Piper Aircrew Saw Bright Orange Glowing Object During Strange Encounter Over Long Island

We interviewed one of the Piper Saratoga’s crew that reported the unknown object to air traffic control while flying near JFK airport last May.

byTyler Rogoway|
U.S. Homeland photo


As a follow-up to our recent report detailing a bizarre encounter between a Piper Saratoga and a mysterious object over Long Island, New York, we have interviewed one of the aircraft's crew to get their first-hand account of the incident. 

The event occurred on May 26th, 2018, at around 1pm local time and we posted the full air traffic control audio that originally sparked our investigation in our original report, which you can download it here as well. In the recording, the pilot doesn't offer a description of what they are seeing to controllers aside from saying at one time that it had 'lights on it' and countering the controller's sentiment to assume it was a drone. The Piper Saratoga with the registration N161MA was cruising at 6,000 feet and the atmospheric conditions were partly cloudy with very little winds and warm temperatures at the time of the incident. 

In my interview with one of the Piper's crew, the object was described as a very bright orange to magenta colored round object that appeared in front of the aircraft. There was no discernable structure or any other colored lights on it. The illumination was steady. The range was hard to tell for the crew because of the strange nature of the glowing object, but it didn't seem that far directly ahead of the Piper's path and was in front of a cloud. The encounter lasted a couple of minutes and after a course change was requested the orb of light seemed to dim and then disappear inside a cloud. 

The pilot in command did file a report as requested by air traffic control and they haven't heard anything from the FAA regarding its investigation since. When asked if they knew of any other aircraft in the area that reported seeing the anomaly, they did not know of any additional accounts. 

I asked if it looked like a landing light on an airliner and they said that it was larger and brighter and different as they see landing lights on aircraft of all types constantly in the congested airspace around New York and the greater Northeast. It was broad daylight and the fact that they couldn't make out a plane attached to the bright light also added to their curiosity. 

Here is a good video showing what it looks like flying in a similar Piper Saratoga just for reference. This is NOT a video of the same aircraft or its aircrew involved in the incident:

Video thumbnail

Upon reviewing ADS-B data from Flightaware24.com of N161MA's flight path around the time of the event, we didn't see any traffic that was heading directly towards the aircraft at a similar altitude that would begin to explain the sighting, although it is crowded airspace and the software is not perfectly accurate. 

We filed a Freedom of Information Act Request before posting our original report last week, as in the past, hopefully we will learn much more about the FAA's investigation into the matter from the FAA's response to our request. But for now, the case remains an unsolved mystery even to those who witnessed it first-hand. 

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com