Skip to Content

The Strange Disappearance of Frederick Valentich

The unexplained vanishing of a young aspiring pilot has become one of the most famous mysteries in Australian history. More than 40 years later, his family is still waiting for answers.

Frederick Valentich, also known as Fred, was born on June 9th, 1958, to parents Guido and Alberta. He grew up in Avondale Heights, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia. 

Valentich was very close to his parents, who were supportive of him becoming a pilot. While he didn’t do well in school, Valentich loved flying. He studied hard for his flight exams and made sure he never missed a class.

Frederick’s father, Guido, holds up a picture of his missing son.

Despite his determination, he failed all commercial license examination subjects twice. 

Valentich wasn’t a stranger to flying incidents and received several warnings during his training flights.

Additionally, the ambitious pilot attempted to enlist in the Royal Australian Air Force in the past but was rejected because he didn’t have the right qualifications.

Before The Last Flight

Valentich was twenty years old in 1978 and dated a girl named Rhonda Rushton. The two had been together for five months and made plans to celebrate an anniversary on Saturday, October 21st.

But on the Friday before, Valentich informed Rhonda he had an evening flight to King Island to pick up some crayfish. Since the island isn’t far from Melbourne, the two agreed to meet when Valentich got home.

On the morning of October 21st, Valentich did his usual routine and then left for work. He attended classes at Moorabbin Airport in the afternoon until 5:00 PM.

As soon as the lectures were over, Valentich submitted his flight plan. The pilot stated that he would pick up passengers on King Island, which is different from what he said to his girlfriend.

The flight was supposed to last one hour, and Valentich took a Cessna 182L. The route to King Island was familiar to Valentich, as he had successfully flown it in the past.

But the only difference this time was that he would be flying in low light conditions. Valentich’s father would later say that his son was slightly uncomfortable flying at night or over water.

Valentich’s Cessna 182L was fueled, and the pilot contacted the flight service officer on duty that evening, Steve Robey. Valentich was cleared for the takeoff and got up in the air at 6:19 PM.

The two spoke over the radio at 7:00 PM when Valentich passed Cape Otway at 7:00 PM. Everything seemed fine, and Valentich was on schedule.

Valentich’s intended flight plan over Bass Strait.

Once Valentich passed Cape Otway, the route took him over the Bass Strait towards King Island. He was supposed to report back to Robey once he landed.

The night was clear, and weather conditions were perfect for flying, so no one expected any trouble. However, everything changed only minutes later.

A Strange Aircraft

Unexpectedly, Valentich contacted Robey at 7:06 PM to report that a large aircraft was flying near him.

Since it had four lights and was going unusually fast, the young pilot asked the flight service officer if it was Air Force. Robey was puzzled because, according to his data, no aircraft was near Valentich or his flight route.

Robey later confirmed that Valentich sounded nervous but not scared as he shared more details with him. Valentich said the mysterious aircraft was around 1000 feet above the Cessna and had a long shape.

Furthermore, the object had a slight greenish glow and was made of a shiny metallic-looking material.

Suddenly, Valentich reported engine problems, and his last contact with the Moorabbin Airport was at 7:12 PM. In his final moments, Valentich said that the object was hovering over his plane and that it was not an aircraft.

His last words were followed by 17 seconds of metallic sounds and then silence.

Terrified, Robey waited by the radio, hoping Valentich would make it to the King Island Airport. Minutes felt like hours as he stared at the clock, patiently waiting for 7:28 PM, which was when Valentich was supposed to land.

He contacted the King Island Airport, telling them what had happened in the last 20 minutes, and the search for Frederick Valentich began.

Looking For The Pilot

At 8:00 PM, two airplanes from King Island Airport searched the area around the island. The weather remained clear, so if there was anything in the water, the pilots would have seen it.

They were flying at 1000 feet, which was enough to spot a wreckage. The visibility was exceptional, as the pilots could see Cape Otway in the distance. But there was nothing.

Meanwhile, in Melbourne, Valentich’s parents were getting worried. It was late, and their son wasn’t back home. His father heard the news that a plane went missing over Bass Strait, and he knew it was Valentich.

