It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s, It’s … a UFO?

On Nov. 14, 2004, pilots of two F/A-18F Super Hornet fighter jets from the USS Nimitz Carrier Strike Group encountered this large Tic Tac-shaped object flying about 100 miles southwest of San Diego. The image was taken with an infrared camera aboard a Navy jet. Cmdr. and Top Gun pilot David Fravor said of the object, ”It’s white. It has no wings. It has no rotors. I go, ‘Holy sh*t, what is that?” Lt. Cmdr. Alex Dietrich said, “It was so unpredictable — high G, rapid velocity, rapid acceleration.” The author of this piece describes seeing a similar object zip over San Diego Bay five years earlier in 1999.

First, I need to declare that I am of sound mind and body. I’m neither a whacko nor garden-variety conspiracy theory nut job, of which, sadly, one can find in abundance across the land these days. My family and friends describe me as one of the most down-to-earth, rational people they know. And I only bring up this 23-year-old incident because it again seems relevant against a spate of recently documented and disclosed UFO sightings by dozens of military aviators.

So here goes:

In May of 1999, I was an executive at a San Diego-based technology company. We had just completed the installation of our equipment at Solar Turbines, a division of Caterpillar, and one of the region’s largest employers. Our customer, in celebration of the completion of this important project, invited our executive team for a sunset cruise around San Diego Bay aboard the corporate yacht the firm kept on hand for customer events, sales pitches, employee outings, vendor appreciation receptions, etc. The cruise lasted about two hours and included beer, wine, champaign and hors d’oeuvres. It was a beautiful, clear late afternoon and early evening with temperatures of about 70F. We were about an hour into the cruise and had just come out of the mouth of San Diego Bay. The yacht ventured briefly into the open ocean just off Point Loma before making a U-turn and heading back into the Bay. For anyone who has been to San Diego, the Bay is chock full of a mix of military installations, berths for aircraft carriers, sport fishing boats, an international airport, a naval air station, pleasure-craft marinas and large waterfront hotel and office complexes. As we cruised north through the channel leading into the Bay, the Point Loma Submarine Base was to the west on our port side, and the North Island Naval Air Station was to the east on our starboard side.

In May 1999, the author and a dozen colleagues witnessed a bright spherical object while on a San Diego Bay cruise. The object approached from the northwest, zipping over Point Loma. It slowed momentarily over San Diego Bay about a quarter mile from the bow of the author’s ship. It then abruptly changed direction and zoomed off at an unearthly speed toward the eastern horizon.

The mood was jovial, music was playing, the sun had just set, and the weather was perfect. I was enjoying a glass of chardonnay on the deck near the bow when someone said, “Hey, check it out,” and pointed to the northwest horizon just above the ridge of Point Loma, about 30-degrees north of where the sun had just set. A big ball of light was racing toward us at remarkable speed, much faster than any jet. Cylindrical in shape, somewhat amorphous and about half the size of the Goodyear Blimp, it looked like what might have been the aluminum skin of an aircraft reflecting light from the sun. However, the sun had already set, and this wingless object was flying much too low — about 1,000 feet elevation — to be reflecting any sunlight. The object zipped silently, leaving no contrail, to about about a quarter mile off the bow of our ship. It then slowed and seemingly hovered for about three seconds, before changing direction at an abrupt angle of about 60 degrees. It then zipped due east at an unearthly speed. We watched it zoom away until it disappeared somewhere over the eastern horizon. The entire event lasted maybe 10 or 15 seconds. There were about a dozen of us on the deck, and after some silence, we all looked at each other, laughed nervously, and began murmuring, “What in the heck was that?”

Maybe a plane? Nah. Too big, too bright, too fast.

Maybe an atmospheric phenomenon? Nah. It seemed to be moving with a purpose. Nothing random about it.

Maybe some type of experimental military aircraft? Perhaps, though it appeared to be defying most laws of physics and aerodynamics.

Maybe an alien craft of some sort? C’mon. Let’s not get crazy. Here, have some more chardonnay and turn up the Bob Marley.

An image of a mysterious craft taken from a Navy fighter jet off the coast of Virginia in 2019. Of the phenomenon, Lue Elizondo, former Director of the Pentagon’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program says, “Imagine a technology that can do 6-to-700 G-forces, that can fly at 13,000 miles an hour, that can evade radar and that can fly through air and water and possibly space. And oh, by the way, has no obvious signs of propulsion, no wings, no control surfaces and yet still can defy the natural effects of Earth’s gravity.”

Of course, for anyone who follows these things — such as San Diego native Tom DeLonge, singer-guitarist for Blink-182, who has launched an entire second career as perhaps America’s preeminent UFO chaser — San Diego has long been a hotbed for mysterious lights and strange aeronautical sightings. And I can certainly attest to having seen numerous space oddities above San Diego, including offshore Trident missile tests, rocket launches from Vandenberg AFB, flares shot into the night from Navy ships, radar-jamming metallic chaff glittering in the sun after being released from a Navy jet. In November 2017, I was fortunate to see a giant metoric fireball that blazed overhead for about three seconds during a twilight run. That phenomenon was seen all over Southern California and set Twitter, Facebook and YouTube ablaze. But the bright light I saw just after sunset over San Diego Bay in the spring of 1999 was none of these things. It was traveling at low altitude and at incredible speed. It slowed, hovered and executed a sharp change of direction. And it wasn’t a flash-bang sort of thing. We clearly observed its path for ten to fifteen seconds.

So back to the corporate yacht. After our astonishment had begun to subside, I took out my Motorola clamshell flip phone and called the news desk at the local ABC news affiliate. I asked for one of the producers and after being put on hold for a minute or two, I started to explain what I’d just seen. Instead of brushing me off as a crank, he seemed intrigued and told me that the phone lines were all lit up, and I was about the tenth person to report seeing this phenomena. He asked me to explain what I’d seen in detail. He then asked if anyone else had seen it. I passed the phone around to two or three colleagues who relayed their perspective. He then asked for my number, which I gave to him. About twenty minutes later, the producer called back and asked a couple more questions. He also said that he’d called several of his contacts at the local Navy bases and they’d all advised him that the military wasn’t doing any flight maneuvers in the area, nor had they picked up anything unusual on their radar.

Afterward, we all shook our heads in disbelief, thinking, “Did we all just really see what we just saw?”

It was surreal.

So we did the only rational thing a person could or should do after such an experience: We poured some more chardonnay and cranked up the Bob Marley.

Craig K. Collins is a San Diego-based writer and the author of Thunder in the Mountains(Lyons Press, 2014) and Midair(Lyons Press, 2016). He has a novel due out in 2022.

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Craig K. Collins

Craig K. Collins

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Author of Midair (Lyons Press, 2016) and Thunder in the Mountains (Lyons Press, 2014). At work on a novel, as well as a book of historical non-fiction.