Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Obtaining Actual "Contacts of Interest" 

From The Royal Australian Air Force 

          On the 27th of July, 2014, I obtained, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), two formerly classified Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) publications which are currently maintained by 41 Wing and detail the processes and procedures that should be adhered to when RAAF assets detect and track an unknown aircraft, a known aircraft which has strayed of course, hostile aircraft, or anything else untoward. The two publications are titled “RAAF 41 Wing Standing Instruction (Operations) 3-19 Contact Of Interest Reporting Process” and “RAAF 41 Wing Standing Instruction (Operations) 3-15 Unauthorised Aircraft Movements Reporting and Investigation Process”. The details of this affair, and the information contained in one of those publications, can be seen here.

On the 5th of November, 2015 I submitted my most complex FOI request yet. Through the good old Defence FOI branch, or, to be accurate, the Freedom of Information Branch, Ministerial and Executive Coordination and Communication Division, Department of Defence. Essentially, I asked for any unusual radar plots that had been picked up by the RAAF that did not conform to known aircraft. Specifically, I wrote:

1. Any “Contact(s) Of Interest” (COI) reports or events, as laid out in RAAF 41 Wing “Standing Instruction (Operations) 3-19 Contact Of Interest Reporting Process”, which remained unsolved or unknown.

2. Any “Unlawful Aircraft Movement” (UAM) reports, as laid out in RAAF 41 Wing “Standing Instruction (Operations) 3-15 Unauthorised Aircraft Movements Reporting and Investigation Process” where the track/report has gone unsolved or unknown; and/or where the track/report has been released to these listed areas: a. Headquarters Air Command (AOC Watchkeeper); b. HQ NORCOM (J3S); c. Coastwatch (Watch keeper); d. AST JIC (Watchkeeper). e. 1RSU (OPSO); f. 3CRU (OPSO); g. 114MCRU (OPSO).

NOTE: Essentially, I am looking for the events where (aside from being reported, recorded and logged) RAAF 41 Wing has tracked a contact which was either out-of-place, went unsolved upon investigation, or behaved in an unusual manner.
After some hoopla regarding the “date range” of the material I wanted, Defence FOI and I agreed to restrict my request to a date range of my choosing, but not longer than a month or so. I randomly picked the month of July, 2014. After some time Defence FOI agreed that my request was valid and proceeded to send me the initial bill. On the 16th of Feburary, 2015, I received a final decision, along with four pages of RAAF material which were applicable to what I had requested. In Defence’s decision letter, it was stated that:

Group Captain Wallis has decided to partially release the material with deletions made in accordance with subsection 22(1) [Access to edited copies with exempt or irrelevant matter deleted] of the FOI Act, on the grounds that the deleted material is considered exempt under section 47E [public interest conditional exemptions-certain operations of agency] of the FOI Act.”

Furthermore, it stated:

“Upon examination of the document, Group Captain Wallis identified information relating to the conduct of operations within units and elements of No 41 Wing. Group Captain Wallis considered the disclosure of this material might reasonably have a substantial adverse effect on the proper and efficient conduct of the operations of this agency. Group Captain Wallis advised that she took into account the expected effect of disclosing the material considered exempt under section 47E. Group Captain Wallis advised that if released, the material would or could reasonably be expected to cause damage to the operations of the Commonwealth as the data refers to real operational performance and outputs. She was of the view that that once the information was made publically available (ie published on the FOI Disclosure Log) it could be used by individuals to circumvent Defence’s detection procedures and enter or leave Australian Sovereign Territory airspace without clearance or detection.

In other words, the material I was looking for was going to be heavily redacted, or “blacked out”. That was the bad news…  The good news was that there was indeed still enough material here to learn something about the way the RAAF handles unusual, unknown or out-of-place contacts. It may not look like much, but beggars can’t be choosers. Below are two of the four pages I how hold:

It may look all very unassuming, but imaged above is actual data as logged on 41 Wing systems (both the 1RSU unit and the 3CRU units) detailing unusual or unknown events that were serious enough to be monitored, and probably sent to higher authorities. Of course, there is so little here to work with in regards to making sense of the raw data, and certainly nothing that could point to any really unusual events of the startling sort we all are looking for as UFO researchers. But those events - where primary targets have ran rings around combat jets and the like - have from time-to-time, been admitted to by Air Defence units the world over. I still have not studied the material sent to me yet in enough depth to formulate new FOI requests which may yield more impressive information. But, and I can assure you, I will be.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

"Near Miss" Incidents Of 2013 and 2014 Connected?

In my last post I drew readers’ attention to similarities between the 19 March 2014, Perth airport near-miss, between an aircraft and what the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) called an “unknown object;” and a second incident which happened on 4 January 2013, also near Perth airport. Keith Basterfield and I noted that the 4 January 2013 incident happened close to Perth airport, but did not then know the distance and bearing of the 2013 incident. Did it happen in the same area as that from 2014?

I submitted an urgent Freedom of Information (FOI) request to Air Services Australia (ASA) three days ago; and in came their surprisingly rapid response this morning. ASA advised that the 2013 incident occurred at a bearing of 072 degrees at 22 nautical miles from Perth airport. ASA then provided us with a link to a public database maintained by the ATSB. On this ATSB database was occurrence reference number 201300221, dated 4 January 2013. It was the incident we were after! The details on the database confirmed that the 4 January 2013 incident occurred at a bearing of 072 degrees magnetic, 41 kms from Perth airport.

