Swissair Jumbo Incident over
The G.R.E.P.I. appealed to his best sleuths to inquire into the Swissair 127 Flight case, after its upsetting encounter of 9th August 1997. They have the pleasure to give here the results of their quest, and their conclusions about this unusual incident. You can find hereafter:
1. The communique from the Swiss Telegraphic Agency, published six weeks after the incident, as well as a Reuter wire of the same date.
2. The official report of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) as posted on their web site several months later (http://www.ntsb.gov/Aviation/NYC\97A193.htm) (kindly forwarded by Bruno Mancusi). This report is the result of the investigation conducted by the
aerial security service, under the close look of the F.B.I...
3. The results of the G.R.E.P.I.'s steps to its own authorized sources.
4. A report by Capt Bob Durant, who investigated this case in the U.S. and kindly allowed us to post some of his findings here.
On September 26, 1997, the Swiss national newspapers released this news from the S.T.A.: (our non-official translation)
"U.F.O. or Missile? An "Object" very closely crossed a Swissair Boeing"
"The aeroplane flew from Philadelphia to Zurich on August 9. The American authorities assert that it crossed a weather-balloon."
"A Swissair Boeing 747 flying from Philadelphia to Zurich via Boston was almost touched by an unidentified flying object (U.F.O.) on August 9 near New-York. The pilots reported the incident to the American authorities. According to the latter, the thing was a weather balloon.
"The crew in the cockpit saw, at a distance of about 50 meters, an unidentified object come near the plane at high speed, said Jean-Claude Donzel, Swissair spokesman in Geneva, on Radio Suisse Romande. The incident is considered as serious by the company.
"The pilot described the object as quick, oblong, white and without wings. According to the co-pilot, it was rather round-shaped. This difference is quite normal due to the speed of the plane, said Donzel. Only the pilot and the co-pilot saw the thing, as the incident happened at the front of the plane. They also were the only ones who have been questioned on August 10 by the various competent American authorities.
"The object observed could not be a missile, according to the United States. It was a weather balloon, a spokesman of the American aerial authorities stated. The crew of a United Airlines flight just behind the Swissair clearly identified the object as a balloon.
"Swissair still has no knowledge of the American authorities hypothesis, neither of the results of the current investigation, which would have been concluded in one day, according to the American authorities.
"This is not the first time Swissair is confronted with incidents involving undetermined objects.
"The 127 flight of the Swiss company linked Philadelphia to Zurich via Boston. The aeroplane flew at 23'000 feet (7000m) and was about 15 km from New-York at the time of the incident, on Saturday 9 August at sunset. Sixty-four passengers to Zurich and seventeen crew members were on board. The interdiction for Swissair to carry local travelers between Philadelphia
and Boston is the reason for the small number of passengers."
Several other agencies published on the same matter, as for example Reuter:
"Washington, Sept 26 (Reuter) - A Swissair (SWSZN.S) passenger jet flying over New-York had a close encounter last month with a weather balloon, the Federal Aviation Administration said on Friday.
"The crew aboard the Swissair 747, flight 127 travelling from Philadelphia to Boston, said the encounter occurred on Aug. 9 at 5:10 p.m. local time over Deer Park, New-York.
"The crew could not identify the object, which the airplane passed at an elevation of 23'000 feet (7'000 meters). The airplane was travelling about 500 mph (800 kph) at the time.
"A United Airlines (UAL - news) flight passing through the same area a short time later identified the object as a large balloon, the FAA said.
"An FAA investigation of the incident "concluded that it was indeed a weather balloon", FAA spokesman Jim Peters said. He said the National Weather Service balloon had been cleared in advance to be in that area.
"Swissair spokesman Ulrich Wohn said the pilot followed standard procedure by reporting the close encounter. He said the flight landed on time in Boston and continued on to Zurich without incident.
"At no time were any of the passengers at risk", said Wohn. "They didn't even see it."
NTSB Identification: NYC97SA193. The docket is stored in the (offline) NTSB Imaging System.
