top of page

Disappearance of Frederick Valentich

Updated: May 31

The sky is a mysterious place. Humans have spent hundreds of thousands of years pondering the seeming emptiness above our heads. Only relatively recently have we been able to make any headway in solving some of the strangeness.

Some things remain mysterious. Flights disappear without a trace, despite our GPS technology supposedly keeping track at all times. Pilot error, natural phenomena, and the occasional Russian missile have all been blamed in the past.

The disappearance of Frederick Valentich isn't as clear-cut. He was in radio contact with the Melbourne Flight Service Unit throughout his flight. Essentially narrating his mysterious disappearance.

Separating this case from the mountains of other missing pilots, is the fact that Frederick Valentich reported seeing a UFO right before his communication cut out. This is his story.

Passionate Pilot

Australian Department of Transportation - DSJ - Cape Otway to King Island 21 October 1978 - Aircraft Missing (Valentich) Photo of Frederick Valentich from the Australian Department of Transport report.
I fly better than I write

Frederick Valentich wanted one thing for as long as he could remember, to be a pilot. He wasn't the best student, and from reports he wasn't the greatest pilot either, but his passion drove him ever-skywards.

Becoming a commercial pilot isn't an easy task. You need to pass some seriously tough exams, and rack up hundreds of hours in the air. Frederick sought to achieve this by joining the Royal Australian Air Force Training Corps.

He was 20-years-old, with 150 flight hours at the time of his disappearance. The RAAF had denied his application to join as a full pilot several times. His academic performance was just not good enough. Failing all five commercial examination subjects, twice, will do that.

Valentich was also notoriously reckless, being written up multiple times for foolish flying. Twice, he flew straight into clouds, a very dangerous move, considering the lack of visibility and potential presence of another aircraft just beyond the fluffy white sky pillows. Flying into a cloud is considered so serious, that he was nearly prosecuted for it.

Another time, he flew into restricted airspace near Sydney, another potentially criminal act. So we can safely say that Frederick Valentich wasn't going to be pilot of the year. His behavior before his disappearance paints a picture of an inept pilot, willing to risk it all for curiosity.

One of his instructors countered this image, by saying that the boy had a healthy flight discipline. He was bad at spelling, but not a bad student. Dyslexia could explain his trouble with the exams.

The Disappearance

The Disappearance of Frederick Valentich, UFO encounter, alien abduction, flying saucer
We heard you had crayfish

Frederick Valenitch woke up on Saturday morning, 21 October 1978, excited about the day. He had planned a flight out to King Island that evening to either get crayfish or pick up some friends.

His issues with paperwork seem to have muddied the water here. Officially, he listed the purpose of his flight as picking up friends on the island. His friends and family remember him stating that he was going to King Island for Crayfish. The confusion just adds another layer of mystery.

He was flying a Cessna 182L, registered VH-DSJ. The aircraft had enough fuel for 5 hours in the air.

At 17:23, he attended a meteorological briefing at Moorabbin Airport, and submitted his flight plan. Less than an hour later he was in the air, headed for Cape Otway.

Fred checked in at Cape Otway at 19:00. Everything was going perfectly as planned. The next stretch of the journey would take in over open water, something he apparently had a fear for. Fred was no swimmer.

The Bass Strait is a 250 km (155 miles) wide strip of water separating Australia from the island of Tasmania. So many people have disappeared in the shallow waters of the Bass Strait, that it has earned the nickname - The Bass Strait Triangle.

Only 6 minutes after his radio check, Fred was back on the horn with the Melbourne Flight Service Unit (FSU). This is the conversation:

Valentich: MELBOURNE this is DELTA SIERRA JULIET is there any known traffic below five thousand

FSU: DELTA SIERRA JULIET no known traffic

Valentich: DELTA SIERRA JULIET I am seems (to) be a large aircraft below five thousand

FSU: D D DELTA SIERRA JULIET what type of aircraft is it

Valentich: DELTA SIERRA JULIET I cannot affirm it is four bright it seems to be like landing lights


Valentich: MELBOURNE this (is) DELTA SIERRA JULIET the aircraft has just passed over me at least a thousand feet above

FSU: DELTA SIERRA JULIET roger and it it is a large aircraft confirmValentich: er unknown due to the speed it's travelling is there any airforce aircraft in the vicinity

