At the beginning of Close Encounters of the Third Kind there is this scene at the air traffic control tower. Right after encountering a “very bright UFO” they decline the proposition for reporting it.


It doesn't seem really explained to me even though one of the pilots says that “he wouldn't know what kind of report to file.” The reason is still unclear to me.

  • For the fictional answer to this question, if any, this is the right site, but I'd ask this in Aviation Stack Exhchange, if interested whether that scenario is or isn't realistic and why.
    – DaG
    Apr 26, 2020 at 19:26
  • Interest only: Search on "Safe Air" and UFO. The "best" (IMHO) UFO sightings ever. Camera crew, repeated, AIr control RADAR, more.. || here Apr 26, 2020 at 20:44
  • Nobody wants to get shitcanned over an Outside Context Problem. Apr 26, 2020 at 22:50

1 Answer 1


A pilot might be risking his or her career to report a UFO as airlines and regulatory bodies frown on such things.

In the 1970s, when Close Encounters of the Third Kind was made, UFO encounters were considered to be the domain of kooks or attention seekers, two things that could attract negative publicity.

Airlines need customers to trust their crews, and any doubt could hurt business. It’s less true today as more and more inexplicable sightings have been documented, but it still can be a touchy subject for professionals.

As an example, in 1986 Japanese Airlines Captain Kenju Terauchi was grounded for several years after reporting an extended encounter with what he and his crew reported as “aircraft carrier sized crafts” while flying over Eastern Alaska. More details on Japan Airlines Flight 1628 can be found on Wikipedia.

Even though several radar stations, including a NORAD facility, confirmed the presence of something abnormal in the area of his plane, the controller at Anchorage saw nothing on his radar. Terauchi was lucky his career wasn’t ended for good.

While JAL was one of the more strictly run airlines in the business, but it’s likely any air carrier would have grounded him until certain he wasn’t a danger to others. JAL claimed they grounded him because Terauchi spoke to the press without permission.

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    I would think that airlines would want pilots to report anything they see that appears out of the ordinary, but with the understanding that any descriptions would generally be intended merely to convey the appearance of what they are seeing, as opposed to implying any judgement as to whether an object actually is as described. Whether or not it would be possible for a pilot to actually see the mothership that appeared at the end of E.T., a pilot might plausibly see a model aircraft which is designed to look like it.
    – supercat
    Apr 26, 2020 at 17:55
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    more and more inexplicable sightings have been documented say what? Your definition of "inexplicable" is either very different from mine or you watch very different documentaries than I do :D
    – Luaan
    Apr 27, 2020 at 6:47
  • Documenting a sighting does not mean what was seen can be explained. Hence the term "unidentified." Apr 27, 2020 at 7:12
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    In the 1970s,... UFO encounters were considered to be the domain of kooks or attention seekers: I'd venture that nothing much has changed in that regard. Despite 50 years of significantly enhanced observational capabilities, no compelling evidence for extraterrestrial visitors has emerged. Great fun, though. Apr 27, 2020 at 9:27
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    @OscarBravo UFO does not imply extraterrestrial. Simply that it cannot be accounted for. (Recently they've taken to referring to them as Unexplained Aerial Phenomena.) The most recent of these was what came to my mind. (That one was confirmed by the US Navy)
    – Kirk Woll
    Apr 27, 2020 at 13:30

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