Skip to main content

Pilots describe 'bizarre' lights and 'triangles' over Canada in air traffic control audio

Share

Early on Jan. 19, several pilots reported "multiple lights sometimes in a triangle formation" high above the Canadian Prairies.

"I had a company aircraft over Thunder Bay suggest, he thinks it possibly could be satellites," an air traffic controller in Winnipeg told aviators around 4:45 a.m. local time, according to audio obtained by CTVNews.ca.

"I'm certainly no expert, but they're moving side-to-side and then going away from each other and then forming triangles," an Air Canada pilot from Seattle to Winnipeg replied while flying over Saskatchewan. "That doesn't really seem like they're in any type of orbit. But I mean, I'm no expert."

"Yeah, it's quite bizarre," a pilot on a nearby Flair Airlines flight from Vancouver to Toronto added. "There's around six of them just randomly in formation flying at a high altitude at 12 o'clock."

"Definitely not satellites," a pilot on a Morningstar Air Express cargo flight from Calgary to Toronto interjected. "It's unlike anything I've ever seen in the 15 years of night flying that I've done."

You can listen to their conversation here.

The 13-minute clip was culled from 2.5 hours of raw audio downloaded from two feeds at LiveATC.net, a website that streams and archives air traffic control radio. Edited for length, the original conversations between pilots and air traffic controllers took place from approximately 4:20 a.m. to 6 a.m. CST.

"There's no active airspace, military airspace, anything like that we're aware of," an air traffic controller said on Jan. 19. "I honestly have no idea what that might be."

At least four aircraft reported seeing the lights that morning, including Flair and Morningstar jets, and two Air Canada flights. They estimated the lights were well above them, as high as 100,000 feet (30,480 metres), which is beyond the reach of most fighter jets. Two other crews also chimed in to say they've recently had similar sightings over Canada.

"I haven't seen them tonight, but we've been seeing those lights for probably the last 18 months or so, just for your information," a pilot on a Cargojet flight from Hamilton, Ont., to Winnipeg reported.

"Wow, that's interesting," a WestJet pilot flying from Winnipeg to Toronto replied. "I've had it but only ever going westbound, with three or four like that over the last month or so."

"I've never seen them eastbound, only westbound," the Cargojet pilot added. "And yeah, same thing too: movement all over, sometimes they make a triangle, sometimes they make a diamond and square. They're bright and they just appear all over."

"Sure be nice to get answers on that, for sure," another pilot said.

'Vital intelligence sightings'

CTVNews.ca first became aware of the sightings when a report appeared on Jan. 23 in an online aviation incident database maintained by Transport Canada, the federal transportation department.

Known as CADORS, the Transport Canada database contains reports on everything from bird strikes to unruly passengers. It is also peppered with nearly three decades of strange sightings from civilians, soldiers, police officers, air traffic controllers and pilots on medical, militarycargo and passenger flights operated by WestJetAir Canada ExpressPorter AirlinesDelta and more.

Transport Canada cautions that such "reports contain preliminary, unconfirmed data which can be subject to change."

"Reports of unidentified objects can rarely be followed up on as they are as the title implies, unidentified," a Transport Canada spokesperson told CTVNews.ca. "The department is reviewing the circumstances of this incident and will take appropriate action if non-compliance with the regulations is identified."

Reports like the Jan. 19 one are usually provided to federal transportation officials by Nav Canada, a private non-profit company that owns and operates Canada's civilian air navigation infrastructure.

The company's Canadian aviation guidelines direct pilots to immediately report "a vital intelligence sighting of any airborne and ground objects or activities that appear to be hostile, suspicious, unidentified or engaged in possible illegal smuggling activity." Known as CIRVIS reports, short for "Communication Instructions for Reporting Vital Intelligence Sightings," Nav Canada even puts "unidentified flying objects" at the front of a list of examples that also includes foreign submarines and warships.

According to both the audio and written report, Nav Canada air traffic controllers also alerted the military's Canadian Air Defence Sector in North Bay, Ont., which is tasked with monitoring the continent's northern approaches as part of Norad, the joint Canada-U.S. defence group.

Canada's military routinely states that it does "not typically investigate sightings of unknown or unexplained phenomena outside the context of investigating credible threats, potential threats, or potential distress in the case of search and rescue."