Valentich photographed with his aircraft shortly before he vanished. Image via The Herald Sun.

Several hours later, police officers appeared at the door, informing Valentich’s parents that his plane had gone down.

The extensive search lasted four days and involved eight ships, an RAAF surveillance plane, and eight civilian aircraft. It was called off on October 25th. The only thing found was an oil slick, but it was determined it wasn’t from a plane.

The investigators were eager to find out what had happened to the young pilot, so they went through his flying logs and discovered he was involved in several incidents. 

However, Valentich’s training tutor said the young man was an exceptional student willing to learn and improve. According to him, Valentich was close to getting a commercial pilot license.

The Department of Transport was responsible for investigating the potential crash and writing the official report. Since there was no evidence the plane hit the water, their only explanation that didn’t include a fatal crash was that Valentich disappeared on purpose, leaving his old life behind.

To support this claim, the Department of Transport quoted fake reasons for flying out to King Island on the night of the disappearance. No passengers were waiting for him at the airport or crayfish that needed to be transported to the mainland.

Valentich’s family wasn’t convinced by these discoveries as they couldn’t find a good reason why he would want to vanish. However, the investigators highlighted the failed flying tests.

Valentich’s parents and siblings believed that if the pilot wanted to disappear, he wouldn’t do it with a plane because it was extremely complicated to hide an aircraft.


Once the media learned a UFO was involved in this mystery, they became even more interested. The investigators also wanted to learn more about Valentich and his interests.

His girlfriend Rhonda told the investigators he had seen several space-themed movies lately, such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars. 

The pilot started collecting news clippings about space exploration but wasn’t exactly obsessed with the topic. Valentich’s friends stated he never talked about aliens or UFOs. A fellow pilot from the school said the two had discussed aliens once, and that was it.

Valentich’s father told the investigators he loved to talk about UFOs, especially after he and his mother allegedly saw one earlier in 1978.

Despite their efforts to explain the disappearance through Valentich’s interest in space, the official report couldn’t make a strong link.

Later Developments And Theories

For decades, the disappearance of Frederich Valentich was a popular topic in Australia. The report stated the most probable explanation for the disappearance of Cessna 182L was that the pilot had lost control of the plane due to disorientation.

A medical emergency couldn’t be excluded either. Finally, there was no evidence of a UFO or any aircraft near Valentich’s flight path.

The investigators had found the first piece of physical evidence that could confirm Cessna 182L had crashed into the water. On May 16th, 1983, five years after Valentich’s disappearance, an engine cowl flap was discovered on Flinders Island.

The Australian newspaper reporting on the disappearance of Valentich.

The Bureau of Safety Investigation determined that the part had come from a Cessna 182L, and the missing aircraft’s serial number was among those who had this particular engine cowl flap.

But Flinders Island is not close to King Island, and while sub-surface currents could’ve taken this part far away, it was far-fetched.

Flinders Island also has an airport, and two Cessnas had lost that particular engine flap during the takeoff years before the part washed up ashore.

The official theory that proposed disorientation was expanded as people suggested the pilot might have been flying upside down. That would explain why he saw the lights above his plane.

But the Cessna 182L has a gravity-feed fuel system, and the engine would’ve stopped working soon after.

Steve Robey, the air traffic controller and the last person to talk to Valentich, was skeptical about the discovered airplane part and the disorientation theory.

He said the pilot sounded genuine and was distressed but not disoriented. Robey implied there had been unexplained sightings in that area of Australia in the days before and after Valentich’s disappearance.

Ufologists found several important details observed by Valentich. For instance, the green glow he described suggested he was seeing a UFO.

Additionally, some claim the photographs taken by a man named Roy Manifold on the day Valentich vanished show an unknown object flying from the water close to Cape Otway.

Roy’s photographs are not sharp or clear enough to identify the object in question. On the other hand, the possibility of UFO activity in the Bass Strait strengthens their belief the young pilot was abducted by aliens.

Although many obviously dispute this theory as unlikely.

More than 40 years later, the Valentich family never got the answers they needed. There is still no real evidence of what really happened on that night in October of 1978.

And so, the Valentich’s relatives visit the memorial at Cape Otway, hoping they will one day know more.  


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *