We now have official information on the bizarre encounter between airliners landing at LAX and what was described as a guy in a jetpack.
On September 1st, 2020, The War Zone reported on a bizarre encounter involving multiple airliners on approach to Los Angeles International Airport and what was described by two aircrews as a guy with a jetpack flying off to their side thousands of feet above the ground. The story went viral and the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office took up the investigation, and rightfully so. The danger posed by some dude in a jetpack operating completely outside of FAA regulation in one of the most complex and crowded parcels of airspace in the world is very real. Now, nearly a month after it all went down, The War Zone has obtained an initial official FAA report regarding the incident, as well as the full audio that went with it.
Even days after the incident occurred, the FBI went as far as to put out a call for information to the public on Twitter. The fact that the Bureau was still investigating the incident and found it credible enough to ask for the public’s help certainly lends credence to its overall validity.
The War Zone has now obtained a so-called Air Traffic Mandatory Occurrence Report (MOR) via the Freedom of Information Act regarding this incident. A MOR needs to be submitted whenever an event occurs that matches one or more specific criteria that the FAA has laid out. This includes “Any instance in which communication with an aircraft was not established or not maintained as expected/intended, and results in alternative control actions or additional notifications by ATC, or a flight crew, or in a landing without a clearance” or “Any expression of concern or inquiry by any external entity to a management official/controller-in-charge (CIC) or to ATC on the radio concerning the proximity or operation of an aircraft, either airborne or on the surface, including near midair collision (NMAC) notifications from a flight crew.”
The MOR for this incident is relatively straight forward:
Most of the basic details are the same as were reported at the time. The report also says that a nearby Los Angeles Police Department “air support” asset, almost certainly a helicopter, was notified of the situation. Another notification about the incident was made through the FAA-managed Domestic Events Network (DEN), though it’s not clear who else may have received that alert. The DEN can be used to provide information to other U.S. government agencies, such as the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Transportation Security Administration (TSA), regarding potential threats and hazards in domestic U.S. airspace.
The air traffic control audio recording that The War Zone also received via FOIA includes the portions that were reported at the time, as well. The full clip that FAA released, which is approximately 15 minutes and 25 seconds long, contains additional exchanges about the incident, including another pilot chiming in after the one who said “Only in L.A.” to add “Or Louisiana.” Sadly, that person does not elaborate on that comment and any potential previous issues with individuals with jetpacks in that state.
Various other airliners approaching LAX inquired about the reported “jetpack guy.” The audio clip includes an exchange between the tower at the airport and the pilot of Southwest Airlines Flight 535, which is as follows:
Southwest 535: “Jetpack still out there?”
Tower: “We’ve gotten no reports since the one and that about four minutes ago.”
Southwest 535: “Bizarre.”
Later on, another aircraft reports seeing a cluster of “party balloons” at an altitude of approximately 5,600 feet.
Toward the end of the clip, another air traffic controller at a different site calls the tower at LAX and the following conversation ensues:
Offsite FAA individual: “Did you call in a helicopter in over there to you help?”
LAX tower: “No.”
Offsite FAA individual: “I see a helico-there’s something at 600 feet right up there, looks like a helicopter.”
LAX tower: “Right underneath that Southwest arrival?”
Offsite FAA individual: “Yeah, but that 10 mile final is literally north of me and I’ve been scouring it, I don’t see anything.”
LAX tower: “I, I don’t know.”
The air traffic controller at LAX thanks them for checking in and goes back to their more routine work. The audio clip ends without any further mention of the jetpack. No further information is given about the helicopter mentioned toward the end of the recording or whether it might have been the LAPD air asset mentioned in the Mandatory Occurrence Report. Of course, Los Angeles and surrounding areas are certainly no stranger to helicopter traffic, in general.
You can listen to the entire air traffic control recording, which was prepared by the Southern California Terminal Radar Approach Control Facility, or TRACON, below. Note that the official from the Southern California TRACON speaking at the beginning of the audio clip confusingly gives the date of the incident as Aug. 31, rather than Aug. 30. This is based on the time it occurred when converted to Coordinated Universal Time, also known as Greenwich Mean Time, not local time in Los Angeles.
The mention of “party balloons” at a similar altitude as to where the initial reporting aircraft were flying when they spotted the ‘jetpack guy’ is intriguing. It could provide one explanation for the sighting. At the same time, the party balloon-spotting pilot’s perception could have differed and misidentified it. Then again, it could have been a separate object altogether. We just don’t know at this time how this report has factored into all this. If it was clearly party balloons, two separate crews reporting the same description of such a uniquely unusual thing, a guy in a jetpack, would seem odd. As would a continuing investigation into the incident. Still, it is an interesting piece of evidence, without a doubt.
The FAA also told The War Zone that additional records that fell within the scope of our request were found at the Los Angeles Flight Standards District Office, but that they were withheld entirely because they are part of an ongoing investigation. As already noted, the FBI is leading that inquiry.
The War Zone has also reached out to the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office’s public affairs representative to get an update on this investigation, but has not yet received a response. We have also submitted a separate FOIA request for FBI records relating to this incident, to which we are still awaiting a response. Hopefully, eventually available documentation will have detailed pilot reports. They could help clear up this mystery or deepen it even further.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com
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