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American Airlines UFO report caught on ham radio

A ham radio user caught what appears to be a UFO report near Nephi, Utah while monitoring airline communications between commercial airliners and the control tower. The conversation was not recorded. However, UFO researchers were able to get a copy of the transmission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Nephi Municipal Airport from the air. (Credit: Arizona Soaring Association/http://www.asa-soaring.org/)

Nephi Municipal Airport from the air. The town can be seen in the upper right. (Credit: Arizona Soaring Association/http://www.asa-soaring.org/)

Pat Daniels, a paranormal radio host and ham radio hobbyist, was monitoring airline communications on January 14 at around 12:12 am when he heard exactly what he was looking for, a UFO report. According to the website UFOs Northwest, Daniels claims:

“The pilot reported seeing an extremely large bright object that he estimated a mile wide to his right. The air traffic controller told him that he was looking in the direction of Nephi, Utah. Apparently the air traffic controller told the pilot that the object was not detected on radar. The object appeared to keep pace with the aircraft.”

Nephi satellite image. (Credit: Google Earth)

Nephi satellite image. (Credit: Google Earth)

Daniels reported the event to the Utah chapter of the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON). The Utah MUFON state director at the time was Erica Lukes, who says her team, with the help of William Puckett from UFOs Northwest, began investigating.

First, they were able to determine the flight was American Airlines flight number 434, which was traveling from San Francisco, California to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In order to confirm the report, the group filed the FOIA request to the FAA and reviewed audio files from the Air Traffic Control website. Lukes says they had to listen through hours of audio communications, but they finally found some of what they were looking for. Although they did find some communication from the flight, the UFO report was missing.

Fortunately, the FAA came through. Six weeks after submitting their FOIA request, the FAA sent them what they were looking for, radar returns, voice tapes and tower logs. The audio file included what they believe is an excerpt of the UFO sighting.

This is a transcript of what can be heard in the audio provided by the FAA:

American 434: Tower, American 434.

Tower: 434, go ahead.

American 434: You wouldn’t happen to know what this bright orange square we are flying over is, would ya?

Tower: Uhhhh, no. That’s a good question. I am not sure. Is it off to your right side?

American 434: It is like directly off of our nose right now. It is right below us. We have been watching it for awhile now. I don’t know what it is. It is a perfect square and it is bright orange. What town are we next to? This town right off of our 2 o’clock (indistinguishable word).

Tower: American 434, that is Nephi. Nephi, Utah.

American 434: Nephi, OK. Cool. Now I will see what I can go find. Thank you.

Tower: You bet.

As noted by UFOs Northwest, the audio only states that the object was large and orange, but not the parts about the object being a mile wide, that is was keeping pace with the aircraft or that it was not on radar. In fact, the audio that was provided could indicate something on the ground. Still, it confirmed that Daniels did hear pilots reporting something that was large, bight and orange and baffling to the crew.

Under further analysis, the investigators believe that some of the audio was redacted. Daniels feels this could be because the American Airlines crew did not identify themselves prior to their earlier transmissions, so the FAA would not have included it in their request for communications for flight 434.

Next, the group tackled the FAA’s radar data. Puckett of UFOs Northwest is familiar with radar. He has a master’s degree in atmospheric science, and worked as a meteorologist for a few years before a long career working for the Environmental Protection Agency. He has analyzed radar data for UFO cases before.

According to the website, while analyzing the radar data for 12:08 to 12:15 am, he found several radar hits south of Nephi, but close to the path of flight 434.

Puckett writes, “The animation shows 1 to 3 returns for each revolution of the radar. There are a few rotations where no returns are detected. This is strange.”

“One wonders if the object was moving erratically and perhaps was rotating exposing more or less radar cross sectional area resulting in no detection or a different number of returns? The object could have been large considering this type of ‘radar signature?’,” Puckett added.

Radar hits in relation to the flight path. The times in this graphic mistakenly show pm, instead of am. (Credit: UFOs Northwest)

Radar hits in relation to the flight path. The times in this graphic mistakenly show pm, instead of am. (Credit: UFOs Northwest)

You can read his detailed analysis of the radar data at UFOs Northwest.

The sighting area in relation to military bases. (Credit: UFOs Northwest)

Nephi in relation to military bases. (Credit: UFOs Northwest)

The case is still under investigation. At least one investigator has suggested the lights could have been a local power plant, but Puckett and Lukes feel the pilots would have been used to seeing the plant, so they would not have found it mysterious.

Lukes also spoke with local residents who say UFOs are often spotted in the area.

The group is asking that anyone on American Airlines flight 434 contact them. The flight left San Francisco at 10:08 pm PST on Wednesday, January 13, 2016 and arrived at Philadelphia at 5:35 am EST on January 14, 2016.

