By Michael Harvey
A UFO? Actually, it was just our alien friends in the North.
It flashed past silently in seconds. Illuminated by white lights like a Christmas tree, it came shudderingly close as the British Airways Boeing 737 approached Manchester Airport.
The Boeing's bewildered pilots knew they had seen something. They weren't sure what.
Yesterday, officials were also scratching their heads after a year-long investigation failed to come up with a convincing explanation.
But there were knowing nods at the British UFO Research Association. Members are sure the mysterious craft was the Silent Vulcan -- a triangular shaped craft that has been reported cruising northern skies for 20 years.
Captain Roger Wills and First Officer Mark Stuart were almost ready to land British Airways flight 5061 from Milan when the craft hurtled towards them on January 6th last year. They radioed traffic controllers at Manchester and filed a formal air miss report after landing.
Yesterday the findings by the Joint Air Miss Working Group said: "To speculate about extra-terrestrial activity is not within the group's remit."
But morale at the British UFO Research Association rocketed. Members believe the report practically confirms what they have known all along -- there is definitely something "out there."
"The report is remarkably open-minded," said director of investigations, Phillip Mantell. "It is a milestone in official recognition of the phenomenon of UFOs."
"We have always contended that there is something out there which is beyond accepted science and now this is being reflected in the corridors of officialdom."
Mr Mantell said the Silent Vulcan -- named because it is shaped like the old British Vulcan Bomber -- has been seen all along the "Pennine Corridor," from the Midlands up through Derbyshire and into Yorkshire.
There was a surge of sightings in the 1970s and then again in the late 1980s. One came from a Sheffield Police Officer.
The Silent Vulcan widened its horizons in 1989 and 1990, with a spate of reports in Belgium. The airforce there even scrambled two F-16 fighters, which tracked the object by radar.
They failed to find any UFO but their readings showed it accelerated and lost altitude at speeds that would have turned any human pilot into pulp.
"This latest report is the first officially recognised sighting of the Silent Vulcan along the Pennines," Mr. Mantell said. "British Airways are to be complimented for treating this incident seriously."
It seems that not all at the airline appreciate the gravity of the situation. Captain Wills of Normanton, West Yorkshire and First Officer Stuart, from Congleton, Cheshire, are said to have been constantly ribbed by colleagues.
"I think they're both fed up with hearing about it, although they're glad the CAA took them seriously," one said.
"Both are level-headed guys but they have had their legs pulled unmercifully over this business."
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