On the afternoon of Feb. 24, pilots flying planes over southeastern Arizona reported eerily similar encounters with strange lights in the sky and “something” above them.
Pilots flying a Learjet and an American Airlines flight noticed bright lights or reflections above them and an aircraft flying in the opposite direction, according to air traffic control communications obtained by McClatchy.
They were flying at an altitude of around 37,000 feet, heading east over an area close to Tuscon at the time, according to FlightRadar24, a live air traffic website.
The initial report to the Albuquerque Air Route Traffic Control Center came from the Learjet pilot, whom the air traffic controller in the audio clip refers to as N71PG, the jet’s tail number. The video below contains three segments of audio conversation between pilots of the Learjet, the American Airlines flight and the Albuquerque Center. The recording has been edited only to take out unrelated air traffic chatter between the controller and other flights in the area at the time.
“Was anybody above us that passed us like 30 seconds ago?” the Learjet pilot asks the controller.
“Negative,” the air traffic controller says.
The Learjet pilot, though, isn’t satisfied with the by-the-book response. “Something did,” he says, before another pilot on the same frequency says, “a UFO.”
“Yea,” the Learjet pilot said.
The next clip comes about three minutes later. The air traffic controller asks the pilot of American Airlines flight 1095, “let me know if you see anything pass over you here in the next 15 miles.”
The commercial pilot, puzzled by the request, asks, “If anything passes over us?”
At this point, that American Airlines flight is just over 37,000 feet in the air.
“Affirmative, we had an aircraft in front of you at 37 [thousand feet] that reported something pass over him and we didn’t have any [radar] targets, so let me know if you see anything pass over you,” the tower says.
Then the Learjet pilot chines back in.
“I don’t know what it was. It wasn’t an airplane, but it was — the path was going in the opposite direction,” the pilot of N71PG says.
About 45 seconds later, the commercial pilot confirmed his similar sighting.
“Yeah, something just passed over us, like a — I don’t know what it was, but it was at least 2-3,000 feet above us,” he says. “Yeah, it passed right over the top of us.”
The controller only acknowledges the pilot’s report, before a moment later asking American 1095, “Could you tell if it was in motion or if it was just hovering?”
“I couldn’t make it out if it was a balloon or whatnot, but it was just really beaming light or had a big reflection and several thousand feet above us going the opposite direction.
Again, the controller simply acknowledges the report. A few moments later, an unidentified pilot on the frequency has a question.
“Was it a Google balloon?” he asks.
Google balloons are part of a research and development project being developed by a company called X (formerly Google X) with the mission of providing internet access to rural and remote areas via balloons in the sky that drift to about 60,000 feet, actually in the stratosphere, according to Google.
“Doubtful,” the American Airlines pilot says.
Then another unidentified pilot chimes in again to say, “a UFO!”
The whole exchange lasted about six minutes in real time.
FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford issued a statement on the sightings to KOB, an Albuquerque TV station, that read:
“We don’t have any comment beyond what you hear. Other than the brief conversation between two aircraft, the controller was unable to verify that any other aircraft was in the area. We have a close working relationship with a number of other agencies and safely handle military aircraft and civilian aircraft of all types in that area every day, including high-altitude weather balloons.”
The Drive, a technology website that first obtained the FAA air traffic recording, noted that airspace in southeastern Arizona is well known for being active with military aircraft. To the east of the area concerning the reports is White Sands Missile Range and Holloman Air Force Base.
The reports came just north of Tucson, which is also home to two major bases — Davis Monthan Air Force Base and Tucson International Airport. Less than 100 miles to the northwest is Phoenix, where Luke Air Force Base sits.