On the morning of May 30, 2016, an Air Canada Express flight from Montreal to Toronto reported it had “crossed an unidentified flying object, round in shape, flying at an approximate speed of 300kts,” or more than 550 km/h. Over 8,000 feet above Lake Ontario on Nov. 14 of that year, two crew members were injured when a Porter Airlines plane dove to avoid hitting an “object” that “appeared to be solid… and shaped like an upright doughnut or inner tube.”
By combing through thousands of reports in a government flight incident database, VICE World News has uncovered dozens of recent UFO sightings from Canadian and international airlines.
They include a pair of WestJet flights near B.C.’s Okanagan Valley that allegedly saw “a bright, white strobe-type light” above them on the night of March 16, 2017, and a pre-dawn Jan. 10, 2015 encounter outside Regina, Saskatchewan, when “multiple aircraft reported a very large object with a small white light in the middle, surrounded by a halo” that “appeared to descend from above” 41,000 feet.
The sightings come from the Civil Aviation Daily Occurrence Report System (CADORS), a searchable digital archive operated by Transport Canada, the federal department that oversees road, rail, marine, and air transportation. With over three decades of data, CADORS contains nearly 300,000 aviation incident reports on everything from mechanical failures to rowdy passengers to bird strikes. It also provides a fascinating record of UFO sightings by professional aviators in Canadian airspace.
“Pilots are probably not reporting about 90 per cent of the things they’re seeing, because they know it could have lengthy career implications,” former Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) pilot John “Jock” Williams told VICE World News.
Williams is an aviation consultant, television commentator, and civilian pilot who spent 36 years in the Canadian military, including over two decades flying fighter jets. He also worked as a flight safety officer at Transport Canada for more than a dozen years.
“For most pilots, it’s not worth it,” Williams said. “That’s why I believe that each of these guys saw what they reported.”
Although brief, CADORS cases can still be enigmatic, such as a single-sentence entry from the morning of Oct. 21, 2005, when air traffic controllers “received reports from four (4) aircraft flight crews of a shiny, silver object over Toronto at roughly (30,000 feet), which turned sharply and moved rapidy [sic] to the southeast over Lake Ontario.” Many are scant on detail, like one from the night of Nov. 12, 2015, when an undisclosed flight 34,000 feet above Saskatchewan reported “a bright white light high above the aircraft and advised it was not a meteorite or other aircraft.” Very few explicitly use terms like “UFO,” such as a Qatar Airways flight south of Grande Prairie, Alberta, that “reported an unidentified flying object” in broad daylight on Dec. 18, 2016 in an account that offers no visual clues.
In a statement to VICE World News, a Transport Canada spokesperson said it is “not in a position to discuss individual aviators’ observations.”
“The events that are entered into CADORS are entered as they are reported to Transport Canada,” the spokesperson said. “Transport Canada endeavours to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the data contained within CADORS. However, the information within should be treated as preliminary, unsubstantiated, and subject to change.”
One case where information changed dramatically was the 2016 Porter event over Lake Ontario. An initial one-sentence entry in CADORS states the Nov. 14 morning flight from Ottawa to Toronto’s downtown island airport “reported ‘flying by’ an unidentified object, not likely a balloon.” But because two flight attendants were injured that day, the incident made a few headlines and prompted federal Transportation Safety Board (TSB) investigators to take a closer look.
Uploaded to CADORS on Nov. 29, 2016, the TSB report describes a doughnut-like object “approximately 5 to 8 feet in diameter” that was “directly ahead on their flight path.” But instead of just “flying by” it, the TSB revealed the “captain overrode the autopilot in order to quickly descend the aircraft under the object.” The plane’s two flight attendants, who “were in the process of securing the cabin for arrival… received minor injuries when they were thrown into the cabin structure.” None of the 54 passengers were hurt.
At the time, a TSB spokesperson stated, “The description and size of the object does not match any known commercial or consumer available unmanned aerial vehicle.” In an email to VICE World News, a current spokesperson confirmed, “TSB was not able to positively identify the object.” Porter—like Air Canada, WestJet, and others—declined to comment on specific reports.
Have an unusual observation or document to share? Reach out to Daniel Otis via Twitter at @dsotis or email otisstories [at] gmail [dot] com.