Scheduled 14 CFR 129 operation of SWISSAIR TRANSPORT CO. LTD (D.B.A. SWISSAIR) Incident occurred AUG-09-97 at NEW YORK, NY
Aircraft: Boeing 747-300, registration: HBIGF
Injuries: 3 Uninjured.
On August 9, 1997, about 1707 eastern daylight time, the flight crew of a Boeing 747-300, Swiss registration HB-IGF, and operated by Swissair as flight 127, reported an unusual sighting while in cruise flight at 23,000 feet (FL230) over New York, New York. The airplane was not damaged, and there were no injuries to the occupants. Flight 127 which had departed from Philadelphia International Airport, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was conducted under 14 CFR Part 129, and was operated in visual meteorological conditions on an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan. Flight 127 was en-route to Boston, Massachusetts when the sighting was made. According to a report from a Safety Board Air Traffic Control investigator: "Swiss Air 127 was in contact with the Danbury Sector of the Boston ARTCC at Flight Level 230. Voice communications with Swiss Air 127 were of a routine nature until 2107 UTC, when the flight transmitted, '...sir, I don't know what it was, but it just over flew like a couple of hundred feet above us. I don't know if it was a rocket or whatever, but incredibly fast, opposite direction.' The controller asked, 'In the opposite direction?' Swiss Air 127 replied, 'yes sir, and the time was 2107, it was too fast to be an airplane.' The controller then asked another flight, Eastern 986 if they saw anything like a missile in the area, 'perhaps off your right.' They replied that they would take a good look, but 'didn't think that if it's going that fast they probably won't get a chance. They had just seen Swiss Air go by a little bit ago.' " "Swiss Air 127 then reported that they had no warning, & that the object was going way too fast. The controller then asked how far above Swiss Air 127 it was. Swiss Air 127 replied, 'it was right over us, right above, opposite direction, and, and I don't know, 2,3,4 hundred feet above. All that I can tell , 127, is that the three of us saw a light object, it was white, and very fast.' " "The flight was then cleared direct to Providence, and told to reduce speed to 300 knots before contacting the next sector." Interviews were conducted with the captain and first officer on August 10, 1997. The flight engineer had not observed the object and was not interviewed. The captain reported: The flight was abeam of John F. Kennedy Airport, Jamaica, New York, at 2106, and proceeding direct to RAALF intersection when the event occurred. The captain was making a public address to the passengers in the cabin when he looked ahead and saw a white object. He saw it for less than a second, and the only movement he could discern was opposite his flight track. He did not observe any wings, and was not sure it was an aircraft. He thought it was cylindrical in shape. He had never been so close to other traffic before. He was not certain whether it was stationary or was moving opposite of the flight. It passed over the cockpit, slightly right of centerline. If it had been any lower, it would have hit the aircraft. As the object passed by, there was no noise, no wake turbulence, and no disruption or anomalies with any of the flight or engine instruments. At the time of the event, the airplane was flying on a heading of 060 degrees, at 340 KIAS, at FL230. It was clear with cumulus nimbus clouds to the west. The sun was behind them. There was no TCAS warning. In addition, there was no exhaust or smoke, no fire, and he could not accurately discern its size. The captain reported his total time as 15,000 + flight hours. He had never seen a missile in flight. The first officer reported: The flight was cruising at FL230. The captain was making a PA to the cabin. The first officer was putting on his headset, and bent over to adjust the volume. As he looked up he saw the object. It passed overhead very quickly. It was close enough that he ducked his head because he thought it would hit them He said it was white and had a round shape. There was no smoke or fire visible from the object. He thought it passed about 100 to 200 feet above the airplane and between the right side of the fuselage and the number 3 engine. There was no drift, and it appeared to be flying exactly opposite of the aircraft. No actual movement was discerned, and no markings were visible. The object appeared to be the size of a thumbnail held at an arms length. The engine indications were steady, and the visibility was unlimited. The sun was behind the airplane. The first officer reported that he had previously encountered a weather balloon over Italy, and the object did not look like the balloon. The first officer reported his total time as 7,500 hours, all civil. He has seen missile shoots from the ground. A check with a Safety Board meteorologist revealed the following: WEATHER BALLOONS * Weather balloons are launched twice a day. * The normal times are 1100 UTC, and 2300 UTC. plus or minus 15 minutes. * The time to reach 23,000 feet is normally about 25 to 28 minutes. Sounding balloons are light tan or brownish in color. * PIBAL (used for wind observations) and Ceiling Balloons are black and red in color. * The closest launch point to the JFK was Upton, New York, about 43 NM east of JFK on a bearing of 085 magnetic. A check of winds aloft data from Upton, New York, revealed the following:
|09 Aug||12Z||500 MB||35 kts||350 degrees||-14 C|
|10 Aug||12Z||500 MB||15 kts||360 degrees||-12 C|
|09 Aug||00Z||400 MB||20 kts||330 degrees||-22 C|
|10 Aug||00Z||400 MB||20 kts||330 degrees||-22 C|
Radar data was supplied by the Boston Air Traffic Control Center (ARTCC), in the NTAP format. The data contained both secondary targets (beacon), and primary targets (non-beacon). The data was plotted and Swissiar Flight 127 was identified. There was no evidence of an opposite direction target, either beacon or non-beacon.
