Close Encounters With Unknown Missiles

by Clas Svahn and Anders Liljegren

Reproduced with permission from
AFU Newsletter #37, Jan. '92 - Dec '93

Published by:
Archives For UFO Research
P.O. Box 11027,
S-600 11 Norrköpping

On several occasions civilian aircraft with hundreds of passengers have encountered unknown cigar- or missile-shaped objects. A few unexplained collisions in the air have resulted in the loss of human life. AFU Newsletter reviews a dozen incidents from the last decade. In a recent Interview with Clas Svahn an Alitalia pilot confirmed, in detail, his sighting report to British authorities.

Some of the incidents we will be reporting are not known to a wide audience. No one (outside of the intelligence community?) seems to have mapped the full picture. There seems to be a recurring pattern behind these incidents. In some cases authorities have actively covered-up what has happened. One must presume that military organizations try to conceal that they mistakenly have nearly hit - or sometimes even shot down - civilian aircraft.

All indications point to the reported cases being just a tip of an iceberg. More incidents probably lurk behind the surface, never being reported.

The Crashes

At 20.56 hours on June 27, 1980, an Italian DC-9 from the Itavia company was on a flight from Bologna to Palermo on Sicily. Suddenly the tower at Ciampino near Rome lost contact with the plane which, seemingly without reason, dived into the Mediterranean killing all 81 on board. The next day some remains of the plane were found near the island (of) Ustica while the main body had sunk to a depth of 3,500 meters. An investigation of some of the dead bodies found at sea, pointed to some kind of external explosion or outside impact as the cause. Fragments from the undercarriage were found in the dead bodies which speaks against the theory of an explosion within the aircraft.

Analysis of metallic fragments convinced the investigation committee that the DC-9 was shot down by a military missile. Remains of phosphorus, common in missiles, were found in the bodies.

An anonymous military source, who contacted an Italian journalist the same night, claimed that the plane was hit by a missile. At a senatory inquest ten years later, a sergeant at a military control centre admitted that he had seen the plane disappear off the screen. Previously it had been categorically denied that the military had kept the plane under surveillance. The plane's radar echo was followed, on a parallel course, by another target. Then it was hit by a third (unknown?) object on a crossing trajectory and the resulting cascade of debris, seen on radar, was thrown in the same direction as the crossing object had moved. [1]

The Irish Sea

A similar accident happened in 1968, when an Air Lingus Viscount plane went down into the Irish Sea and 61 people were killed. Six years later the parts of a RPV-like missile were fished out of the sea, and the connection with the previous accident was made. The plane had passed south of a military test field for rockets near Aberporth in Wales. There has been no official confirmation of the presumed connection. [2]

According to The Sunday Times a similar incident occurred in 1982, when another Italian DC-9 almost collided with a mysterious object at 27,000 feet. The unknown object exploded near the plane. Passengers on board described the object as a "fast-moving projectile, like a missile". [3]

The Norwegian case

On March 11, 1982, a Norwegian Twin Otter with 15 people crashed off Honningsvåg in the northern part of Norway. The plane was en route between Berlevåg and Mehamn when, for unknown reasons, it crashed into the sea. All on board perished. First, the pilot was blamed but two witnesses had seen a fighter-like plane in the area seconds before the the crash. One of the witnesses, Selius Samuelsen, saw two airplanes "melt together".

The chairman of the investigation committee, Lieutenant General Wilhelm Mohr, emphatically denied that any Norwegian or NATO airplane was in the area. According to the Narvik newspaper Fremover, a radar plot of the incident showed another echo on parallel course with the Twin Otter shortly before the accident and that the two plots crossed each other at the place of the accident.

"There is no doubt that the Twin Otter was hit by a NATO plane," says journalist Oddvar Kristoffersen of the Fremover newspaper, who has spent a long time investigating what really happened. Kristoffersen is convinced that the official explanations and the two crash investigations have been laid in order to protect NATO interests. [4]

The interesting thing about these cases is the secrecy and the lies from up high. All methods are allowed to cover-up the real cause. Such pieces of disinformation we must always count on concerning incidents that involve unknown missiles.

And the incidents continue. Sometimes the cases are so similar that it seems that the same blueprint was used.

Australian RAAF report

One case comes from Australia:

"17th December 1984 at 1500 (3 pm). From RAAF files, Canberra. A pilot observed a missile shaped object with tapered body coming to sharp conical point at nose and cut off rear section with "fins". The pilot considered it to be not unlike a cruise missile which was sand colored. No sound or exhaust was emitted. It disappeared after about 2-3 seconds, into the sky rather (than) over horizon." [5]

Over the Swiss-Italian border

A Greek Olympic Airways aircraft (flight OA 132) with 61 passengers on board had a very close encounter with a missile on August 15, 1985. The aircraft, with Christos Stamulis as chief pilot, was en route from Zürich to Athens and was just passing the Swiss-Italian border.