Several veteran aviators were able to explain some, but not all, of the CADORS files captured in our investigation. One involved separate Air Canada and Air Canada Jazz flights over B.C. that “reported sighting up to 2 dozen evenly-spaced bright objects in a line, travelling quickly at an altitude above their aircraft” on the night of Dec. 26, 2019. While seemingly extraordinary on first glance—could it have been Santa returning home?—it was quickly identified as an earlier sighting of SpaceX’s Starlink internet satellites, which travel in groups in comparatively low orbits.
Others proved more difficult to explain, like a Kalitta Charters Boeing 747 cargo flight that reported “an object flying sporadically, estimated at (60 to 80 thousand feet) and moving at Mach 4,” or four times the speed of sound, as it travelled above the Northwest Territories on its way from New York to Alaska early on April 30, 2018. The fastest known aircraft in the world, the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, had a maximum speed of just over Mach 3.3, but was retired by the U.S. in 1999. Doubts were raised about the 747 crew’s ability to measure the object’s speed, but there was no question that they saw something unusual. While most reports are uploaded to CADORS within a few days of an incident, this one took over a year and half.
CADORS also has lights that hover, dart, blink, or change shape and colour, like a “solid bright light” spotted by air traffic controllers in Fort McMurray, Alberta, on the morning of Dec. 15, 2009 that “appeared too fast to be any commercial aircraft” as it “moved in a southerly direction initially then continued eastbound until it disappeared into the sunrise.” An Air Canada Jazz flight was even “delayed on departure for about 4 minutes until the object was well east of the aircraft's departure path.”
Another comes from early on Jan. 6, 2019, when crew with medical transporter Vanguard Air Care claimed that “an inexplicable bright light followed them… at the same altitude and speed” over northern Manitoba when “no aircraft were reported in their vicinity.” An unclassified intelligence report on the case previously published by VICE World News, proves Canada’s Armed Forces are being alerted when civilian pilots encounter flying objects and lights they can’t identify. Of the 11 reports mentioned in this story, at least seven of them were forwarded to the military by air traffic controllers.
In a statement to VICE World News, an RCAF spokesperson acknowledged that they receive such reports, but cited Transport Canada as their “primary investigative authority.” A Transport Canada spokesperson said, “Reports of unidentified objects can rarely be followed up on as they are as the title implies, unidentified.”
None of this is meant to suggest that E.T. is cruising over Canada. Many contemporary UFO sightings have been debunked as things like drones and paper lanterns, and some even argue that UFO stories actually mask advances in foreign surveillance technology. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) tracks similar observations in the U.S., but often labels them as drones.
One recent U.S. case involved the crew of an American Airlines flight over New Mexico that radioed air traffic controllers after they saw “a long cylindrical object... moving really fast right over the top of us” on the afternoon of Feb. 21, 2021. In a statement, the FAA said it “did not see any object in the area on (its) radarscopes.”
According to researcher and filmmaker Matthew Hayes, there is a “very high degree of consistency” between the reports found in CADORS and the ones he uncovered for his 2019 doctoral dissertation on Canada’s Cold War UFO records.
“Canadians have been reporting the same types of things, unabated, since the 1940s,” Hayes said. “Historically, it’s also been incredibly challenging to get the Canadian government to talk about this. Compare that with the U.S., where officials seem much more eager and ready to discuss the topic.”
Last April, the Pentagon confirmed the authenticity of three UFO videos captured by instruments on U.S. Navy fighter jets, which had previously been leaked to the New York Times: the newspaper that also broke the story on the Pentagon’s UFO-tracking program in 2017. Since then, several prominent American politicians have spoken candidly about unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP), including the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee’s current heads, Democratic Senator Marc Warner of Virginia and Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. In December 2020, the U.S. even passed a bill that requires intelligence and defence officials to submit a report on “Advanced Aerial Threats” by the middle of this year.
Veteran UFO investigator Chris Rutkowski has collected more than 22,000 UFO reports over the past three decades and has long included data from CADORS in his annual Canadian UFO Survey.
“CADORS clearly shows that these types of incidents are occurring in airspace where thousands of passengers are potentially travelling every day,” Rutkowski told VICE World News. “Regardless of one’s belief or disbelief in UFOs, this is certainly a concern from a flight safety and public welfare perspective.”
That sentiment is echoed by Williams, the former RCAF pilot.
“Any aviator who goes through the trouble of reporting something like this deserves to have it investigated,” Williams said. “I don’t see that happening in Canada.”
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