Something quite out of the ordinary occurred in the skies over Oregon on October 25th, 2017. A mystery aircraft was flying in daylight hours among the steady stream of airliners that traverse from south to north, between locales in California and Nevada and cities like Portland and Seattle and beyond. The incident began, at least as best we can tell, around 4:30pm near the California-Oregon border and resulted in multiple pilot eyewitnesses, recorded air traffic control audio, and eventual confirmations from both the FAA and North American Aerospace Command (NORAD) that it did indeed occur.
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The first inklings of the story came to me shortly after the incident occurred from friends of mine in the aviation world. Sparse on details at the time, it sounded like it was probably just another one of the often misconstrued incidents that happen in the skies around the US everyday—ones where aircraft with inoperable radios or transponders stray into areas they shouldn't. And sometimes these occurrences result in local fighter jets paying the wayward aircraft a visit at the direction of NORAD. But days after initially blowing off the incident, it later began to seem that there was indeed more to the story than just than another "NORDO" private aircraft or lackadaisical pilot.
I came upon one Reddit thread that was of particular interest that seemed to not only corroborate the strange account, but also add critical details too it. The post was supposedly penned by a pilot who says they were in the sky over the Northwest in the early evening when the incident occurred, with the post coming shortly after the incident. The entry by Reddit user "Duprass" reads:
"Just landed in Seattle coming from the bay area. Beginning over Southern Oregon we kept overhearing Seattle Center attempting to track an airplane with no transponder who wasn't talking. A handful of crews were able to track it visually, best they could tell it was between FL350-370 [35,000-37,000 feet], northbound. Nobody close enough to see the type.
Last we heard it was over the Willamette valley northbound and some fighters, perhaps out of PDX [Portland International Airport], were scrambled to go take a peek. Center had trouble tracking it on primary radar.
Strange! My theory is they were running drugs to Canada. No news yet, not that I could find.
**Update 0500z. Called SEA ARTCC. The gentleman I spoke with said that they initially got alerted to the aircraft from Oakland Center who was painting it on primary [illuminating it with radar, but without transponder information]. For whatever reason they couldn't track it themselves on primary, and that's when I overheard them using airline aircraft to track it visually. The last airplane to see it had to descend into Portland and lost sight of it. The fighters were scrambled out of PDX but flew around for a while and did not find it. And that's that."
Air traffic control audio recorded over at LiveATC.com of Seattle Center Sector 14 is available from the time of the incident and it corroborates much of this information. You can listen to the entire series of exchanges here starting at around the 20 minute mark and through to the first part of the next time interval recording that can be found here.