At 16.05 hours Stamulis contacted the Linate control tower and stated that he had just seen a projectile without wings pass by, from left to right. The Boeing 727 was flying in air corridor "Amber 14" on a southeasterly course at 7,500 meters altitude. It was just preparing an ascent when the missile passed by, only some 60-150 meters below the aircraft. The missile was dark brown, or black, and a couple of meters long. The passengers on board knew nothing about the near-hit.

Who was responsible? The Swiss military had, only a few minutes before the encounter, ended a military maneuver in the St. Gottard area with civilian air traffic being closed off. But spokesmen said the exercises were only with Army units and did not involve missiles. The Swiss military had three rocket systems at the time: Bloodhound, Rapier and Sidewinder. None had been actively used from Swiss territory. The Swiss Sidewinders have only been tested at the north-Swedish missile test area near Vidsel (sometimes used by the military forces of other neutral countries).

Judging from it's direction of flight, the projectile must have come from the Italian side of the border. Italian authorities denied knowledge of any military tests. The missile had, reportedly, not shown up on military radar and neither Italy nor NATO had anything going on that could explain the sighting.

The theory of a balloon was denied by Stamulis: "That was a military device, of that I am sure. It was a ballistic rocket." A radar operator stated that objects of that small size, travelling at great speed, could not be spotted on civilian radar. [6] Was it a long-distance test flight of an American or Soviet cruise missile? [7]

Missile That Followed the Power-lines

Three days later, on August 18, 1985, a similar encounter happened in Sweden. Four civilian pilots were flying a Cessna on a southerly course along the Swedish east coast, near Söderhamn, when they discovered a missile like object, some six meters long, on a counter course.

"We were flying on about 1.000 meters between Umeå and Gävle when one of us suddenly spotted something glistening in the sun over the woods in front of us," says Per Lundqvist, who piloted the aircraft.

sweden 1985

"Coming closer we saw that it was a metallic missile with steering fins at the back. Now and then it changed it's course according to the terrain and I interpreted this as if it was following the power lines below us.

"Since we had become curious I dived down towards the missile and turned our plane to try to follow, but this was impossible. We simply didn't have the engine power to compete with the object. It disappeared from us at an altitude of a few hundred meters."

The four pilots reported the incident to the military who attempted, in vain, for a six month period to identify the object. However, no one from the defense authorities made direct contact with the pilots after their first report. [8] This kind of non-interest in the violation of Swedish air by unknown aerial objects (as compared to the military high-level interest in the recent wave of Swedish submarine violations) is typical, yet strange.

The Delta Case

Another small missile was encountered at 29,500 feet by the captain, William Cantrell, and the crew of Delta Airlines flight 1083 between Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Atlanta, Georgia. This happened on June 25th, 1987. The incident occurred near Charleston, West Virginia.

A small missile seemed to be heading straight for the Boeing 737 and its 60 passengers, before passing to the side and some 500-600 feet below the aircraft. The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) report on the incident, released soon after incident stated:

Delta 1987

"The captain reported the missile had a short 4" squatty "Homemade" appearance. He described the projectile as approximately 4-6 feet long with large fins attached which ran halfway up its length. The main body of the missile was a white and yellow color and the fins were a beige to brown color. He said It appeared to be descending and unpowered when it passed below him. The pilot stated that he took no evasive action."

The object was reported by the newspapers (contrary to the FAA report) to have been moving "at high speed," in a northerly direction. Pilot Cantrell said he saw no exhaust from the missile. In this case a blimp-shaped balloon (notice the pilot's description of the object as being "homemade") may be a plausible explanation although the prevailing winds at the time does not support that solution. In a routine manner (?) a Pentagon spokesman denied anything military could explain the sighting. [9]

Over the English Channel

A little more than two years ago, a missile sighting was made by an Italian pilot, Achille Zaghetti, on a routine flight from Milan to London. On April 21, 1991, Zaghetti and his co-pilot were piloting a McDonnell Douglas MD-80 with 57 passengers on board. was 20.00 hours.

Clas Svahn interviewed the Italian pilot over the phone in his home in Rome, early this year, and this is his story - with a few abbreviations.

CS: Could you tell me, in your own words, what happened?

