THE mystery of what became of pilot Frederick Valentich who disappeared mid-flight off the Victorian coast 36 years ago while telling air traffic control he was being followed by a UFO might never be solved.
But recently unearthed papers do shed some light on the bizarre incident.
Air safety investigation documents reveal an engine cowl flap from the same model Cessna 182 aircraft he was flying in 1978 washed ashore at Flinders Island five years after he vanished.
But opinions were divided on whether the 30cm long component, broken in three pieces and corroded, came from Valentich’s doomed plane.
And now it appears the part may have been lost or scrapped.
Frederick’s brother Richard has called on aviation authorities to ascertain whether the cowl debris remains in storage somewhere. Modern tests could verify if it was in the salt water of Bass Strait for five years.
“If there is some evidence that can link it then it is worth pursuing,” Mr Valentich, said.
In a bizarre coincidence, investigation documents held by the National Archives of Australia also show Frederick Valentich had spoken to his girlfriend about being taken by a UFO just a week before his Cessna disappeared.
Valentich told Melbourne air traffic control he was being followed by a long metallic, unidentified aircraft with four bright lights which at times moved at high speed or orbited above his plane, before reporting his engine was failing.
Nothing further was ever heard from him.
An intensive sea search at the time found no trace of the plane or 20-year-old Valentich, who months earlier had accessed confidential RAAF reports about UFO sightings.
Conclusions that the young pilot who was apparently fascinated with aliens faked his own UFO abduction or crashed into Bass Strait as a result of disorientation are still rejected by the Valentich family and those who know them well.
The official Department of Transport investigation report listed a number of hypotheses, including “UFO intervention”, disorientation, hoaxes including a controlled landing on the sea and escape, a landing in a remote location, or a crash in which the wreckage has simply not been found.
But in the wake of a fruitless four-day search for debris off Cape Otway — by at least eight vessels and an Orion aircraft — the Dot stated “it seems likely that the aircraft did not crash in the sea between Cape Otway and King Island”.
Valentich, who had 150 hours flying experience, took off from Moorabbin airport at 6.19pm on October 21, 1978, to fly to King Island, northwest of Tasmania.
Numerous reports were made that night from members of the public of a “fast moving brilliant white light” but the Mountt Stromlo Observatory near Canberra also advised the period was “the peak of the meteorite stream with 10-15 sightings per hour achieved”.
The Cessna cowl flap, with partial serial numbers matching the 182L model, was found on May 16, 1983 some 320km from Cape Otway, and prompted hope the mystery would finally be solved.