On March 16, 2019, a peculiar exchange occurred between air traffic control and the pilot of Mercy Air 21, a medical helicopter (an Agusta A109, to be exact) flying just west of Las Vegas, Nevada. The pilot reported seeing an unidentified object.
Pilot: “Just to advise, it looks like I have some sort of object over the Southern Hills area, looks to be about 7,000 feet. Could be a balloon or something along those lines…it’s unlit…”
ATC: “Okay, I’m not seeing anything in that area, but that’s not to say…there’s something out there…”
Pilot: “Yeah, I can only see it…I’ve got night-vision goggles on. I can only see it through the goggles.”
ATC: “Oh, that’s awesome.”
Awesome, indeed, unidentified air traffic controller. The sighting occurred during a night flight at roughly 9:00 p.m., which may explain why the pilot was wearing night vision goggles at the time (this is also apparently standard for air ambulance pilots).
However, aside from audio of the ATC conversation, details are very limited. Even Tyler Rogoway over at The Drive, who published a rather in-depth investigation of the incident, is having a hard time getting any real information.
On March 18, Rogoway updated his report stating that the company Air Methods, who own the helicopter, weren’t being particularly responsive to his inquiries. However, on March 20, he did finally receive a response, though perhaps an underwhelming one: According to Air Method’s director of communications, the pilot thinks the object was just “Mylar balloons.”
Not definitive in any case, but that’s their position and I assume they’re going to stick to it. Was it really just a balloon?
If you ask me, UFO sightings over air traffic control are always compelling, if only because the pilots are likely sincere in their reports of unidentified objects. Cruising around at 6000 feet or higher, that’s not the time to joke around about what may or may not be present in the sky.
Last year, we saw a number of incidents involving pilots reporting UFOs over ATC, three of them highlighted on last year’s UFO roundup page. One occurred over Kerry, Ireland, when a pilot spotted an incredibly fast light zoom by and then disappear. Another UFO, spotted over Huntington, New York in May 2018, also caused a pilot to reach out to ATC. The object had appeared in front of the plane, flying at 6,000 feet.