AZ: It was during descent, and our position was right in the middle of the Channel between France and England. We were coming down with the autopilot, which is connected to a computer. The descent rate was 1,200 feet per minute. When we were at about 26,000 feet we increased the rate of descent. Of course, when doing that, the speed was going up and we were going faster. So, me and my co-pilot looked outside since we had another aircraft in front. We didn't see the shape of that aircraft, we just saw their anticollision lights. The other plane was ahead of me, about 15 miles. It seemed to us that we were using this distance because of our increasing speed. We were looking out occasionally. Usually we do not look with such intensity as we did this time.

I was crossing 22,100 feet and we were heading 321 when I saw something coming, heading 110-120, about.

CS: So the object was coming from left to right in front of you?

AZ: It was coming from the left to the right. The day was coming down but we had light because of the height. So I saw something circular, very similar to a missile. I used the word "missile" because of the shape, not because I saw a missile. It was like a missile. It was round, about ten feet long, light brown colour and I said to my co-pilot "look out, look out". He was already looking outside with me because of the flight in front of us, not because of the unknown object. And he saw what I saw.

We reported it directly to the control and I asked "Have you something on your screen? It should be behind me now'. Our speed was about 380 knots, but I don't know about the object's speed, of course.

As soon as I asked this to the control, he said to me "Yes, I target something that is now ten miles behind you". That he said in the moment we asked him. When we landed in London I called, I think it was the chief controller, or something like that, and he told me that we were targeted at 22,100 feet.

After one day they told me that it had been a helicopter going northeast, instead of southeast as I had said. And, as you know, it is impossible for a helicopter to be at 22,000 feet. I suggested that they should replay the radar tape again and look at all the spots and rebuild the scene. That was what I suggested the day after, but I never have had any exchanges of ideas, as I am now having with you, with anybody from the British state, or someone else.

CS: I wrote a letter to the Civil Aviation Authority in London and got a reply. I can read from it if you are interested.

AZ: Yes.

CS: "Both Air Defence and Army firing ranges have been ruled out and the Ministry of Defence had no report of any space activity which could provide an explanation. The description of the object does not correspond to that expected had it been a meteorological balloon. The investigation has therefore been closed and the sighting will be listed as an unidentified flying object". So it is no helicopter anymore.

AZ: No helicopter. It is very strange... They thought about a meteorological balloon and so did I. As soon as I saw this object I scanned my INS platform about the wind. I remember that it was coming diagonal, five knots. Usually it goes straight up. It never goes in line as the object I saw, especially when there is no wind.

CS: Was this object passing between you and the other aircraft?

AZ: No, the other aircraft was below, at about 12,000 feet.

CS: How many minutes later did you land at Heathrow?

AZ: This was 23 minutes before landing.

CS: How was the weather at the time? Was it dark?

AZ: It was dark down. It was light up because of the sun.

CS: You didn't see any exhaust trail or something?

AZ: No. If you take a military aircraft, they carry an extra tip-fuel. It was similar to that as far as I remember, the shape could be that.

CS: But it was hard to see exactly?

AZ: Yes, quite impossible, it was just a flash. First, I didn't even want to make a report because It is always difficult that someone will believe you.

CS: So, if they hadn't seen it on radar on the ground you wouldn't have reported it?

AZ: No, I say no. It is strange that when I say "we have something around me that now should be behind me" the controller said to me "yes, you have a target behind you ten miles". I don't think he would have said this if it had been a meteorological balloon. If the object was stationary and not travelling towards me, and if you calculate the time from my question to his answer, it should be four-five miles behind me. My speed was about 400 miles per hour. But if it was something with speed he would be nine or ten miles behind me. From my question to the answer it was 40-60 seconds.

CS: So, the object was travelling with its own speed?

AZ: Yes.

CS: Then it must have had some sort of propulsion system.

AZ: But I didn't see any exhaust, flame or... nothing .

CS: When a pilot sees something he doesn't understand, he usually doesn't report it, if I understand you right?

AZ: Usually we ask the radar first if he saw what we saw. And if he says that he didn't see anything, we didn't see anything either.

CS: You need a confirmation.

AZ: Yeah.

CS: How were you treated afterwards, when you told other pilots and persons of your experience?

