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Close Encounter of the Imaginary Kind
Written August 10, 2020


People who want to believe in UFOs will eagerly accept the flimsiest evidence.

I recently happened upon a TV program in the History Channel series Unidentified: Inside America's UFO Investigation (season 2, episode 5).  Normally I ignore such overdramatized scare-mongering, but I noticed they were getting ready to videotape an interview using a huge six-foot-square lighting panel.  Curious, I recorded the segment.  Excerpts of my transcript are below.

But first I should explain that airplanes carry two types of instruments to keep track of their altitude.  The standard altimeter uses atmospheric pressure to measure height above sea level, while the radar altimeter uses a radio beam to measure height above the ground.  The latter is only displayed shortly before landing, and it operates only from 2,500 feet down to zero (which will hopefully be the runway).

NARRATOR:  After interviewing an airline pilot who had to take evasive action to avoid hitting a UFO, Lue Elizondo meets a new pilot who claims a UFO intercepted his plane in one of the closest alleged encounters on record.  Peter Kiriazes flew multiple aircraft from fighter jets to the Boeing 777 for more than 30 years.

LUE:  Pete is one of those guys who's trained to actually go into combat and look for trouble.

NARRATOR:  In 2003, Captain Kiriazes says he had a UFO encounter that would haunt him for years and underscore what's at stake for millions of passengers.

PETE:  It was a little bit after 9/11; everybody was, uh, a little sensitive.  It was a beautiful night; no clouds, smooth air.  We blasted off from Dallas-Fort Worth; we had one leg left, to Charlotte.  The airplane was functioning perfectly.  We got up to 35,000 feet and started cruising, and everybody just relaxed.  And then all of a sudden I get a radar altimeter display.  And it immediately just pops on.  It's a simple system; it's just emitting a straight vertical radar beam.  It has to bounce off something.  It can't just generate.

NARRATOR:  Captain Kiriazes is shocked.  The altimeter is telling him something is only 2500 feet directly below his plane.

PETE:  I'm thinking it's got to be erroneous.  It's got to be just a mistake.

NARRATOR:  But then the situation becomes much more serious.

PETE:  So then it goes 2200, 2300, 2000, 1800, 1700, and then it stops.  Some object was coming up underneath me, unverifiable, unidentifiable, but undeniable.

LUE:  They call the tower; the tower sees nothing.  There's nothing on radar.

NARRATOR:  Then, as the captain and his copilot continue to monitor the radar altimeter, the mysterious object makes moves again.

PETE:  And then [the altimeter] goes 1800, 1700, 1500, 1200; it went to 1000 feet.  It was behaving in a way that wouldn't really be logical if it was broken.

Why not, I wonder?  I've seen computers do some strange things.  A failing component could cause the instrument, sending out its pulses and receiving faint echoes from the ground 70,000 nanoseconds later, to gradually begin misidentifying the pulses themselves as reflections returning after only, say, 2,000 nanoseconds — which would mean the ground must be merely a thousand feet away.

PETE:  So we made some shallow S-turns and, you know, we're trying to look over our wing and below us and behind us, and we couldn't see anything.  And then it went 800, 700, 500, 400, 300, and it stopped.  I mean, the worst possible situation to be in as a captain.  Your brain says this can't be happening, but you have to deal with it in the here and now, in the present.  So then it goes 200.  Then it goes 100.

LUE:  How close is 100 feet when you're flying an aircraft?  It's a thumbnail away from where you're at, and that distance can be closed in literally a fraction of a second.

PETE:  It's the worst-case scenario; it's not even thinkable.  You have the responsibility of all these lives.  You have to make a split-second decision coming soon, and you have nothing to base it on but one bit of information.

NARRATOR:  If Captain Kiriazes' readings are correct, something is flying directly under his plane and closing in.  He readies himself to take control.

PETE:  My thumb was hovering over the autopilot button.  I said, if it gets inside 100 feet, I'm going to maneuver [evasively, by climbing to a higher altitude].  It just stayed there, it seemed just eternal; it was just so long.  And then it just — it just went away!  And at that point our heart rate's going pretty fast, and we thought, what the heck just happened?

Perhaps the radar altimeter's error-checking software located and resolved the problem.  Because the true altitude was well above 2500 feet, the display simply shut off.

NARRATOR:  A short time later, the flight lands in Charlotte, and Captain Kiriazes begins looking for answers.

During that landing, did the radar altimeter come back on and operate normally?  Did the captain ask the Charlotte maintenance crew to inspect it?   We're not told.

PETE:  I checked the log book on that airplane.  It never had happened before.  And in all the 30 years of flying with a radar altimeter, that has never happened.  With anybody I've ever talked to, it's never happened.

NARRATOR:  Experts are at a loss as to what could have been beneath the plane.

PETE:  I've talked to some very brilliant pilots, and I've posed this to them many times, and no one can really give me a good answer.

Did he talk to avionics technicians about possible glitches?  Apparently not.  He preferred to jump to an out-of-this-world conclusion!

PETE:  And so the conclusion is there's Something Else with the technology that's much more sophisticated than ours, that's operating with an additional set of physical laws and rules.

Personally, I've never believed there was Something Else shadowing me from below.



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