The Secret Files»
UFOs in History»
According to both Otter and Dodd, Schaffner took off in Lightning XS-894 not long after he had returned from a training mission. The UFO was now being tracked on radar about ninety miles east of Whitby and Schaffner was quickly vectored onto it. The information about what happened next was taken from a transcript provided by the RAF “source” that purported to be describing the actual interchange between Schaffner and the radar controller at RAF Patrington on the Yorkshire coast. According to the transcript, Schaffner could see a bluish conical shape which was so bright he could hardly look at it. This UFO was accompanied by an object resembling a large glass football.
As Schaffner closed in, describing the object before him, he suddenly exclaimed:
“Wait a second, its turning…coming straight for me….am taking evasive action….”
At that point the controller lost contact and Schaffner’s radar plot merged with that of the UFO for a while before losing altitude and disappearing from the scope. Schaffner’s plane was found one month later on the bed of the North Sea with the cockpit still closed. There was no sign of the pilot’s body.
This is a literally fantastic case and one with massive political implications if any of it is true. It was also an event that resonated with other stories concerning mysterious “vanishings” that have become part of Fortean mythology. The death or disappearance of military pilots as a result of hostile action by UFOs has a long pedigree in the literature of the subject. The vanishing of Flight 19 off the Florida Keys and within the Bermuda Triangle in 1945 was used to striking effect by Steven Spielberg at the opening of his film Close Encounters of the Third Kind that was supposedly based on true-life UFO incidents. The UFO connection with this “mystery” has since been thoroughly debunked but there are other stories that have contributed to the body of belief and rumour. They include the death of USAF pilot Thomas Mantell whose aircraft crashed during an abortive chase of a ‘flying saucer’ over Kentucky in 1948, and the mysterious disappearance of pilot Frederick Valentich and his Cessna aircraft following a UFO encounter over the Bass Straight, Australia, in 1978.
But when examined closely the facts behind many of these classic UFO mysteries rarely support the status they have achieved in legend and belief. For the RAF Board of Inquiry report into the death of Captain Schaffner, finally declassified by the MoD last year, provides a far less sensational version of the events. It reveals how the UFO link with the case is the product of poor investigation and wishful thinking rather than hard fact. Pat Otter’s story, enthusiastically endorsed by Flying Saucer Review and Tony Dodd, exciting though it sounds, has no evidence to support it other than the fact that Captain Schaffner did exist and was killed in an aircraft accident in the North Sea.
The factual information now available at The National Archives tells a completely different story. Firstly, the basis of the claims – that an operation was underway to intercept UFOs – does not stand up to scrutiny. The Operations Record Books of the RAF alert squadrons are now open and show there were no “live scrambles” to intercept UFOs during the week in which Schaffner died. However, there were many real scrambles later that month to intercept Russian bears (Tu-142 Tupolev aircraft) shadowing a NATO exercise in the North Sea. Is this the source of some of the rumours?
The Air Accident Report produced by the RAF Board of Inquiry in June 1972 reveals that Schaffner was taking part in a TACEVAL (Tactical Evaluation) exercise on the night he died. The exercise was one of many dummy-runs planned by Fighter Command to test the responses of its front-line pilots. By definition aircrew would be purposefully kept in the dark as to whether their target was friend or foe. The object of this specific exercise was initially to locate and intercept an unknown. By definition it was a UFO until it was identified. The report reveals that Schaffner’s “UFO” was in fact an RAF Shackleton which “entered the UK airspace during daylight and remained on station through dusk and into darkness,” a time period which matches the timeline of events.»