AZ: Some people smiled and some people asked me what it was. Some want to make clamour of this but I left home for four days to avoid the press. This is something you experience once in a lifetime and I will never forget it. It is like a photo that will never get out of my head. It was very, very fast. Even now I remember these brief moments. [10]

The Alitalia encounter hit the headlines and got front-page attention in newspapers such as The Sunday Times [11] According to a letter from CAA, the British Civil Aviation Authority, there were no military missile launchings that could explain the sighting (although the plane had been over an infantry training area) . [12]

Paul Murphy, a member of the British parliament approached the Ministry of Defence on the matter. The MoD claimed that at no time, so far, had there been any threat represented by UFO incidents such as this... [13] Believe it, if you like.

A Cylindrical Body

The next incident in our list took place over the British mainland, on June 1, 1991, at 1438 hours. A Britannia Airways Boeing 737 was bound from Dublin to London-Heathrow descending at 8,000 feet on a heading of 110 degrees. The two pilots both saw the unknown object for a very short period of only 1-2 seconds. It was seen through the windscreen and disappeared very rapidly down the port side.

The flight officer described the missile (?) as a yellow-orange cylindrical body with a possible "wrinkled appearance". The size was estimated to be about 10 feet. The pilots theorized that it might have been a meteorological balloon, but the closure rate seemed very rapid for a stationary object. The CAA committee considered the weather balloon theory improbable, but one member thought that the "wrinkled" appearance of the body could suggest an advertising balloon that had broken away, although none had been reported. The case is still considered unidentified. [14]

The Dan Air case

Four passengers on board Dan Air flight DA 4700 from London (Gatwick) to Hamburg saw yet another of the unknown missiles on June 17, 1991. The wingless projectile passed below and to the left (north) of the Boeing 737. The missile appeared to be flying at an altitude of 4-5,000 feet just above the cloud layer. In Hamburg, the passengers notified the flight crew and a report was written.

The main witness was German engineer Walter Liess. He was seated by a window and saw, at about 1830 hours, a flying object without wings and with no vapour trail.

"The object was slender, grey, and, so it seemed, sort of cigar-shaped. Its flightpath was on a parallel with ours but diametrically opposed. The object flew over the cloud-deck and under our aircraft; the object seemed to oscillate in altitude. It's possible the object was standing still and only gave the impression of movement (i.e. relative motion). The object was estimated to be visible for 2-3 minutes."
The Dan Air crew had not seen the object, but three other passengers did. [15]

The Britannia Encounter

A few months later, on July 15, 1991, another Britannia Airways Boeing 737 on a holiday flight from Crete to Gatwick (London) had a similar encounter at 17.45 hours in the evening. Descending at 15,000 feet the co-pilot caught sight of a "small black lozenge shaped object" some 500 meters ahead and above. The object was on a collision course and within two seconds it passed the aircraft's wing at a distance of only 100 meters at less than 10 meters above the wing. No impact or "wake" was felt by the crew and the passengers were not alerted. The pilot assessed the risk of collision as high.

When reported to the London Air Traffic Control Center the missile was picked up on radar moving away from the aircraft. It was moving at 100 miles per hour in a southeasterly direction and was no known traffic since it had no transponder to identify it. Another aircraft was warned since the unknown target appeared to change heading towards it, but the other craft saw nothing. The radar target might, however, have been a helicopter on a lower level.

The sighted object was very small, some 1.5 feet in diameter, very smooth and roundish. A balloon, meteorological or toy, was suspected but this does not conform with the radar reports of an object moving at 100 m.p.h. - if that was the unknown object. The official report still regarded the unknown object as "untraced". [16]

The United Airlines case

The pilots of United Airlines' flight 934, a Boeing jumbo jet, were the witnesses in the most recent incident, on August 5, 1992. They were en route from Los Angeles to London and the sighting occurred some 50 miles NE of George Air Force Base at about 13.45 in the afternoon. The 747 at 23,000 feet departing from Los Angeles on a 40 degree heading.

Suddenly an unusual aircraft came directly towards the aircraft and passed under them at an estimated distance of 500-1,000 feet. During several seconds the crew got the impression of "a lifting body configuration, and they described it as looking like the forward fuselage of a Lockheed SR-71 - without wings but with a tail of sorts." The edges of the fuselage were rounded instead of sharp. The size was estimated to be similar to an F-16 (some 50 feet long). Speed was considered as supersonic.

