[This story is based on several reports from the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.]
ZURICH, Switzerland -- An unidentified, wingless object traveling at high speed passed dangerously close to a Swissair jetliner between Philadelphia and Boston, the airline announced on Friday, September 26, 1997. The incident took place on August 9 at 5:10 p.m. New York time.
The pilot and copilot gave U.S. investigators different descriptions of the object, which passed about 50 yards from the Boeing 747 after it had taken off from Philadelphia.
The pilot told the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board that the object was long and wingless, but the copilot said it was more spherical, Swissair spokesman Erwin Schaerer said.
The Boeing 747, with 34 passengers and 17 crew on board, was about 10 miles from New York City when the near-miss occurred at an altitude of 23,000 feet. The plane's final destination was Zurich, with a stop in Boston.
Swiss RSR radio, reporting that the pilot thought it "could have been a missile," noted that the incident occurred near where TWA flight 800 blew up in July 1996 with the loss of 230 lives.
Swissair spokesman Jean-Claude Donzel dismissed reports that the object could have been a missile, saying the incident was "very serious" but the results of the inquiry were not yet known.
Following the Swissair announcement, the Associated Press reported that NTSB officials believed the mystery object was probably a large weather balloon.
According to NTSB spokesman Pat Cariseo, "(The sighting) does not lead us to believe that it was something self-propelled."
Donzel said the pilot and co-pilot both saw an object fly past at high speed. The pilot said it was "elongated, white and without wings," while the co-pilot described it as "rather round."
Donzel said the speed of the object would account for the slight variation in the descriptions provided by the pilot and co-pilot. But the speed of the object also seems to exclude the theory that it was a weather balloon.
Nonetheless, according to a Reuters report, a United Airlines flight passing through the same area a short time after the Swissair 747 identified the object as a large balloon, the FAA said.
An investigation of the incident "concluded that it was indeed a weather balloon," FAA spokesman Jim Peters said. He said the National Weather Service balloon had been cleared in advance to be in that area.
Swissair spokesman Ulrich Wohn said the pilot followed standard procedure by reporting the close encounter. "At no time were any of the passengers at risk," said Wohn. "They didn't even see it."
Original file name: CNI - UFO Near Miss.final
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