what they have actually seen, fearful of a sceptical response from their colleagues. And, until now, no pilot of a commercial British aircraft has ever spoken publicly about such an incident.

Although Officer Stuart still cannot explain what he and his Captain saw, there are a number of possibilities.

Could it have been a craft that has become known as the Silent Vulcan, a supposedly top-secret American military aircraft, so called because its shape resembles an old Vulcan bomber?

The Silent Vulcan, a similar shape to the Stealth bomber, has allegedly been seen over Europe and North America, and was first sighted over the Hudson Valley in upstate New York in 1983.

In Britain, many of the sightings since have taken place in the Pennine Corridor, which runs from the Midlands to Yorkshire.

In 1990, an object similar to the one seen by Officer Stuart and his Captain was spotted in Belgium; the Belgian air force scrambled fighter planes to try to intercept it, but it vanished without leaving radar or radiation readings.

Conspiracy theorists, who have welcomed the BA incident with glee, point to the fact that the American F-117 Stealth bomber flew for five years before the U.S. government confirmed its existance.

Like the Silent Vulcan, it is triangular in shape, and was designed not to show up on radar screens.

Radar experts, however, do not believe that the BA sighting could have been a Stealth bomber. It is not allowed to fly in controlled airspace without being identifiable to ground control.

And even the Stealth bomber cannot explain the speed, agility and rapid acceleration displayed by the object the BA pilots saw.

The Civils Aviation Authority (CAA) spent months investigating the pilots claims. They talked to all the flight crews and air staff involved. They examined recordings and radar tapes which would tell them whether any other aircraft was in the vacinity of BA flight 5061. They found nothing.

In April this year, the CAA agreed that the crew on board the flight had seen an unidentified flying object - or, as it prefered to term it, an 'unassessable' object.

The CAA decided that in the absence of any firm evidence or explanation for the object, it was not possible to assess either the cause of the near miss or the risk on the encounter.

It concluded that the incident didn't fit any of the normal criteria applicable to air-miss reports.

Officer Stuart was not happy with the result. "We did not get the answers we were hoping for," he says. "If I can't explain it and I was there, I cannot hope that anyone else can ever explain it away."

Despite Stuart's reservations, the CAA response - in conducting such a thorough investigation - has been seen as a milestone in the official recognition of the UFO phenomenon.

The Ministry of Defence is still reluctant to discuss the issue of UFOs at all. Officially, the Ministry does not investigate inexplicable sightings because they are not considered a threat to national security.

Others tell a different story. For three years Nick Pope headed Air Staff 2a, within the MoD. Part of his work was to investigate UFO reports.

Pope, whose book Open Skies, Closed Minds, was serialised by the Daily Mail, calls the Silent Vulcan 'the Flying Triangle'. "It behaves in a way that is beyond the cutting edge of our own technology," he says.

But could the BA pilots have seen the mysterious military craft known as the Silent Vulcan? Or must there be another explanation, that the versatility of the craft they saw simply cannot be created by humans?

Pope says of sightings like the BA one: "Alien craft are the only logical conclusion of some sightings. The technology they display is way beyond our own."

Although the MoD denies any special research, insiders who have worked within the Ministry claim that the Ministry base at Rudloe Manor, in Wiltshire, is being used as a centre for secret investigations into aerial phenomena.

The Public Records Office in Kew, South-London, sheds even more intriguing light on just how seriously incidents like the BA one are being taken by the Government.

From the mid-fifties onwards, the MoD has accumulated more than 8,000 UFO sightings, and has withheld the information under the 30 year secrecy rule. While many of these accounts are now available at Kew, others will remain sealed for decades to come.

Officer Stuart knows what he saw. He has kept the drawing of that mysterious triangular object, and he and his Captain have never changed their story. They also, of course, cannot explain it.

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This page was last updated on February 3, 2001.