February 1959: Unidentified Flying Objects
In late February 1959, sandwiched between news of the death of an 82-year-old who fell from a window while shaking a blanket and an iron factory’s decision to rehire the workers it had laid off a year earlier, Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter ran a short news item concerning SAS on page 9.
The headline: “SAS people see a mysterious vessel.”
The crews of two SAS planes had reported seeing a strange object in the air. What caught their attention was the fact that instead of having blinking lights like commercial airplanes, the object had two steady white lights.
The captain of a plane coming from Paris radioed Kastrup and asked air traffic control to identify the other aircraft hovering over Præstø, 100 kilometers south of Copenhagen. The other crew, coming from Frankfurt, verified the observation a little later from Ærö, 100 kilometers west of Præstø, but the Kastrup controllers couldn’t see the object on their radars – although they could see the SAS planes clearly.
Both crews had seen whatever they saw at about 3,000 meters. The object hovered in one place for a while and then disappeared at great speed.
“It looked like a square, with two powerful lights in two of the corners,” an unnamed member of the crew told Dagens Nyheter.
That two SAS crews would see an “unidentified flying object,” or UFO, was remarkable in itself, even if it didn’t make front-page news in Dagens Nyheter.
An American air attaché based in Sweden conveyed a translation of the Dagens Nyheter article to the Pentagon, but whether that led to anything is unknown.
The same day, Aftonbladet reported a similar case from the United States.
American Airlines captain Peter W. Killian and his co-pilot, James Dee, flying a DC-6B full of passengers on their way from Newark to Detroit, saw three bright lights. At first, Captain Killian thought it was Orion, but then he saw that constellation elsewhere in the sky. Visibility was great, and they could see the lights for 45 minutes.
The US Air Force explained the sighting as a jet refueling operation. Naturally, that explanation was disputed because air traffic control had already told Killian that no other planes were in the area.
“If the Air Force wants to believe that, it can,” Killian told the press. “But I know what a B-47 looks like and I know what a KC-97 tanker looks like, and I know what they took like in operation at night. And that’s not what I saw.”
SAS pilots have reported seeing mysterious phenomena numerous times over the years. As recently as 2011, the Oslo airport was closed for an hour, causing rerouting of flights, after a captain reported seeing something at 8,000 feet, the landing pattern altitude commercial flights use.
In 1959, the Swedish military said simply that most things have a natural explanation, while Kastrup air traffic control in Denmark said that “many things take place between heaven and earth that can’t be explained.” They added that they have seen other white lights move across their radar screens at speeds two to three times faster than the fastest fighter planes.
Whatever the SAS pilots saw, the air traffic authorities didn’t believe they were flying saucers. Instead, they speculated that the lights might have had something to do with testing of new types of aircraft.
We’ll probably never know. This is one for the X-Files.
Published: April 4, 2016