Now this case has come back to haunt us with the recent release of Government files in Australia. Information they contain casts new light on the mystery. The 315 pages of documents, released under the Freedom of Information Act, contain official interviews with the father, friends and superiors of the doomed pilot, as well as a clue to what didn’t happen.
Valentich was twenty when he took off in his Cessna 182L from Moorabbin Airport near Melbourne at 6.19pm on the twenty-first of October, 1978. He was flying to King Island, he said, to pick up crayfish and three passengers.
At 7.06pm he contacted Steve Robey, air traffic controller at Melbourne, and asked him if there was any known traffic nearby, as he had sighted a large ‘aircraft’. Robey said there was nothing, and asked him to describe it. He said it had four bright lights on it, and had passed overhead. Valentich went on to describe how it played cat and mouse with him, appearing and disappearing at speeds he ‘couldn’t identify’. The pilot then said ‘it’s not an aircraft... as its flying past, it’s a long shape’. In response to Robey, the young man went on to say: ‘It seems like its 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... it’s all shiny on the outside’.
Valentich then reported that the object had vanished, but seconds later that it was approaching from the south-west. His aircraft was now playing up: ‘The engine is rough idling... and the thing is coughing.’ Robey asked him what his intentions were, and Valentich said he would continue to King Island. His final words were:
An intense air and sea rescue ensued, but despite calm conditions, neither wreckage nor a body was found. It was suggested that the pilot had become disorientated in the dark and misidentified the lights from a lighthouse on Cape Otway, or that he had been fooled by a bright star or planet in the clear sky, although none of that matched what he had described. Frederick Valentich and his aircraft had disappeared into thin air.
The files illustrate that all who knew the young man had good words for him. Robert Barnes, an Airforce Reservist, who tutored Valentich for some of his flying exams, said he had a responsible attitude towards flying, he was always friendly and showed respect, and rarely criticised anyone, and was a real ‘battler’ when it came to exams.
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