The Defence Department and the Air Force denied any knowledge but added: "we're not the only ones with strange projects", referring to the CIA and other organizations. [17]


The reports in this category appear - at first sight - to be very similar but may, in fact, be a very mixed bag:

1. Military ballistic missiles gone astray.
It is public knowledge that at least two Soviet missiles went astray in the 1980's: one (probably a target missile) fell into a Finnish lake (December 1984) and was later returned to Russia [18], the other (a SSN-8 submarine shot on Sept. 11, 1986) landed in the borderlands between Russian and China [19]. Large continental/intercontinental ballistic missiles travelling at three times the speed of sound are unlikely as a cause for most of the mid-air encounters. Small anti-aircraft and other military purpose missiles are much more likely.
2. Remotely-piloted vehicles and cruise missiles.
Travelling at much lower speeds - and not on ballistic trajectories - objects in this category are the most likely candidates to explain the sightings. Cruise missiles, like the Tomahawk, may have been tested over the US and Europe. In Sweden and Norway there are several hundred RPV/missile sightings reported by ground level witnesses during the past 40-50 years. One peculiar factor in some of these sightings (as in the mid-air incidents) is the reported absence of any exhaust, vapour trail or other signs of a propulsion system.

Most sightings in this category (like the aircraft encounters we have summarized in this article) are of a very short duration. Usually not more than 4-5 seconds. This may explain, in part, the official non- interest in the cases. The sightings are difficult to "prove" since they rest mostly on eye-witness data alone. Note, however, that in four of the cases reported in this article, the objects were probably spotted on radar.

3. Balloons.
Balloons of different kinds may be another explanation. Meteorological balloons usually collapse at relatively low altitudes, but large toy and advertising balloons may be likely. Five of the cases reported here occurred at altitudes above 20.000 feet. For pilots on high-speed aircraft it may be difficult to judge whether an approaching object is self-propelled or just blowing with the prevailing winds.
4. Para-missiles.
By comparison, there are volumes upon volumes of historic data recording "technological imitations" - "ghostly" or "phantom" appearances in our skies. To name but a few: the airship waves over Poland in 1892, the American continent in 1896-97 and over Europe, New Zealand and South Africa in 1908-1914; the ghost fliers in Canada and Norway 1914-1916 and in Scandinavia 1933-1938; the ghost rockets of 1946; ghost fliers again over west-Sweden in the mid-1970s; the Hudson valley boomerang in the 1980s; the Belgian triangle wave in 1989-91, and so on. Many of these waves have been associated with developing technologies in other parts of the world, but with no positive or definitive correlation made.

After all, are these "technological imitations" a mirror of the human mind...? In that case the hallucinations are very much of the collective kind.


1 The Sunday Times, May 5,1991. UFO-Aktuellt, 1982, issue 2, p. 3 and 1993, issue 1, p. 20.

2.   The Sunday Times, May 5, 1991.

3.   The Sunday Times, May 5,1991.

4.   UFO-Aktuellt, 1993, issue 1, pp. 20-21. Kristoffersen, Oddvar; Ingen kjent trafikk. J.W. Cappelen, 1988.

5.   Australian UFO Bulletin, September 1992, p. 7.

6.   CENAP-Report, nr 115 (translations from Il Giornale and La Republica, August 17, 1985).

7.   Investigations by Swiss researcher Bruno Mancusi revealed that the "elongated black object" seen by the Olympic Airways Boeing 727 crew was a large (10' long) "UFO Solar" balloon launched by a family for the amusement of their 5-year-old daughter.   See: "Le cas Italo-Suisse du 15 août 1985, by Bruno Mancusi, Ovni-Présence, #36, January 1987, pp.3-7     Return to Article

8.   Dagens Nyheter, May 24, 1991. UFO-Aktuellt, 1991, issue 2, p. 9.

9.   FAA report obtained by Stan Gordon, PASU. Newspaper articles, June 27. APRO Bulletin, vol. 33, no. 6.

10.   Telephone interview on January 18, 1993. UFO-Aktuellt, 1993, issue 1, pp. 18-20.

11.   The Sunday Times, May 5, 1991.

12.   Letter to Clas Svahn from CAA. Northern UFO News, issue 160, pp. 11-12.

13.   Northern UFO News, issue 160. The Alitalia case is also summarized in Northern UFO News, issue 149 (p. 11) and issue 155 (pp. 7-8).

14.   Ken Phillips: Around the world in eighty days. Part 1. UFO Times, issue 24, pp. 5-7.

15.   UFO Times, issue 25, pp. 9-10.

16.   UFO Times, issue 24, pp. 5-7. Northern UFO News, issue 155, pp. 7-8. Orbiter, issue 36, pp. 9-10.

17.   From Aviation Week & Space Technology, August 24, 1992. In: The Missing Link, issue 122, p. 14. Also: Tasmanian UFO Report, 1993, p. 13.

18.   Dagens Nyheter and Expressen, January 3/4/5, January 30/31, February 1-9, 1985.

19.   Dagens Nyheter, September 11,1986.

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