A file image taken from a Canadian North flight between Yellowknife and Fort McMurray on January 28 (a day earlier than the flight in question). Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
The crew of a Canadian North flight in late January reported unidentified lights in the sky over Yellowknife, according to an incident report and an audio recording.
The ATR 42-500 charter from Fort McMurray was approaching Yellowknife when its crew “reported two lights 10 nautical miles northwest of the field,” a note on aviation reporting system Cadors states.
The time of that sighting is given as 11:15pm MT on Sunday, January 29.
An audio recording of Yellowknife’s air traffic control tower on that night captures a crew member of Canadian North flight 5071 telling a controller: “We’re looking at two lights dancing around here.”
Initially, the lights appeared east of the city to the crew. As they drew closer to the airport, the lights shifted to the city’s northwest.
On the ground, the air traffic controller said throughout that he could see nothing and had no sign of any other objects on radar.
“I’m really wondering what you’re seeing there,” the controller says at one point.
A pilot responds: “Yeah, so are we!”
Cadors is a federal preliminary reporting system. Occurrence logs in Cadors often contain basic or unverified information published as it becomes available.
There can also be a lag in Cadors reporting. In this instance, Friday’s summary about the January 29 Canadian North flight’s experience – reported to the database by Nav Canada – was published more than 10 days after the incident took place.
According to Cadors, an Edmonton air traffic controller and shift manager were notified and a report was filed using Communication Instructions for Reporting Vital Intelligence Sightings protocols, known as Cirvis.
Cirvis is used when pilots think they have seen objects in the sky that could be hostile or unidentified aircraft, missiles, or other unidentified flying objects.
So what did they see?
The occurrence report and the audio recording each suggest neither the crew nor the tower had an answer for that.
The incident took place at roughly the time that a Chinese spy balloon was reportedly drifting across Canada on an eventual path into the United States.
The balloon is understood to have entered Alaska on January 28, then Yukon and the NWT on January 30. Under that timeline, the Canadian North report is a little early, though there is not much information publicly available to confirm the balloon’s exact track and timeline while in Canadian airspace. Most attempts to estimate the balloon’s track tend to put it farther west of Yellowknife rather than anywhere in the vicinity of the airfield.
Even so, the occurrence is filed in the Cadors database with the tags “weather balloon, meteor, rocket, Cirvus/UFO.”
An Air Canada flight over British Columbia on January 31 filed a similar report, describing a “large balloon about 4,000 feet above them with something hanging from it.”
Canadian North, approached for comment on Friday afternoon, had not responded by 11pm that day.
Below, read a transcript of excerpts from conversations between the Canadian North flight and air traffic control in Yellowknife on the night in question.
This is a transcript of excerpted dialogue between Canadian North flight 5071 and Yellowknife air traffic control on the night of January 29, 2023. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Tower: Arctic 5071, Yellowknife radio, good evening.
Flight 5071: Good evening. Just wondering, do you got two planes just east of your field doing circuits or manoeuvres?
Tower: Negative, I have no reported traffic in the area. Do you have a visual on something?
Flight 5071: Yeah, we’re looking at two lights dancing around here to the east of your field. They’re above us. We’re not seeing them on TCAS [the plane’s traffic collision avoidance system] but we can see the lights moving around.
Tower: I don’t have anything on the radar either. Let me talk to Centre.
Tower: Arctic 5071, Yellowknife radio.
Flight 5071: Go ahead.
Tower: Centre doesn’t have anything about any movement in the area so I’m really wondering what you’re seeing there.
Flight 5071: Yeah, so are we!
Tower: You said they are over your position?
Flight 5071: They’re above us. We’re [unclear] at 12,000 feet and we’re 30 miles back from your field over the lake. And… yeah, like, we’re seeing them just to the east of the city, probably 20 or 30 miles, but well above us. We saw them when we were going through 20,000 feet and they looked parallel for altitude.
Tower: I’m trying to look. I don’t see them from the ground here. I’ll keep an eye out and I’ll talk with Centre again.
Flight 5071: Yeah no worries. They’re not a risk to us, we just didn’t know what it was.
Tower: We’ve got nothing. That’s quite strange.
Flight 5071: We still have that traffic in sight. It’s looking about 10 nautical miles directly northwest of the field, maybe about flight level 270 [27,000 feet] or so.
Tower: So you’re saying they’re about 10 nautical miles northeast or northwest?
Flight 5071: Northwest of the field, yeah, 10, 20 miles-ish.
Tower: Well, er… [unclear] we’ll talk on the ground.