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UFO Encounters With Airplanes: Pilots, Officials Discuss Potential Safety Hazards

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An unidentified object was videotaped from a passenger plane over Seoul, South Korea, on Saturday.
An unidentified object was videotaped from a passenger plane over Seoul, South Korea, on Saturday.

There's been a buzz in the air this week -- literally -- about a video allegedly showing a UFO flying near a passenger plane over Seoul, South Korea.

The video, which has been viewed several million times, has brought out a myriad of theories to explain the strange-looking oval white object viewed on Saturday. When a passenger on the airline tried to zoom in on the object with a video camera as it moved upward from the ground, pacing near the plane, it suddenly flew away.

Was this an alien visitation, a computer-generated image, a water droplet on the plane window or a white plastic bag moving in the wind?

As skeptics and true UFO believers battle it out over the origin of this latest unexplained object, they are engaging in an unresolved decades-old debate: Can unexplained UFOs become a safety issue for the commercial airline industry?

Watch the video of the alleged UFO over South Korea.

"It's beyond dispute that airline personnel see them and see them a lot," said professional pilot David McDonald, who runs a school for pilots and aircraft dispatchers and owns charter company Flamingo Air in Cincinnati. "However, to the best of all of our knowledge, there has never been an incident where an airplane ran into one or was attacked by one."

"[Pilots] have done evasive maneuvers to get out of the way, but that's what we're trained to do," McDonald, the new international director of the Mutual UFO Network, told The Huffington Post. "Whether [the UFO] would have veered off, it's really hard to say if they are a hazard to flight or not."

At least one scientist -- and former UFO skeptic -- strongly suggested that mid-air UFO encounters could be hazardous.

"I was trying to be a conscientious scientist and let the chips fall where they may and I immediately found a great deal of bias and fear by people who shouldn't be afraid," said former NASA research scientist Richard Haines, referring to UFOs. "Science should not be afraid."

After commercial pilots began sharing their UFO experiences with him, Haines created the National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomena. His organization offers a confidential reporting venue for pilots, crews and air traffic controllers hesitant to make UFO reports. Haines does not publish records that publicly reveal the names of pilots reporting incidents.

"Our objectives are to make flying safer for the flying public and we're convinced there's a potential threat posed by nearby unexplained aerial phenomena to commercial and private airplanes," Haines recently told HuffPost.

In a number of cases, the UFO or the unexplained aerial phenomena gets close enough to an aircraft and results in some sort of electromagnetic effect on certain cockpit instruments, Haines added.

"Roughly 5 to 9 percent of the total sightings have some form of electromagnetic influence in the cockpit, so our interest is trying to alert the aviation industry ahead of time to do something positive, rational, before it's too late, before an airplane goes down," Haines said.

When asked about Federal Aviation Administration policies to deal with UFOs, an FAA official told HuffPost, "Our standard response is that the FAA does not track UFO activity."

"As far as any procedures for reporting, that's probably on an airline-by-airline basis if, in fact, they do have any procedures at all for that," the official added.

Watch a video of former FAA official John Callahan discussing how the FAA and government handled a UFO incident in 1986.

One former FAA official, John Callahan, has been very outspoken about how his agency has handled UFO information in the past. Callahan, a former head of the FAA's Accidents, Evaluations and Investigations Division in the 1980s, believes that Earth is being visited by extraterrestrials.

"Oh, I think we really are," he told HuffPost. "And the government doesn't tell you the truth all the time. Part of the stuff I was doing in my last 10 years with the government was lying to the public. I gave out disinformation -- an approved tactic in the government -- because the people can't handle the truth."

Callahan's bold statement stems from a highly publicized 1986 case involving a Japan Airlines 747 crew who reported two UFOs that were pacing by their aircraft over Alaska; this was followed by the appearance of a third, huge circular craft.

"When the controller checked with military people, they said they did have a target [on radar] -- not just one target, but a double primary target," Callahan said.

Following the 30-minute airline close encounter, Callahan said, he was ordered to attend a meeting with members of the CIA, FBI and President Ronald Reagan's scientific staff. He claimed he also had to hand over all information, including radar reports, about the Alaska case to them.

"After I showed them the materials three times, one of the them stepped forward and said, 'This event never happened. We were never here. We're confiscating all this data, and you're all sworn to secrecy,'" Callahan recalled.

Callahan said he asked a CIA agent if it would be okay to contact the media about the UFO incident and he was told, "You can't do that. It would frighten the American public -- they can't know about this."

Watch a recreation of a military encounter with a UFO.

Another airborne encounter took place in 1964 over the South China Sea when Navy pilot Frederick M. Fox was behind the controls of a tanker aircraft. "All of a sudden, this dark, unlit shape showed up 20 to 30 feet off my left wing," Fox told HuffPost. "I called to ask if there was anything else showing up on radar besides me, and when they said, 'No, why do you ask?' I immediately said, 'Disregard.'"

"As I looked at this thing, it was a classic domed, saucer-shaped object about 30 feet in diameter, with no discernible lights, windows or markings. I was able to see it because of my collision lights shining off it," Fox recalled.

For 20 minutes, while Fox performed several maneuvers and turns, the UFO stayed with him until it simply vanished, he said, adding that he decided to not report the incident because of an existing military regulation.

"There was a page that said unlawful disclosure of any UFO information is a $10,000 fine and 10 years in jail," Fox said. "If I had mentioned anything to anybody, they would've grabbed me and sent me for a Section 8," he added, referring to a military discharge when someone is deemed mentally unfit. "So I just kept my mouth shut."

Fox spent more than 30 years with American Airlines, where, he said, he experienced other UFO sightings. He logged more than 20,000 hours in his flying career.

Mutual UFO Network's McDonald agreed there's a historical taboo among pilots not to discuss their UFO encounters.

"Up until just a short time ago, if you reported one of these, it was a guaranteed medical disqualification," he said. "The airlines don't want pilots [who say] they saw a flying saucer."

"It's been pretty well established that when they go and shoot their mouth off about this stuff, chances are they lose their jobs, and that's been documented," McDonald said.

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