You can listen to Erica Lukes talking about this case and other Utah mysterious on this recent episode of Open Minds UFO Radio.

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About Alejandro Rojas

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Alejandro Rojas is a radio host for Open Minds Radio, editor and contributing writer for Open Minds magazine as well as OpenMinds.tv. For several years Alejandro was the official spokesperson for the Mutual UFO Network as the Director of Public Education. As a UFO/Paranormal researcher and journalist, Alejandro has spent many hours in the field investigating phenomena up close and personal. Alejandro has been interviewed by media organizations around the world, including the largest cable and network news agencies with several appearances on Coast to Coast AM.

13 comments

  1. avatar

    I am also looking into this case in addition to the fine work done so far and chasing down a theory that must be checked thoroughly but remains currently UNPROVEN. So no hate mail for being thorough please as I didnt see this offered up anywhere …

    I am looking into the possibility that the pilot could possibly have seen a controlled burn of the forest. That would glow orange and look exactly like he described…It could also be sharply delineated by firebreaks.As far as smoke that might have been seen, it is possible that the pilot saw the brightness of the fire and the softness of the smoke in appearance especially through the windscreen may have rendered it invisible to the pilot. The cockpit instruments do make it difficult to distinguish ground objects at night that are not high contrast.

    There is no direct information in the transcript about “size” and “keeping pace” In the transcript, so officially it wasnt said. That doesnt mean it wasnt but does cast doubt for me anyway as to whether it was really said or added on recall later.

    I saw the radar data and that is awesome. This is a question for Bill Puckett, and that is did you consider that smoke WILL cause a radar return and this is a problem with some radars. So perhaps smoke was in play perhaps not. I didnt see it considered yet so I wanted to offer that as a possibility.

    The transcript also says there is an indistinguishable word. That word was “low” and was in reference to the town that he said was at his “2 o’clock low”. This is important because the reference can provide a rough estimate of the distance to Nephi which was at 2 o’clock low.

    If the plane was at 31000 or so then the 2 oclock low position could have been approximately 10-12 miles perhaps slightly more away from the plane. this is borne out by the estimated flight positions of the plane.

    I dont know what this was and I praise the investigation team for their work . I wanted to simply add another possbility to the mix that I did not see considered.

  2. avatar

    That description of an orange, bright object fits closely what I saw by my house in 2007. It was an extremely bright fluorescent orange color, I saw it from about 100 feet away. It was mid day, and it was slowly traveling along a row of houses across from mine, the object did not look like any type of craft, it looked like a squarish shaped object that was vibrating or oscillating in the vertical axis as it moved at a walking pace. It turned transparent and changed into a tiny very bright light that moved back and forth at great speed before describing a sine wave pattern in the sky, and then moving up and away at speed.

  3. avatar

    I don’t quite believe that transcript. I’ve never heard a tower transmit like that.

  4. avatar

    Its funny these mufon folks want to know this or that..never seem 2 interested in talking to folks who have met our et friends..i would welcome chats about many..many visits over many years..would welcome lie detector.truth serum also..only to let others know the truth of what i have lived with 4 many years..

  5. avatar

    I live in this general area and just wanted to mention that we had been seeing this orange glow for several weeks. It wasn’t always in the same place, sometimes it appeared to hover closer, higher and brighter than others. Usually, but not always seen at night.

  6. avatar

    I would love to hear a follow-up if someone figures out what it was.

  7. avatar

    Marc,
    Good call, that is definitely something to look into. I agree that based on the report it was something on the ground, and not something flying. It was an anomaly that the crew was not accustomed to seeing. A controlled burn might just fit the bill. Thanks for your evaluation.

    Cheers,
    Dewman

  8. avatar

    Utahna888, I would be very interested to talk to you.
    Marc, with regards to the controlled burn, there were no signs on the ground of any burn in the area where we saw radar hits. We have been pretty thorough with the investigation.

  9. avatar

    John ji, go to http://www.ufosnw.com
    and you can hear part of the transmission we obtained from the FAA. A small portion was redacted.

  10. avatar

    I did the radar audio tape analysis for this sighting and I am responding to Marc D’Antionio’s comments above:

    I am also looking into this case in addition to the fine work done so
    far and chasing down a theory that must be checked thoroughly but
    remains currently UNPROVEN. So no hate mail for being thorough please
    as I didnt see this offered up anywhere …

    I am looking into the possibility that the pilot could possibly have
    seen a controlled burn of the forest. That would glow orange and look
    exactly like he described…It could also be sharply delineated by
    firebreaks.As far as smoke that might have been seen, it is possible
    that the pilot saw the brightness of the fire and the softness of the
    smoke in appearance especially through the windscreen may have rendered
    it invisible to the pilot. The cockpit instruments do make it difficult
    to distinguish ground objects at night that are not high contrast.