Our commentaries and conclusions about this upsetting case
a) The hazy explanation of the weather balloon
The first (and only) explanation proposed by an official American agency (the FAA) is the identification of the object as a weather balloon. This particularly ridiculous statement faces a number a contradicting facts:
- no balloon had been notified in this sector: the aerial security services could never let this happen in the United States, especially in one of the most circulated part of the sky in the world. Note that the NTSB report does NOT mention any balloon notice to the pilots, in contradiction with the FAA spokesman's statement. Moreover, this official report doesn't say a
single word about the United Airlines crew identifying the object as a balloon, emptying Jim Peters' declaration. To the contrary, the report mentions an 'Eastern 986' flight without any identification (nor observation) of the object;
- a balloon never flies quicker than the wind: its relative speed compared to the plane would have allowed a sighting longer than one second; now the pilots clearly saw an object rushing towards the plane at very high speed; (Erwin Schaerer, the Swiss company's spokesman, stated to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that the object moved at a very high
speed); the assertion by the report that the captain "was not certain whether it was stationary or was moving opposite the flight" and that "no actual movement was discerned" is a complete untruth (according to our sources - and we can trust them - none of the pilots ever said this);
- no radar spot, nor a posteriori identification confirm the presence of a balloon; whereas the balloons are carefully followed by the launching authority in order to collect precise datas from the device; (Pat Cariseo, NTSB spokesman, stated that the object did not show on the radar screens. Consequently he thinks that the object did not have a propulsion system);
- the dimensions of the object do not correspond to a balloon: balloons are made to climb up to the upper atmospheric strata. When climbing, they grow in size, as the atmospheric pressure gets low. According to the well known balloon caracteristics, their size at 23'000ft is about 4 to 5 meters in diameter (this is bigger than the cabin of a Boeing!) It is far off the size of the observed object (50cm to one meter) (1)
- the NTSB report doesn't give any conclusion: the balloon launching data are mentioned for the completion of the inquiry, but no correspondance with the object is even suggested by the experts. Furthermore the two Swissair pilots denied that what they saw could have been a balloon
when interviewed by the Swiss national radio. Both exposed their deep knowledge in the matter. The balloon explanation was given only two weeks after the day of the incident, which is a surprisingly long delay for an object whose position should have been well known by the launching authority. Jim Peters, the FAA spokesman, stated that a balloon of the National Weather Service had been previously notified in this sector. This is a glaring lie (as confirmed by the NTSB report) which shows the complete panic of the authorities after the incident: no notification was ever part of the flight briefing documents of Swissair 127! Moreover no radio alert was ever aired to signalize a balloon in this sector! Such warnings are archived for some time, to be referred to in case of an incident: when challenged to produce the proof of their assertion, the responsibles were simply unable to do so...
