This story has it all: UFOs spotted by pilots of three commercial jets, radar confirmation of the UFOs from air traffic controllers, reports that the UFOs were close to the U.K. headquarters of the Church of Scientology, and a sarcastic apology to the church from a tabloid.
These events, which only recently came to light, actually unfolded nearly six months ago.
On Dec. 30, around 9 a.m., as three passenger planes were on final approach to London's Gatwick Airport (image below), the pilots reported "two flat silver discs ahead," as stated in the subsequently released official report issued by United Kingdom Airprox Board.
According to the official site, an Airprox "is a situation in which, in the opinion of a pilot or a controller, the distance between aircraft as well as their relative positions and speed have been such that the safety of the aircraft involved was or may have been compromised."
"All three pilots on the flight deck [of a B777 aircraft] saw the objects, which passed 100-200 feet below; the crews in two subsequent aircraft also saw the objects. They informed Air Traffic Control of the incident and he assessed the risk as low," the report stated.
The identity of the objects was not determined, despite the fact that the B777 crew suggested the UFOs may have possibly been toys, and "details of the incident were passed to the local police authority and London Terminal Control."
At one point, Gatwick radar picked up returns of six UFOs before they disappeared from their screens. Those radar blips included one "on the outskirts of East Grinstead," which just happens to be the location of the U.K. national headquarters of the Church of Scientology.
The official Airprox Board conclusion stated that "the nature of the objects has not been resolved. There was no doubt that the B777 crew and two subsequent flights had seen a couple of objects, reported by the B777 crew as man-made and toy-like....the risk was deemed unassessable."
The U.K. tabloid The Sun took the story in an off-beat direction by playing up the allegation that Scientologists "believe aliens inhabit human bodies."
The Sun followed that up on June 13 with a short story, "Aliens: An Apology":
"In an article on Saturday headlined 'Flying Saucers Over British Scientology HQ,' we stated 'two flat silver discs' were seen 'above the Church of Scientology HQ.'
"Following a letter from lawyers for the Church, we apologize to any alien lifeforms for linking them to Scientologists."
The Church of Scientology did not return The Huffington Post's calls for a statement about the Sun's apology.
Scientology, which boasts numerous celebrity members, was founded by writer L. Ron Hubbard in 1952 and promotes the idea that humans are immortal beings with reincarnated souls.
When the Airprox Board report was finally released (which included numerous other unrelated reports over a five-month period), The Sun referenced the fact that right after the UFOs happened to be in the vicinity of the Scientology location at the end of December, Scientologists in New Mexico created a huge crop circle-type formation that could easily be seen from high in the sky (see image below).
But was there any real connection to the objects seen in the sky over the U.K. and the "carved message" to ETs in New Mexico?
"It's one of these ironies that the attention-grabbing part of this story is probably the least significant, i.e. the supposed proximity to the Church of Scientology headquarters," said former U.K. Ministry of Defense officer Nick Pope.
"The fact of the matter is that, when I was doing the UFO job, we had several hundred sightings each year. There was, literally, no area of the U.K. that didn't see sightings."
Between 1991 and 1994, Pope was in charge of the Ministry of Defense office that investigated UFO reports in that country. He told HuffPost why this recent UFO encounter over the U.K. was significant.
"Essentially, it is almost like a Ufological perfect storm: Pilot witnesses coupled with radar evidence resulting in an official document, the veracity of which cannot be challenged. Very seldom do we get all those things together, even in pilot cases, where it's often anecdotal."
Pope's biggest concern with this case has nothing to do with the flimsy Scientology connection to the objects seen by the pilots and radar. He says it's more about the possibility that the UFOs came "100 feet from disaster."
"It actually doesn't matter what you think these things were. Neither does it matter what you believe or don't believe about the UFO mystery. This is a bigger issue and is something that demands to be taken much more seriously than it is.
"All this focusing on the Scientology angle has almost obscured [the attention paid to] something passing maybe 100 feet from a commercial aircraft," Pope said. "What would've happened if one or more of these objects had collided with the plane and brought it down? Clearly, we'd be talking about massive casualties.
"Safety should always be the highest priority."