Sooner or later, almost everybody sees something in the sky, night or day, that they cannot explain. I have seen three Somethings—and I offer these tellings always to invite explanations or points of view that might show where I’m missing something. To this day I have no remotely-likely idea based in our normal (!) world about what these extraordinary flying objects were—only the clear and absolute certainty that I saw them. Obviously, my long bafflement has outweighed trepidation about sharing them at all; but I have a writer’s itch for moments when hard-nosed looking brings us to sheer wonder.
Three Blinking Discs
The first sighting happened in spring 1963. Setting: my hometown of Stoneham, Massachusetts, a quiet green suburb less than eight miles north of Boston, the home of Logan International Airport. As our house stood that close to Logan, there was almost always a commercial jet airliner (or military aircraft) circling overhead for its turn to land, in the process crossing through bright blue patches of sky above the boughs of maple, oak, chestnut, birch and pine trees that lined our streets and open fields.
Some were no more than contrails at high altitude: others soared slowly southward at about a thousand feet over our house, descending gear-down into Boston with their features, colors and commercial marks clear against the sky. Quite normal, but peppered in those Cold War days with a sudden shattering out-of-nowhere thunderbolt, the sonic boom of some jet-fighter’s scramble-practice. Every one of them struck you like the sure first impact of nuclear war (Boston a target with its port, Navy Yard, and metropolitan surround of new high-tech industries driven by MIT), and then it dissolved in anticlimactic relief. Our protection from socialism was often terrifying.
One sunny spring afternoon in my eighth year, I stepped through our back door onto the small wooden porch and looked out on the day. Eastward to the left was a long patch of bright clear sky, and as usual a commercial airliner was sliding level and quietly through it—its 1000-ft. altitude likely the lowest level for circling the airport, and no more than two miles away on its northward leg. Cockpit and passenger windows, engines, tail-fins and markings were as plain as its colors, the usual silver belly and painted fuselage sharp against the blue.
Directly behind this airliner, moving smoothly along and keeping the same very close distance from its tail, I saw three sharply defined, opalescent, milky-white disks. Each disk, identical in color and shape, was a perfect flat-bottomed upper half of a circle, and each was about twice the size of (say) a military fighter-plane in relation to a large commercial jet. They were not only trailing along in silent, close and steady single file right behind the airliner—they were each taking alternating turns “winking out,” leaving nothing but blue sky in each one’s place until it reappeared in two or three seconds, and another of the three discs took its seemingly-random turn at the trick. Cruising along, their blank but milky-white opalescence had an otherworldly glow. In less than 30 seconds, the aircraft and its triple trail of white winking objects cruised steadily out of sight, and that was that.
Except that I ran back into the house to find my WWII Air Force veteran father, and told him fully and calmly what I’d seen. He listened, looked amused, and then gave his best theory: military tow-targets? But, attached to a commercial airliner? He shrugged with no better idea. Yet those are the facts of what I saw, and I’m still eager for any credible explanation.
The Flying Ashcan
Even with a lifetime of enjoyable star-gazing, I saw no such thing again for 55 years until just last spring (2018), where I live now in Crete. Setting: about eight semi-rural miles east of Crete’s largest city Heraklion. The island is roughly rectangular, the place is about dead-center on the north-facing coastline, and out here a spacious valley (Amnisos, once a chief Minoan port) spreads its small town and farming-fields inland, from a straight four-to-five miles of open beach. Homer says Odysseus once dropped by to ask deities directions.
My little house is near the top of a steep hill that forms this valley’s western side, and the view looks east across miles of beach and open sky toward a flat-topped headland (“Bad Mountain”) that closes the valley, with a small fenced-off military base on its summit. Other nearby hilltops also have radar and electronic systems on show. Another military base, for fighters and ground-unit training, stands perhaps two miles behind my hill, and no farther away from here along the north coast is Crete’s busiest airport (Venizelos International). So, this airport’s single runway receives and launches dozens of airliners and military aircraft per week. In approach or departure (depending on the wind), their line of flight is always directly over and parallel to the same beach for miles—hence, right past our house.
The point is that safety makes this area some of the most controlled and secure air-space on the island. Without very official permission, you cannot bring so much as a helicopter or small plane into it (let alone play around here with your new drone) without looking at deserved jail-time. In my first summer stays around here forty years ago, companies could still hire a small plane to drag a commercial tail-banner across the sea-view during crowded tourist seasons, but that was outlawed years ago exactly because of increasing airline and military flights. So except for that traffic, these skies are always officially clear of intrusions.
I often climb my little roof to drink the view, the weather and stars. One quiet April mid-morning last year, I was looking northward out to sea from there. Nothing unusual: a fair-enough bright day although with a ceiling of gray cloud at about two thousand feet. Then, down from beyond the crest of this hill to my upper left (with the mouth of the airport runway and the sea not two miles below), and hardly fifty feet off the ground as it descended that slope toward the ocean, sailed a slow-moving silent object that had no visible aerodynamic reason to be in the sky or moving through it. I actually rubbed my eyes, slapped my cheek, and cursed that my camera was in the house—but determined not to move for as long as I could watch this thing.