There are a number of questions that cannot be escaped: what did push the American authorities to take the risk of such an obvious lie? Why were two weeks necessary to imagine such a wobbly explanation? What do they want to hide? And why does Swissair seem to accept this without reaction, when one of their flights has been seriously threatened? Let's examine the possible answers to these questions:
b) Swissair's silences
GREPI wrote to the Swiss national company. Swissair answered that we'd better ask the Federal Air Office in Bern! We were a little surprised by this kicking over the touch-line: would Bern be in a better position to inform us about what skimmed 50 meters past their jet over New-York?! A number of - rather convincing - factors seem to found the company's
muteness: Washington obviously does not want that publicity be made about the incident (this is proven by the FAA's disinformation). Competition in the North Atlantic sky is at a paroxysm, and you'd better think twice before you alienate the benevolence of those who have the power to deliver the flight or destination authorizations. Moreover, the incident happened in the middle of a crise shaking the Swiss banks with the question of the Jewish funds and the nazi gold: Swiss banks were under the fire of the President of the U.S. Senate Committee for banking affairs, Alfonso D'Amato. For the first time since WWII, relationships between Switzerland and the United States had become strained, and Senator D'Amato had threathened to prohibit Swissair from flying in America!... The time was not exactly right to engage a fight against the U.S. administration (these particular circumstances therefore require a complete discretion about GREPI's sources).
c) When U.S. authorities get caught in their own trap
However, notwithstanding these circumstances and the threatening power of the United States, good reasons could have been called upon to question the safety garanties such a country usually grants to the aeroplanes flying over its territory: a few meters closer could have ended in a catastrophe, killing sixty-four passengers and seventeen crew members...
Of course the NTSB and FAA authorities have been knocked-out by the extreme feeling of this risk. They couldn't but think of another famous Boeing incident, this one a TWA, which ended tragically at the same place one year before this one!... To fully understand the safety authorities' disarray, it must be recalled that the encounter of the Swissair flight with a
round-shaped (or elongated)(2) white luminous object happened only fifteen days before the release of the report on the TWA 800 drama. The nerves were at a breaking strain, as the matter was of extreme importance: the slightest scraps of information about the true nature of the sighting was explosive! Under such conditions, no matter the smoke-producer, the only
point was to set up an opaque curtain between the hyper-dangerous reality and the public, who was already shocked enough by the TWA 800 crash mystery. The pressure was sufficient to make the FAA spokesman state the crack-brained declarations he honoured himself with.
If in both cases the cause has been a missile (and this is pure speculation from our part), one wonders of course who is bold enough to launch these deadly things in the middle of air corridors, and for which reason, and what makes the world's most powerful state's government unable to prevent that.
Our impression after having investigated this case is that it is just politically unidentifiable!
This object did not look nor behave like a "traditional" UFO: no impossible manoeuvre, no right angle turns, no terrific acceleration, no standstill, no "extinction" of the object... It could perfectly be of terrestrial manufacture!
(1) The aspect was luminous white, metallic, with an estimated diameter of 15 to 30 inches (50 to 100cm). Only one plane, called Silhouette, has such a thin fuselage - but is unable to fly at 23'000ft at a very high speed, and the observed object had no wings...
(2) The sighting angle of the seat of the pilot (sitting left and looking to the right) is different from the place of the co-pilot (closer to the axis of the object's trajectory). Thus the description of the shape can logically vary from one to the other (as the pilot saw the object through the co-pilot's window).
And here follows the short version of a report by Capt Bob Durant, which he kindly let us post on this page for the complete information of our readers:
A Weather Balloon?
In the FAA report completed two days after the incident, and immediately after the text of the fax cited above that said, "...Washington A.T. are calling the sighting a WX balloon and consider this a closed issue," we find the following:
"Weather Service reports that they release balloons at 0700 [7:00 a.m.] and 1900 [7 p.m.] daily. The balloons remain airborne approximately one hour."
The NTSB Preliminary Report - Aviation is undated, and may or may not have been prepared before the NTSB told the Associated Press that the UFO incident was caused by a weather balloon. In any event, the language in this Report concerning weather balloons is as follows:
"A check with a Safety Board meteorologist revealed the following:
-Weather balloons are launched twice a day.