    RESPONSE:
    I don’t believe that the forest service does controlled burns in January in this area. Also they wouldn’t be doing controlled burns in the middle of the night. Also the radar returns and the sighting were over a non-forested area. The radar returns, the approximate area of the sighting and the onsite photos of area verify this. The radar returns covered a nearly 9 mile square area in the 30 minute period from midnight to 12:30 AM most of which was over non-forested terrain.

    There is no direct information in the transcript about “size” and
    “keeping pace” In the transcript, so officially it wasnt said. That
    doesnt mean it wasnt but does cast doubt for me anyway as to whether it
    was really said or added on recall later.

    RESPONSE:

    Not sure what Marc is asking here. No, there was no reference to size although Pat Daniels (ham radio operator who originally heard conversation) had previously said that the crew estimated it to be a mile wide. However, this section of audio has not been retrieved. My analysis “strongly suggests” that this conversation was redacted. This is borne out by the fact that the conversation was less than a minute before the conversation where the crew again was talking to the FAA about the light. The trace of the audio tape shows that conversation was deleted in almost exactly this position. The audio was about 1 second long (inaudible) and the rest was missing.

    I saw the radar data and that is awesome. This is a question for Bill
    Puckett, and that is did you consider that smoke WILL cause a radar
    return and this is a problem with some radars. So perhaps smoke was in
    play perhaps not. I didnt see it considered yet so I wanted to offer
    that as a possibility.

    RESPONSE:

    Aviation radar can pick up anomalous returns (birds, traffic, etc.) However, keep in mind that these returns were 90 nautical miles from the closest radar and 155 miles from the other radar (Cedar City) that was probably used in the radar composite. Most anomalous returns are detected closer to the radar. In addition many FAA western Region radars use a “filtering algorithm” which eliminates anomalous returns. These returns were isolated well removed from radar sites. Also Doppler radar would have picked up smoke. Doppler returns were analyzed from Salt Lake City and Cedar City and no returns were shown in the area of the aviation radar returns and sighting location. The Doppler radars were in “clear air” mode which means that the gain is turned up to detect potential precipitation. Doppler radar is very good at detecting atmospheric particulates (e.g. smoke). The closest Doppler radar return was about 10 miles to the NE of Nephi and this could have been refection off of high terrain.

    The transcript also says there is an indistinguishable word. That word
    was “low” and was in reference to the town that he said was at his “2
    o’clock low”. This is important because the reference can provide a
    rough estimate of the distance to Nephi which was at 2 o’clock low.

    If the plane was at 31000 or so then the 2 oclock low position could
    have been approximately 10-12 miles perhaps slightly more away from the
    plane. this is borne out by the estimated flight positions of the
    plane.

    I dont know what this was and I praise the investigation team for their
    work . I wanted to simply add another possbility to the mix that I did
    not see considered.

    RESPONSE:

    During the conversation the crew made mention of the 2 o’clock position. However, in the sentence before the crew talks about the lights. The FAA responds “off to the right.” I believe that the FAA knew that because they detected the object on radar. (They would have been looking at the same returns that I received in my FOIA request.) According to Pat Daniels the crew originally asked for radar confirmation and the FAA response was that no radar returns were detected. The crew had been watching the object for some time and it was actually “described as being off the nose of the aircraft.”

    Comments are always welcomed and it is good to get input. At this point this sighting remains unexplained in my mind. Also I have requested more audio tapes from the FAA. Perhaps the “missing conversation segment” will be recovered.

  11. avatar

    Thank you for your responses. I really hope you find more audio or a witness to confirm the comments that the object was pacing the aircraft and a mile wide. Not that I do not believe Daniels, and my opinion in this matter is by trusting mutual friends who believe him to be trustworthy, but as far as making the case stronger so that it does not rely on anecdotal information alone. There has been some great research done on this case!

  12. avatar

    I have pictures of it over Illinois. Sometimes it appears small, other very large. Pictures I have show smaller red blobs coming off or out of it. Can appear for just a few minutes or can stay 20 or more. Don’t know what it is, but don’t go looking for it. Gives me a very bad feeling when I see it.

  13. avatar

    I have to question this, as a retired airline pilot, there are several issues. One, if AA434 was at 31000 feet (FL310), they would not have been communicating with a “tower”. The transcript would have been, “Salt Lake Center, American 434”. After slowing it, it is clear that AA434 says, “Center, American 434”. Also, a perfect square on the ground, from 31000 feet, usually is somewhat distorted into a parallelogram. As an aviator, I would not have been satisfied with being told it was a town, something is wrong here.

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