Shape: for lack of a better comparison, it looked like an upright oil-drum or ashcan with no surface features: no wings, props, visible engines, nothing that humans call essential for flight. Size: close as it seemed, but without any good reference in simultaneous sight, I have to guess it was as big as an average school-bus. Color: a deep dull brick-red from top to bottom—and no lights, no windows, no markings or control-features whatsoever. I was plain-sight watching a kind of big flying upright ashcan fly slowly, lazily down the slope toward the sea, and right into the airport’s approach corridor. Normally in this area you can hear a dog bark two miles off (between roaring air-traffic, and there wasn’t any)—and from this thing, not a sound.
It descended from the hill and sailed out over the near sea, in a kind of tentative wandering way that first made me guess it was moved only by the wind. This is for sure a place to feel winds from mild to wild, but this morning was still, very clear below high clouds, and quiet as they come. Now a second phase began. For as this ungainly thing descended closer to the sea’s surface without disturbing the water at all, it changed form altogether. In a few seconds, this blunt heavy-looking object became a white roundish point of flickering light about the same size, flickering but steadily and distinctly there. It descended, hovered on the water almost right in front of the airport runway’s mouth, moved slightly this way and that, or up and down—but it was there in plain sight for a solid ten minutes. I fought the torment of wanting my camera for the sake of not missing one moment.
Surely this thing would dissipate into nothing, or fall into the sea like a leaky balloon? It did not. It hovered and flickered and moved at that one spot in plain sight, as just described. “Okay. Now,” I thought—“Just show me some clearly unnatural moves, some kind of apparent controlled flight, so I can make myself a tinfoil hat.”
A few minutes later, slowly, and with a half-drifting tentative course like before, this flickering white point rose away from the ocean’s surface, right through the airport approach, and started climbing at a slant farther out to sea and toward the gray ceiling of clouds. I watched and squinted and never lost sight of it until, at last, it vanished up into the gray.
I haven’t crafted the hat yet, but feel free to think that I should.
The Flying White Orb
Setting: Same place as the incident just above, a bright hot August blue-sky day last summer (2018)—except that this time I was down on that same four-mile stretch of Amnisos beach, in my wife’s delightful company. Like that day’s low number of tourists around us, we were swimming and sunning, and as usual, every few minutes another international jet-airliner was gliding down loud and slow, from right (east) to left (west) through our northward view of sea and sky. By this point in final approach, they are always at most about 500 feet above the water and less than a mile away in front of you; so, again, it’s easy to see every aircraft feature.
The great majority of airliners first come into view far off to the east, flying in close parallel with the coastline as they ease down into Heraklion. I happened to be facing that way and my wife as I knelt on our blanket doing something, and I looked up to watch a particular jet coming in—because it was making a fairly rare approach straight out of the north, and then banking steeply to get on that final, beach-parallel landing corridor almost over our heads. Because this airliner was still in a radically-steep turn as it came in close and audible just beyond the top of Bad Mountain—the plane now not one mile away—I said something like “Look at this cowboy!” to my wife, who turned instantly around and then saw what I saw.
Imagine something about the size of a jeep following right on the tail of a passenger jet. This thing quite suddenly just appeared in the blue sky, flying along smoothly right behind this common airplane: a flickering but intense white orb or rough sphere of about that comparative size. In the sunshine it seemed as bright as a torch, if not incandescent. It had no other features, no sound we could separate from jet-roar—but there it clearly was in tandem with the tail of the steeply-banking plane. We watched so intently that we did not notice if anybody else was seeing it: we must have frozen, because we did not even raise a pointing hand.
As soon as the airliner managed to level off toward a normal landing—an outcome that this time, looked not wholly sure—this white flickering orb stopped dead in the air behind it, and let the jet go on its way. The orb hovered still in place in front of the whole beach for three or four seconds, and then from zero miles per hour it shot away at brain-bending speed back into the clear blue eastern distance, flying parallel with the coast of Crete till it was gone. I fixed my eyes on it and know that I saw it receding into spatial distance, rather than blinking out or vanishing all at once.
“Did you see that?” I asked my wife. “Yes,” she answered. “Did you see that?” “Yes.” “What the freak was that?” We talked over every detail and thoroughly agreed on the description you’ve just read. We saw nobody else apparently aware of any of this. But to this day, neither we nor friends we tell have any idea what it was—not least because nothing that flies subject to human laws (let alone aerodynamic ones) had any business in that sky so close to such a busy airport.
There you have them—a triplet of discs, a flying ashcan and an orb—and I hope your path too leads to wonder beneath mysterious skies.