UK UFO Cases : 1970 - Capt. William Schaffner – Killed by a UFO?

Shaffner Killed by UFO?

This is one of the most intriguing cases from the Cold War years.

Captain William Schaffner was an American exchange pilot based at RAF Binbrook in north-east Lincolnshire. RAF Binbrook and RAF Coningsby were both Quick Reaction Alert bases in 1970. This was still a time when Soviet aircraft would often test the reactions of NATO by launching sorties close to “enemy territory”.

Late on September 8th, 1970, an object was spotted over the North Sea by radar. Schaffner, scrambled to intercept in an RAF Lightning. He never returned from the mission.

Rumours were rife for years that he had been abducted by an alien spacecraft as he closed in on a UFO. In the 1990s speculation in media articles and the internet had it that unusual UFO activity in 1970 had put NATO on a heightened state of alert. The UFOs were allegedly tracked by Fylingdales, and even Cheyenne Mountain. President Nixon was even rumoured to have authorized what was to become Schaffner’s fatal last mission.


An alleged recording, provided by a secret RAF source, of Schaffner’s transmissions with RAF Patrington on the East Yorkshire coast even circulated amongst UFO investigators. Schaffner was around 90 miles east of Whitby and in visual contact with a bluish conical shape which was so bright it was almost blinding. The UFO was accompanied by an object resembling a large glass football. Schaffner closed in, verbally transmitting his description of the strange object:

“Wait a second, its turning…coming straight for me….am taking evasive action…I can hardly….”

At that point contact was lost, Schaffner’s radar plot merged with the UFO and then lost altitude and vanished off the radar. Schaffner’s plane was found one month later on the bed of the North Sea with the cockpit still closed. There was no sign of the pilot’s body.

In 2005 MoD Documents (Ref: National Archives DEFE 31/181/1 ) were released and finally revealed the official, but contradictory, chain of events. The Air Accident Report produced by the RAF Board of Inquiry in June 1972 reported that Schaffner was taking part in a tactical evaluation. Air crews were often scrambled and would have no prior knowledge of whether they were flying a live mission or a test.

Shaffner’s Recoverd RAF Lightning courtesy © BBC

On the fateful night, Schaffner’s RAF Lightning fighter was ordered back to dispersal as it had not had a regulation service. However he ignored the order and scrambled his aircraft. Despite being a highly skilled intercept pilot, he was not trained for the high risk, low speed shadowing exercise (the UFO was recorded as an RAF Shackleton by the MoD) and got into difficulty.


The officially released transcript with RAF Patrington reads :

Capt Schaffner: Contact with a set of lights in that area
Fighter Controller: Say again.
Capt Schaffner: Set of lights in that area – closing.

Schaffner then explains he needs to “do some manoeuvring to slow her down a little bit” and radar controllers warn him to “keep a sharp look out.”
Fighter Controller: 45 Patrington you are dark on me this time – check target’s heading and your own over. C45 Patrington do you read over.
Do you read – over. Do you read – over. ......,Silence

Two months later the Lightning was found on the seabed. The cockpit was closed and the pilot’s body missing to add to the mystery. Further investigation showed that the ejector seat had not been properly serviced and failed. Schaffner ejected manually but became disorientated and separated from his life support pack and drowned in the North Sea.

Schaffner’s wife and sons, despite their best efforts, were never told the findings for decades. They were informed that all records had been destroyed. When the UFO stories spread their anxiety was heightened.

The late Tony Dodd who had written in his book “Alien Investigator (1999)” that Schaffner had vanished after encountering a UFO would not accept the official tale of events saying:

I don’t think that we will ever get to the bottom of what happened because the RAF would never accept that a UFO could be involved.

Who was fooling who?

It is hard to decide if the official MoD version is a true account or not. There are some conflicting reports from other sources over the UFO incident, details concerning the recovery operation and American interference in investigations.

The fact remains that the MoD hid the findings of this case away for 3 decades, even from the deceased pilot’s family. They leave themselves open to claims of cover-ups and secrecy for this reason alone.

A final footnote is that Dr. David Clarke, who did a lot of investigation into this case, commented on his own blog with a question:

“…Who was the anonymous source and what was his motivation for seeding a bogus story into the UFO rumour mill?”

Who indeed?

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