Two U.S. navy fighter pilots say they were investigating a sensor anomaly off the coast of San Diego in 2004 when they saw something they couldn’t explain: a churning patch of white water on the ocean’s surface and a “Tic Tac looking object” that appeared to be hovering without propulsion.
The object was “just kind of moving above the white water area,” former U.S. navy commander Dave Fravor told CBS’s 60 Minutes.
“It was unidentified, and that’s why it was so unsettling to us,” added Lt. Cmdr. Alex Dietrich, who was piloting a separate fighter at the time. “I felt the vulnerability of not having anything to defend ourselves. And then I felt confused when it disappeared.”
Fravor and Dietrich opened up about their encounter in the latest episode of 60 Minutes, which takes a closer look at videos and photos that the U.S. government has confirmed as authentic and unexplained.
The videos show what the Pentagon calls unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) off the coast of San Diego in November 2004 and over the Atlantic Ocean off Virginia Beach and Florida in 2015. The photos document multiple sightings by pilots off Virginia Beach in 2019.
Fravor and Dietrich spoke about the so-called “Tic Tac” video from 2004, while former navy pilot lieutenant Ryan Graves described seeing UFOs “every day for at least a couple of years” in the restricted airspace off Virginia Beach.
“I am worried, frankly,” said Graves, who was part of the squadron that recorded one of the UFO videos. “If these were tactical jets from another country that were hanging out up there it would be a massive issue.
“But because it looks slightly different, we’re not willing to actually look the problem in the face. We’re happy to just ignore the fact that these are out there, watching us every day.”
Fravor has spoken out several times about the 2004 encounter, but this is the first time that Dietrich has publicly corroborated the incident as the second pilot on the scene. The Pentagon has previously acknowledged that a UFO video from that day is authentic.
“I feel a responsibility to … share what I can,” Dietrich said. “Because I was in a government aircraft, because I was on the clock.”
Graves, Dietrich and Fravor are part of a growing list of current and former U.S. military officials who have raised the alarm about UFO encounters in restricted airspace, citing concerns that these things — whatever they are — might be a threat to national (or international) security.
Observers have wondered if the objects might be Russian, Chinese or perhaps even alien in origin, although they remain unidentified by definition.
Pentagon officials have shifted their attitude toward UAPs in recent years, amid concerns that the once-taboo sightings might pose a real threat. Officials have publicly confirmed the authenticity of several leaked videos that they can’t explain, and they’ve launched a task force to investigate the phenomena in more detail.
The Pentagon has also started to encourage pilots to be more open about possible sightings.
“For many years, our aviators didn’t report these incursions because of the stigma attached to previous terminology and theories about what may or may not be in those videos,” navy spokesperson Joe Gradisher told CNN in 2019. “Those incursions present a safety hazard to the safe flight of our aviators and security of our operations.”
Fravor and Dietrich say they were teased by their colleagues after discussing their encounter in November 2004. Other navy members have also spoken out about the strange occurrences that day, and the incident itself was documented in a military report previously published by KLAS-TV in Las Vegas. A video also shows one of the strange objects in motion.
The various accounts paint the same picture: The carrier USS Nimitz and the destroyer USS Princeton detected “multiple anomalous aerial vehicles” off the coast of California, which appeared to descend 80,000 feet in less than a second. The sightings played out over a few days.
The Nimitz dispatched two fighters to investigate one such object on Nov. 14. Squadron commander Fravor flew one jet while Dietrich piloted the other, and each of them had a weapon systems officer in the back seat.
The two aircraft came upon a patch of churning water the size of a Boeing 737 and a Tic Tac-shaped object hovering above the patch. It was a clear day with low wind, no clouds and “unlimited visibility,” according to the military report.
Fravor took his jet in for a closer look and saw the object abruptly turn to mirror his movements, he says.
“As I’m coming down, it starts to come up…. It was aware we were there.”
Fravor says the object was the same size as his F/A-18F fighter jet, but it did not have any markings, wings or exhaust plumes. It was “50 to 100 metres in diameter and close to round,” according to the report.
Fravor says he tried to see how close he could get, but the object disappeared when it got right in front of him. It reappeared on the USS Princeton’s radar a few seconds later, at a distance of nearly 100 kilometres away.
“There’s something out there that was better than our airplane,” Fravor said. “I don’t know who’s building it, who’s got the technology, who’s got the brains.”
Navy pilot Chad Underwood captured the now-infamous Tic Tac video an hour after that first encounter, according to an interview he did with the Intelligencer in 2019. The video was recorded on his fighter jet’s infrared camera, and Underwood does not claim to have seen the object with his own eyes.
“The thing that stood out to me the most was how erratic it was behaving,” Underwood said in 2019. “Its changes in altitude, airspeed and aspect were just unlike things that I’ve ever encountered before flying against other air targets. It was just behaving in ways that aren’t physically normal.”
Underwood also described the object as moving without wings, heat or any “method of propulsion.” He stopped short of speculating about its nature, and was reluctant to be associated with anything linked to aliens.
“I’ll let the nerds do the math on what it was likely to be,” he said at the time. “I just happened to be the person that brought back the video.”
That video was one of three clips that leaked in 2017 as part of a bombshell New York Times report on UFOs. The report revealed that the U.S. government had secretly been investigating UFOs for years, and the videos were presented as examples of puzzling encounters.
The Department of Defense has since confirmed that those videos are real, and has continued to acknowledge other leaks as legitimate in recent years.
One of the more recent leaks involved a series of photos taken off Virginia Beach in 2019, which appear to show objects flying close to fighter jets. The Pentagon has confirmed that the photos are authentic, and Graves says they look like the objects he saw while stationed in that area.
“The highest probability is it’s a threat observation program,” Graves said.
Graves has previously discussed his encounters with the UAPs in a 2019 interview with the New York Times. He spoke about how one pilot nearly collided with such an object, and described seeing their strange movements with his own eyes.
“We have helicopters that can hover,” Graves told the Times. “We have aircraft that can fly at 30,000 feet and right at the surface…. Combine all that in one vehicle of some type with no jet engine, no exhaust plume.”
The Pentagon has not been able to answer the many questions raised by these military encounters with UFOs.
Many are hoping to get a few answers by the end of next month, when intelligence officials are slated to deliver a sweeping UAP report to Congress.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who has received classified briefings on UAPs, says he hopes the unclassified report will help eliminate the stigma that exists in Congress.
“I don’t think we can allow the stigma to keep us from having an answer to a very fundamental question,” he told 60 Minutes. “I want us to have a process to analyze the data every time it comes in …. until we get some answers. Maybe it has a very simple answer. Maybe it doesn’t.”