FSU: DELTA SIERRA JULIET no known aircraft in the vicinity

Valentich: MELBOURNE it's approaching now from due east towards me


// open microphone for two seconds //

Valentich: DELTA SIERRA JULIET it seems to me that he's playing some sort of game he's flying over me three times at a time at speeds I could not identify

FSU: DELTA SIERRA JULIET roger what is your actual level

Valentich: my level is four and a half thousand four five zero zero

FSU: DELTA SIERRA JULIET and confirm you cannot identify the aircraft

Valentich: affirmative


Valentich: MELBOURNE DELTA SIERRA JULIET it's not an aircraft it is // open microphone for two seconds //

FSU: DELTA SIERRA JULIET MELBOURNE can you describe the er aircraft

Valentich: DELTA SIERRA JULIET as it's flying past it's a long shape

// open microphone for three seconds //

(cannot) identify more than (that it has such speed)

// open microphone for 3 seconds //

before me right now Melbourne

FSU: DELTA SIERRA JULIET roger and how large would the er object be

Valentich: DELTA SIERRA JULIET MELBOURNE it seems like it's stationary 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



// open microphone for 5 seconds //

it's just vanished


Valentich: MELBOURNE would you know what kind of aircraft I've got is it (a type) military aircraft

FSU: DELTA SIERRA JULIET confirm the er aircraft just vanished

Valentich: SAY AGAIN

FSU: DELTA SIERRA JULIET is the aircraft still with you

Valentich: DELTA SIERRA JULIET (it's ah nor)

// open microphone for 2 seconds //

(now) approaching from the southwest


Valentich: DELTA SIERRA JULIET the engine is is rough idling I've got it set at twenty three twenty four and the thing is (coughing)

Rough idling refers to the engine sputtering, and about to die.

FSU: DELTA SIERRA JULIET roger what are your intentions

Valentich: my intentions are ah to go to King Island ah Melbourne that strange aircraft is hovering on top of me again

// two seconds open microphone //

it is hovering and it's not an aircraft



// 17 seconds open microphone //


Many reports claim that at the end of the recording, an odd metallic noise can be heard before the audio cuts out. From listening to the audio, this doesn't seem to be the case.

Frederick Valentich was never seen or heard from again. His plane was never recovered, despite extensive searches by air and sea. The final words spoken to FSU are what makes the mystery particularly odd. It seems as though he were accosted by some kind of unidentified aerial phenomenon.

Explaining the Unexplained

Cessna 182T Skylane (N2231F) takes off at the Cotswold Air Show at Cotswold Airport, Kemble, Gloucestershire, England.
The Cessna 182L, but not the one he was flying, obviously

No-one really knows what happened to Frederick Valentich on 21 October 1978. He disappeared, and we've all been left with the type of mystery that may never truly be solved.

One odd detail is that he never notified King Island that he would be arriving. They would have had to turn on the lights along the runway, for him to be able to land at all. Could he have never intended to arrive?

The idea that he was either planning on committing suicide, or faking his death, has been floated. His life wasn't great, and he had failed at becoming a commercial pilot, at least that's the rationale.

Contrary to the idea that he wanted to escape, stands the fact that he was still only 20. Becoming a commercial pilot can be a long process, and he would have been aware of that fact. Add to that the fact that he had a loving family, and a new girlfriend, and intentional disappearance becomes unlikely. Not to mention that it entirely disregards his final radio transmission.

Some have theorized that the lights, and object, that he saw were the reflection of his own aircraft on the water. They suggest that Valentich was so inept a pilot, that he actually managed to fly upside down over the water.

It's a stretch to assume that he was that incompetent, he had earned his private license after all. Another factor is whether a Cessna 182L would even be able to fly upside down.

Obviously, one of the theories is that he was attacked by some kind of unknown aircraft. Not aliens, necessarily, but perhaps some kind of advanced drone or other type of military vehicle. It could have been aliens, if we're putting literally every possible explanation on the table.

One detail that makes things even more interesting, is that there were reports of UAP sightings in the area. These sightings were only reported after the story, and transcript of the radio conversation, had been made public. So take any of those claims with a grain of salt.

According to Frederick's father, Guido Valentich, his son was fairly obsessed with the UFO phenomenon. Going so far as claiming to be afraid of a UFO attacking him while he's out flying.

Did he turn this fear into a bit of theater to assist in faking his disappearance?

We may never know what happened to Frederick Valentich.



Never miss a new story

Thanks for submitting!

bottom of page