At least four incidents appear to have met that criteria between 2016 and February 2023, when a high-altitude Chinese balloon and three unidentified objects were shot down over North America.

"NORAD detects radar tracks and if required, provides a threat assessment of those tracks based on a variety of factors," a Canadian NORAD and Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) spokesperson told CTVNews.ca. "For operational security reasons, we do not discuss how NORAD assesses threats."

The RCAF, Transport Canada and Nav Canada all declined to provide additional details on the Jan. 19 case and any potential responses.

'I see it too!'

Robert Powell is a Texas-based engineer and founding board member of the Scientific Coalition for UAP Studies, an international think-tank dedicated to applying scientific principles to research on "unidentified anomalous phenomena," or UAP for short.

"There was very little information in the report and not enough to ascertain what was going on," Powell told CTVNews.ca after reviewing the Transport Canada document. "Based on the information collected, the lights in the sky could have been almost anything."

Mick West describes himself as a coder, science communicator and false conspiracy theory debunker. West firmly believes the pilots were seeing sunlight reflected from SpaceX Starlink satellites on Jan. 19.

"When the sun is below the horizon, it can reflect off the flat bottom of Starlink satellites for about 10 to 30 seconds," West told CTVNews.ca from California. "There are lots of satellites moving in different directions, and this creates the illusion of objects circling or forming triangles."

West, a former video-game programmer, even created a 3D simulation of the satellites, Earth and sun to back up his conclusion.

"When we drop in the location and time from the pilot report, we see the Starlink horizon flares, exactly as the pilots describe them," West said.

Powell disagrees.

"Satellite flaring is momentary," the UAP researcher said. "That is not what this is."

Later the same day, pilots in the U.S. reported something very similar, according to Memphis air traffic control audio reviewed by CTVNews.ca.

"Definitely aliens," a pilot joked before 8:30 pm CST on Jan. 19.

"We're north of Birmingham, facing west, and we see multiple, multiple lights," another replied in an exchange between several flight crews.

"Do you think it's Starlink?"

"Negative, I don't think so. Starlink doesn't flash."

"Oh wow, yeah! I see it too!"

"What are we looking at?"

"Three of them in a triangle formation."

At least two other flights have reported unidentified objects and lights over Canada so far in 2024, including a Jan. 4 sighting from Porter Airlines in Ontario and a Jan. 13 case involving a FedEx flight off the B.C. coast. CTVNews.ca has also identified at least 17 odd aviation reports from 2023 and 11 more from 2022.

UAP and unidentified flying objects have become the focus of U.S. congressional hearings and official reports from both NASA and the Pentagon. In Canada, the federal government's top scientific advisor has also launched the Sky Canada Project, which plans to release a public report on Canadian UAP procedures in 2024. 

From drones to balloons, satellites, meteorites, flares, paper lanterns and weather phenomena, many UFO and UAP reports likely have ordinary and earthly explanations. But unless there is a clear safety or security concern, there tends to be little sign of official investigation or follow-up from Canadian authorities, leaving most cases unexplained.

"I'm just talking to the controllers that I'm taking over from and I guess we'll file, uh, it's called a CIRVIS report," a Winnipeg air traffic controller said towards the end of the Jan. 19 recording.

"Multiple different points of light would be the way we would describe this," the Flair flight from Vancouver to Toronto replied in response to her questions. "At times I saw three lights in a triangle formation just flying in a random movement up and down, left, right, all over the place."

Donald "Spike" Kavalench is a retired Transport Canada surveillance pilot who also spent more than two decades flying for the Royal Canadian Air Force.

"Where is the follow up report?" Kavalench questioned in a response to CTVNews.ca. "It is unacceptable that we seem to have a reporting system with nothing at the other end and no system for investigation and closure."

Do you have an unusual document or observation to share? Email CTVNews.ca Writer Daniel Otis at daniel.otis@bellmedia.ca.

CTVNews.ca Top Stories

Katy Perry sings goodbye to 'American Idol'

Katy Perry said her goodbyes on 'American Idol' after seven seasons. On Sunday night’s live 'idol' season finale, a medley of Perry's hit songs were performed, including 'Teenage Dream,' 'Dark Horse' and 'California Gurls.'

Local Spotlight