-The normal times are 1100 UTC, and 2300 UTC, plus or minus 15 minutes. [7 a.m. and 7 p.m. local time]
-The time to reach 23,000 feet is normally about 25 to 28minutes. Sounding balloons are light tan or brownish in color.
-PIBAL (used for wind observations) and Ceiling Balloons are black and red in color.
-The closest launch point to the [sic] JFK was Upton, New York, about 43 nautical miles East of JFK on a bearing of 085 magnetic.
"A check of winds aloft data from Upton, New York, revealed the following:"
This is followed by a tabulation of winds at high altitude over the balloon launching facility at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on August 9 and 10. These indicate a wind at the altitude of the Swissair B-747 from the North or Northwest at 20 to 35 knots.
Captain B obtained other relevant information about weather balloons from a Swiss meteorologist. . The Swiss purchase and use the same types of balloons launched by the U.S. National Weather Service. As the balloons rise into thinner air, they expand. The expansion rate is known, and the diameter of the balloons at given altitudes had been found to be 2.5 meters at sea level, five to six meters at 30,000 feet, and 12 meters at 100,000 feet, which is the altitude at which they explode. A meter is slightly longer than three feet.
From the data found in the FAA and NTSB reports, it is clear that no balloon could have been in the vicinity of Swissair Flight 127 at the time and place of the UFO encounter. The balloons are launched at 7 a.m. or 7 p.m., and last only one hour. The UFO encounter took place shortly after 5 p.m. The closest launching point was near the tip of Long Island, 43 nautical miles to the East of the encounter, and the prevailing winds would have blown the balloon away from the track of the Swissair airplane at a rapid pace. The color of the balloons is, depending on the type, either "black and red," or "light tan or brownish." The UFO was an almost extreme white, unblemished. Finally, by the time it reached the thin air at 23,000 feet the diameter of such a balloon would be much larger than the reported diameter of the UFO.
The transcript of radio communication between Swissair 127 and the radar controller mentions no less than three other aircraft in the vicinity of the Swissair flight who were queried about the UFO. Had it been a balloon, and thus nearly stationary, the other pilots should have been able to see it, given the excellent visibility and cloudless sky. One of the flights had just seen the Swissair jet, and thus knew exactly where to look for the "balloon." Yet none of these other flights saw the "balloon." Their inability to see the "balloon" is inconsistent with the weather balloon hypothesis, but entirely consistent with Captain B's insistence on the extraordinarily high speed of the object he saw. In this latter interpretation, the object simply flew out of the area before other aircraft could see it.
The data on hand at the FAA and the NTSB within days of the incident was entirely sufficient to draw the inescapable conclusion that a weather balloon could not have been the object seen by the Swissair pilots.
The United Airlines "Weather Balloon"
One hour and twelve minutes after the Swissair encounter, at nearly the same altitude and in nearly the same location, a United Airlines flight reported what the FAA Report calls "a light colored object below them, which appeared to be a weather balloon." Unfortunately, no additional data, such as the exact words of the United pilots, is furnished. The implication is that the pilots thought it could possibly be a weather balloon, but were not sure. One can only assume that it was round, and thus the tentative conclusion that it was a balloon.
The weather balloon explanation for this incident suffers from the same deficits that apply to it as an explanation for the Swissair encounter. Namely, no weather balloon could have been airborne at that time because they only last for one hour, and by the time of the United report, a total of eleven hours would have elapsed since the last launching. The distance and prevailing winds difficulties that applied to the Swissair sighting apply equally to the United report. The closest thing to a specific quality mentioned is the vague "light colored" feature, but that can be contrasted with the extreme whiteness of the Swissair UFO.
The United Airlines sighting raises more questions than it answers. In any event, it does nothing to elucidate the nature of the Swissair UFO.
Addendum: Two firms in the New York City area who do a large business in balloons for social events and advertising were contacted and asked about the existence of cylindrical balloons. Neither firm had any knowledge of balloons of that shape.
Some information about this case can also be found at: