A comedy mystery podcast in which two friends discuss a weekly mystery.

Fredrick Valentich

Willy, I’ve noticed that many of your scripts begin the same way. You identify the primary phenomenon about your mystery, and then you ask me about my personal experience with that particular phenomenon. So today I wanted to return the favor, and I promise it will be very contrived. Willy, have you ever been abducted by aliens?

Today’s mystery was suggested to us by our loyal Patreon supporter, Tom Krisenthal, as it came from his homeland of Australia. Of course, if any of our loyal listeners want to be as cool as Tom, you can go to to support our show and make your topic suggestions as well. Today, we’ll be talking about the very mysterious disappearance of Frederick Valentich.

Frederick Valentich was born June 9, 1958 in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. In 1978, when today’s mystery took place, he was a twenty-year-old man living at home with his parents and three siblings in Avondale Heights, which is a suburb northwest of Melbourne. He was described as a well-adjusted man with a steady girlfriend and who got along well with his family. He worked as a shop assistant at an army disposals store in Moonee Ponds, another suburb in inner Melbourne. His father described him as a “flying saucer enthusiast” who believed in and feared UFO attacks.

On top of that, Frederick was a pilot—a terrible pilot, but technically a pilot nonetheless. He received his student pilot license on February 24, 1977 and his private pilot license the following September. He had applied to the Royal Australian Air Force twice, but had been rejected both times due to inadequate educational qualifications. He was studying part-time to become a commercial pilot, but was struggling due to a poor achievement record. On two separate occasions, he failed all five commercial license examination subjects, and failed three additional subjects, including a failure one month before the event that is today’s mystery. He was also involved in multiple flight incident. Once, he received a warning for straying into a controlled zone in Sydney, and he was being considered for prosecution after deliberately flying into a cloud twice.

Somehow, considering all that, Frederick had racked up 150 total hours of flying experience and had a class-four instrument rating, which authorized him to fly at night during visual meteorological conditions, which is when the pilot can easily distinguish between what’s good to fly into (like the sky) and what’s not good to fly into (like the ground or other planes) without having to use instruments on the plane.

On the evening of October 21, 1978, Frederick decided that he wanted to increase his flying hours, so he plotted a flight from Moorabbin in Victoria to King Island, which is a small island halfway between the Australian mainland and the island state of Tasmania. This 125 miles or 235 kilometer flight would take him over a body of water called the Bass Strait. His stated intention was that he would pick up passengers in King Island and then return to Moorabbin. However, he told his family, girlfriend, and various acquaintances that he intended to pick up crayfish from King Island.

Frederick left the airport in Moorabbin at 6:19 pm, flying a Cessna 182 light aircraft. That evening, visibility was good and winds were light. At 7:00 pm, he reached Cape Otway, which was a cape on the Australian mainland west of Melbourne. At 7:06 pm, while flying over the water, he made radio contact with Melbourne’s air traffic control, asking if there was any air traffic in the area below 5,000 feet. Let’s take a listen to what happened next:

So, to recap what we just heard since it might have been hard to hear, Frederick checked in with air traffic control at 7:06 to see if there were any aircraft in the area below 5,000 feet and was told that there was no known traffic. Frederick then claimed that an unidentified aircraft was following him at a distance of 4,500 feet or 1,400 meters and that the large, unknown aircraft appeared to be illuminated by four bright landing lights. He then said that the aircraft flew over the top of him at 1,000 feet or 300 meters and moving quite rapidly. He also stated that his own engine had been running roughly.

After the aircraft flew over him, Frederick stated that it was approaching him from the east and that he believed the pilot of the other aircraft was messing with him. Then he stated that the aircraft was orbiting above him and that it had a shiny metal surface with a green light on it. Several times, you heard Frederick stating, “It’s not an aircraft.”

Now, the audio that was released of the conversation was just a minute and twenty seconds, but the conversation actually lasted from 7:06 to 7:12. Right there at the end, you heard him say, “That strange aircraft is hovering on top of me again. It is hovering and it's not an aircraft.” After that, the radio went dead and Frederick Valentich was never heard from again. It’s not on the audio recording we have access to, but there was apparently seventeen seconds of an unidentified noise described as a “metallic sound” before all contact was finally lost. Later analysis described the sound as thirty-six separate bursts with fairly constant start and stop pulses bounding each one and with no discernible patterns in time or frequency. However, the significance of the sounds, if there is any, has remained undetermined.

A search and rescue alert was given immediately after radio contact was lost, and when Frederick failed to arrive at King Island by 7:33 that evening, a sea and air search began. The search for Frederick Valentich and his missing aircraft lasted four days, but no conclusive evidence of the Cessna was ever found, even though the aircraft was designed to float for several minutes and was equipped with four life jackets and an emergency radio beacon that would have also floated in the event of a crash into the water. Five years after the disappearance, parts of aircraft wreckage with partially matching serial numbers to Frederick Valentich’s Cessna 182L, but it has never been conclusively identified as Frederick’s plane. A two week long investigation by Australia’s Department of Transport immediately after the disappearance could not determine a cause for the disappearance, but it was determined that whatever happened was “presumed fatal” to Frederick.

So, Willy, our task for today is to determine what happened to Frederick Valentich. But first, let’s hear a word from our sponsor, shall we?

Okay, so before the break we were about to discuss what happened to poor old Frederick. Now of course there really isn’t all that much to discuss because obviously Frederick was abducted by aliens flying in a UFO, or at least his plane was obliterated beyond recognition by a UFO. For one thing, Valentich was a UFO enthusiast so he definitely knew a lot, so when he was describing what was happening to air traffic control, he knew exactly what he was talking about. His last transmission had him describing the aircraft as “hovering”, which is something that only UFOs do, and he also said it was “not an aircraft,” so,…there’s something there. Also, since the unidentified sounds in the last seventeen seconds of radio contact with Frederick were weird, it’s impossible that his disappearance could have been caused by anything other than a UFO. His family believes that he was abducted by a UFO, because he was apparently a well-adjusted man who wouldn’t make up stories like a UFO hovering over his plane.

There’s a bit more evidence to support the obviously correct theory that Frederick was abducted by a UFO. On the same evening as the disappearance, a plumber named Roy Manifold set up a time lapse camera on the shoreline at Cape Otway to catch the sun setting over Bass Strait. At 6:47 pm, about 20 minutes before Valentich made contact with air traffic control, Manifold’s camera caught a fast-moving object exiting the water. The object is a boxy, moderately-sized object that is seen hovering above the horizon. It is backlit by the sun, so it is completely black in the photos.

Various UFO groups have analyzed the series of images and have suggested that based upon its movements between each image the object was moving at a speed of 200 miles per hour, which was a fair bit faster than the 140 miles per hour that Valentich was traveling. Because of this, it’s been suggested that this could have been the UFO that did Frederick in. However, UFO skeptics believe that the object is either a cloud formation or an insect flying close to the lens, since there’s no evidence of the lights that Frederick had reported, but it’s hard to give an explanation that accounts for the object’s speed.

But wait, Willy! There’s more evidence for the UFO! After news of the strange disappearance of Frederick Valentich came out, reports of other UFO sightings came in from all over Australia, including Tasmania, Victoria, West Australia, and New South Wales. Allegedly, for two months prior to the night of Valentich’s disappearance, there were cigar-shaped lights in the sky seen from King Island. Also, witnesses in northwestern Tasmania claim to have seen a UFO fifteen minutes before Frederick Valentich went missing. Other people claimed to have seen “an erratically moving green light in the sky” and a few witnesses, located about a mile west of Apollo Bay, Victoria claimed to have seen a green light trailing Frederick’s plane, and that he was in a steep dive at the time. According to ufologists, these reports of a green light were significant because they were reported before it was revealed that Frederick reported a green light.

However, Ken Williams, a spokesman for the Australian Department of Transport, was sippin’ the Haterade and told the Associated Press that “it’s funny all these people ringing up with UFO reports well after Valentich’s disappearance.”

Now, just for kicks and giggles because obviously Frederick Valentich was abducted by aliens, let’s discuss some alternative theories to explain what happened to Frederick. We should say that there is actually good reason to believe that Frederick wasn’t abducted by a UFO. If you’ll remember, Frederick’s flight plan stated that he would be picking up passengers, while he told friends and family that he intended to pick up crayfish. However, the investigation into Frederick’s disappearance later turned up that there were no passengers waiting to be picked up, nor had Frederick put in an order for any crayfish.

Also, while Frederick filed his flight plan with the airport at Moorabbin, he never once informed the airport on King Island that he was coming. As a result, there were no lights on at the airport, and I don’t know if you’ve ever landed a plane at night with no lights, Willy, but it’s difficult. I realize that I just made it sound as if I have, and I’m not going to make any effort to eradicate that idea from our listeners’ heads. Anyway, this failure to alert the airport on King Island that he was coming has led some to suggest that he had planned some sort of getaway, or that he planned to kill himself.

Let’s first talk about evidence for why he might have used the UFO sighting as a cover for a getaway. Frederick’s plane had enough fuel to fly 500 miles or 800 kilometers, which could have gotten him somewhere pretty far into the Australian mainland. To be fair, just because he had enough fuel to fly 500 miles doesn’t mean he was actually planning to fly 500 miles. Now, Willy, you might be wondering, wouldn’t Frederick’s plane have shown up on radar, proving that he was flying over Bass Strait to King Island? Wrong! Frederick’s plane was never spotted on radar, which has led some to wonder whether he actually flew the route he claimed he would be flying. Couple that with the fact that the Melbourne Police received reports of a light aircraft that might have been a Cessna landing mysteriously near Cape Otway, right around the same time Frederick disappeared and this is a downright interesting theory. However, Frederick’s family has maintained that he had no reason to get away. He had a steady job, he was working to become a pilot, he had a girlfriend, and he had a good relationship with his family.

There isn’t a lot of evidence regarding the suicide theory besides mere speculation. It could be possible that he wanted to end his own life and didn’t want anyone to know that it was suicide, so, being a UFO enthusiast, he came up with the idea to blame his demise on a UFO. His family claimed that he was a well-adjusted man with no evidence of depression, but as I’m sure many of our listeners are aware, many people who choose to kill themselves don’t show many signs of what they’re about to do before they do it. However, there isn’t much reason to believe that Frederick killed himself, and there’s way more reason to believe that he crashed due to his own ineptitude in the pilot’s seat.

What I think is one of the better non-UFO theories (because, again, he was obviously abducted by a UFO) is that he became disoriented for some reason. Maybe he was sleep-deprived or under the influence of something, and, being a UFO enthusiast who fully believed in the existence of UFOs, his confused mind grasped at a UFO to explain what was happening to him. It’s also been suggested that perhaps he had somehow flipped his plane and was flying upside down, and was seeing his own lights reflected in the water and thought that the lights belonged to a UFO. However, that doesn’t really explain why his reports of the other aircraft flying over him and past him, then turning around and doing it again. Plus, aviation authorities have stated that it was unlikely that Frederick was flying upside down, as a Cessna could not have managed this very long, but he was on the radio with air traffic control for six minutes and you’d think once he turned right side up things would have gone back to normal. And finally, when you listen back to his radio conversation with air traffic control, he doesn’t sound very disoriented. He seems pretty well in his right mind, although he is understandably confused about what’s going on around him.

I think it’s also important to remember that Frederick was just a bad pilot who was obsessed with UFOs. Who knows why he called air traffic control that night and made it sound like he was being pursued by a UFO, but it’s possible he crashed into the water because he just wasn’t very good at flying airplanes. There doesn’t necessarily have to be any UFO, or disorientation, or suicide or getaway plot.  Maybe he was just being a troll to air traffic control, and it just so happened that his untimely demise corresponded with his trolling.

Now, a lot of people wonder why no conclusive evidence of Frederick’s airplane was ever found. If he did crash into the water, the strong currents of Bass Strait could have conceivably carried his lightweight aircraft a long way out to sea before it finally sank. This isn’t necessarily convincing to everyone, and since no evidence of the plane was ever found, then obviously the plane must have been swallowed up by a UFO.

So, Willy, is there any particular theory you espouse to explain the disappearance of Frederick Valentich?