            So, how do the two events stack up?

2013 incident - 072 degrees magnetic bearing and 41kms from airport. Time 0920hrs:

Object (1 metre) within 50 feet of aircraft registration VH-XKI , a DH8C Skippers Aviation aircraft on descent to Perth airport. The rocket-like object (shaft) was observed to be attached to a parachute.” Altitude 6,800 feet. Event occurred at latitude 31 deg 49min south; longitude 116 deg 23mins east.

2014 incident - 022 degrees bearing and 23kms from airport. Time 0913hrs:

Green/grey, cylindrical shaped object passed within 20m horizontal and 100 feet vertical, of aircraft registration VH-XFX, a DH8C Skippers Aviation aircraft on descent to Perth airport. Altitude 3,700 feet. Object was travelling upwards when it passed the plane. Event occurred at latitude 31 deg 45mins south, longitude 116 deg 05mins east.

           And with that, indeed, the two events, happened in the same, very small area to the north/east of Perth airport; and, as stated previously, both events occurred slightly after 9:00am on weekdays; both involved the same airline; and both events caused the pilots to manoeuvre their aircraft to avoid a possible collision. Based on the information now available on the two incidents, in my opinion, I would argue that the two incidents are very similar, and possibly linked in some way. But, not being aviation and air safety officials, we can probably do no more. Hopefully someone will get to the bottom of this soon.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Is Someone Seriously Launching Rockets At Passenger Planes Over Perth? Second Incident Comes To Light!

          On the 19th of March, 2014 a passenger plane had a “near miss” incident with a long, green or grey, cylindrical shaped object while on its merry way to landing at Perth Airport. Researcher Keith Bastefield and I studied this case for months, which included interviewing the pilot, securing combined radar imaging, looking at local weather data, etc. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s (ATSB) final report, at just 4 pages, was simply titled “Near Collision Between An Unknown Object And A De Havilland DHC-8”. Our own final report can be seen here:

I had always suspected that the object was some sort of high-end consumer rocket or toy missile; and, if so, my fear was that someone had deliberately launched it at the oncoming passenger plane. But without more information I didn’t think we would ever know. That now may have changed. And it doesn’t look good.

On the 24th of November, 2014 I submitted an FOI request to Airservices Australia (ASA) specifically asking for:

“….any incidences where flight crews have reported any:

1) Unusual, Unknown, or Unidentifiable Aircraft or Objects;
2) Suspected Drones/Unmanned Aerial Vehicles;
3) Meteoric Events, fireballs and the like;
4) Especially unusual weather phenomenon;

which are held on ESIR or CIRRIS database(s).

Less than a month later – on the 10th ofDecember - along comes the reply: Please find attached an FOI access decision, table of documents and documents being released under the access decision re your request dated 25 November 2014.” Attached was a 3 page PDF file titled “Documents Being Released Under The Access Decision”. It contained tabulated pilot reports of UFO-like events over Australia spanning back 7 years.

I had focused on the more unusual cases in the document. Had I have been a bit more thorough I would have noticed that case number ATS-0118570, occurring at 9.20am on the 4th of January 2013, detailed a troubling event over, like the 2014 case, Perth. It took Keith Basterfield’s keen eye to see the link just tonight. The summary states:

“XKI (DH8C) reported a foreign object of approximate size (1 metre) within close proximity (50ft) of the aircraft causing them to level out briefly as the object passed left hand side. The rocket like object (shaft) was observed to be attached to a parachute. Pilot reported observation at 6800 ft.”

Note the similarities between this 2013 event, and the much studied 2014 case! For starters, both planes are registered to Skippers Aviation.. Both events occurred slightly after 9:00am on weekdays.. Both reports indicated objects similar to rockets or missiles, specifically, “pencil or cigarette like” in dimension (the 2014 case) and “rocket like object (shaft)” (2013 case).. Both events caused the pilots to make efforts to avoid the objects.. And obviously both events happened over Perth.. The big difference between the two cases is, from the information we have, is that in the 2014 case the object went past the plane at 3800 feet altitude and still climbing. In the 2013 case the object was “attached to a parachute” and was seen at 6800 feet altitude. Sounds like some sort of rocket with a parachute no? How cute – until it happens again and strikes the guts of a 300 passenger capacity airliner.

So what is going on here? Has not the Australian Transport Safety Bureau and Airservices Australia seen the link? Certainly the 2014 event was reported by Skippers Aviation pilots to the ATSB, while the 2013 case was reported to Airservices Australia. But both share information on safety issues, and I have that in writing. Did not the ATSB, in writing their measly 4 page report on the 2014 event, feel fit to include the similar nature of the 2013 case? I am submitting an urgent Freedom of Information request to Airservices Australia for details of the 2013 event. If I find out that it occurred over a similar location above Perth, and the authorities are brushing this extraordinary issue aside, then it they really are not doing the job they are mandated to; and it will be absurd of them to pretend otherwise when they try. 

Once again, Keith Basterfield linked the two events from my FOI-obtained documents. There may be dozens more incidents like this. Give us two or three months and we'll find more.