During a routine training mission with the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz off the southern California coast on November 14th, 2004, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Alex Dietrich and her then-commanding officer, David Fravor, received a request from another warship to interrupt their routine training mission to investigate strangely moving radar contacts in the area.
An operations specialist aboard the U.S.S. Princeton, a Navy cruiser, also wanted to know if Fravor and Lieutenant Commander Jim Slaight, another pilot on the mission, were carrying weapons.
“Two CATM-9s,” Fravor replied, referring to dummy missiles that could not be fired; they had not expected any hostile exchanges.
“We’ve been tracking these things for two weeks...this is the first time we’ve had planes airborne and we want you to go see what these are,” Fravor remembers the U.S.S. Princeton officer telling him.
When the pilots reached the assigned location, they spotted a disturbance under the water that Fravor thought looked something like the size of a Boeing 737 airplane. Dietrich and Fravor then saw what they described as a smooth, white oblong object resembling a Tic Tac flying at high speed across the water—Dietrich estimated that it was skimming 500 to 1,000 feet above the water at around 500 knots (575 mph).
Dietrich’s F/A-18 Super Hornet’s onboard radar couldn’t detect the object, but her weapons systems operator (WSO), who has remained anonymous, was sitting in the rear seat and saw it, too, crying out over the radio.
“We were trying to call out what we were seeing to each other, and to make sure everybody else is seeing it,” Dietrich said. “It’s moving so erratically and so fast that our voices, our minds, and then our radio calls can’t keep up with it.”
Other Super Hornets launched behind Dietrich, one with Fravor and WSO Lieutenant Commander Jim Slaight aboard. Dietrich recalled. Speculating about what it could be, she said, “we don’t know what it was, but it could have been a natural phenomenon in human activity. But the point was that it was weird, and we couldn’t recognize it.” In a CBS 60 Minutes interview, she noted how it had no “predictable movement and no predictable trajectory.”
Fravor described it as a “ping pong ball...very random.” Fravor turned to “engage” with the object, which responded in a way that “lacked any visible flight control surfaces or means of propulsion,”
It then turned abruptly and “started mirroring” Fravor’s aircraft as he began a slow circular descent toward it. “It’s at about the 2 o’clock and it’s coming up, and I’m at about the 8 o’clock position coming down,” he said.
He then made the decision to cut across and head directly toward the object, at which point it disappeared. The underwater object had also disappeared. The fighters conferred with the Princeton and were told to head to a rendezvous point about 60 miles away, where the object had appeared again. However, when they arrived, it had disappeared once more.
When Dietrich, Fravor, and the other pilots reported what they saw to their superiors, it received little attention and opened up the pilots to ridicule. “When I came back and we were being ridiculed and dismissed by the crew, I said to myself, well, they know what it is,” Dietrich said.
“It must be some sort of blue [United States or allied] system. It must be some sort of highly classified, compartmentalized system, and we were inadvertently vectored into its test range.”
Fravor, on the other hand, was surprised at the lack of curiosity the Defense Department showed about the encounter, which happened in an area well-known as a Navy training ground. He figured a debriefing would be in order, but that never happened.
An hour after Fravor’s group of pilots witnessed the object, Lieutenant Commander Chad Underwood managed to capture the object on video.
“That day,” Underwood remembered, “Dave Fravor was like, ‘Hey, dude. BOLO.’ Be on the lookout for just something weird. I can’t remember the exact terms that he used. I didn’t really think much about it at the time. But once I was able to acquire it on the radar and in the FLIR [forward-looking infrared camera], that’s kind of where things—I wouldn’t say ‘went sideways’—but things were just different.”
The footage appears to show what Fravor had described as a 40-foot-long, white, oblong shape hovering somewhere between 15,000 and 24,000 feet in midair without an apparent source of propulsion or signatures of an exhaust plume. Of the three UFO incidents captured by U.S. Navy airmen via infrared gun-camera pods, Underwood’s footage remains unique for its lack of cross talk between the pilots. According to Fravor, the missing audio “just didn’t make the copy that was taken from the storage drive.”
Because Underwood was at a distance from the object that he couldn’t physically observe it, however, the significance of the video is more ambiguous: “And that part kind of sucks, because I can’t confirm that the object aggressively accelerated that way,” he said.
Within 20 minutes or so of landing back on the Nimitz, Underwood spoke to someone that he assumed was from the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). He was not debriefed as he would be normally, however, which led him to believe the object was not related to a government project. Fravor took the tapes back from officers and copied the tapes.
Unexplained objects had, in fact, been identified on radar for days before Dietrich, Fravor, and the other pilots witnessed the “Tic-Tac.”
Gary Voorhis, a Petty Officer 3rd Class on the U.S.S. Princeton guided missile cruiser, a ship training with the Nimitz, began to see things on his radar four days before Dietrich’s flight. Voorhis was the technician responsible for two of the Princeton’s combat systems.
“Before it was reported even to the Captain, those systems were triple checked,” Voorhis said to National Geographic. “And then once it was taken up with the Captain, they were triple checked again. Everything was working perfect, which made it even creepier.”
The objects returned over several days and Voorhis observed it with his own eyes, using binoculars.
I got to see it during the night and during the day. And it definitely was a glowing object. Could I tell you for sure it was exactly what we were tracking? No, but I was just looking at the bearing and elevation, and it was exactly where it was supposed to be.”
In an interview for the documentary, The Nimitz Encounters, Voorhis noted the object’s unpredictable speed and movements: “From what I observed, I saw that it went from, you know, right around 25 to 30,000 feet down to sea level. Sometimes, they’d be going slower than an object should to, you know, stay in the air and sometimes they would be moving faster than an object should from a standstill. So, going from high altitudes to low altitudes very quickly.”
About 20 minutes after Voorhis landed back on the Nimitz, he remembered that unknown individuals came on the ship from a helicopter and that he was called in to have all his data recording tapes turned over: “I turned over all the tapes and then they also said to erase anything else that’s in the shop.” Voorhis then had no further access to the tapes.