|Occurred : 9/18/2015 21:10 (Entered as : 09/18/15 21:10)
Reported: 10/9/2015 2:26:48 AM 02:26
Location: Modesto, CA
|Yellow-orange light seen approaching Modesto, CA
At a few minutes after 2100 PDT, 09/18/15, I was talking on my cellphone (with a hands-free device) with a friend just a moment after my wife and I had stopped at a restaurant (approximately 4 NM from MOD airport) for a late-night hamburger; as I walked around the back of the car, walking south to east, I stopped to open the car door for my wife to get out of the car and noticed a very bright light NE of the town heading in our direction. The distance of the light from town was initially difficult to judge, not knowing precisely what sort of craft the light was part of, but judging by the rate of its approach and estimated altitude, I am guessing that I first noticed the light 30-40 miles NE of our location and possibly at 14,000'-17,000' (very difficult to judge with any precision).
Weather at the time: no clouds were visible; the brighter stars in constellations were all visible from horizon to horizon, so I'm assuming that the weather was CAVU.
There is absolutely no possibility that this light was a planet, for Venus had set sometime earlier in the west, and the light was much too large to be Mars, Saturn, or Jupiter. (I served as a volunteer amateur astronomer at a nearby observatory in Oakland, and can assure the reader that whatever the light was, it was not a planet, star, or satellite.) I've flown for a intra-state airline out of Modesto for 7 years and have lived in the city NE of MOD airport for 28 years; the path of the bright light didn't match that of aircraft flying from Sacramento southbound along low-altitude airways; it didn't match air traffic flying the typical arrivals into KSFO or KOAK, where the traffic crosses the Modesto VOR at 10,000' MSL and flies outbound on a WSW radial before being vectored by Bay Approach for arrivals at KSFO or KOAK; the light did not appear to be heading to MOD airport or distant KSJC; I thought that the light might be traffic heading for MOD VOR, but the heading wasn't quite correct (it would pass west of the VOR on the observed heading), so it didn't appear that it was on the Modesto arrival for KSFO or traffic bound for MOD.
Judging by its size; the speed of its approach; angle of approach and vertical relative motion, I believe that the light was descending.
The closer that the light came, the more impressed I was by its apparent size; it was yellow-orange in color, which may have been caused by smoke from fires that had burned in the vicinity of Modesto in September, but which I seriously doubt is the case as the color had not changed to any real degree in its approach to Modesto since the time when I first observed it some 9-10 minutes before. During this time, I didn't see any change in relative motion that might have indicated that an aircraft had leveled off.
When the light appeared to have more lateral relative motion, I looked very carefully for red and green navigation lights and white (wingtip) or red (tail, or fuselage) anti-collision strobe lights and observed none [I can almost always see the anti-collision strobe lights on commercial jets at 10,000' on the Modesto arrival -- procedures dictate that arriving flights cross the MOD VOR at 10,000' and in clear weather, I can usually detect the red, green, and white position lights of traffic overhead, though not the color with the jet being at that altitude (my vision is 20/10 or better in both eyes)].
As neither my wife (also a pilot) or I could not see any position (navigation) lights, after removing the earbuds of my cellphone's hands-free device from my ears, I listened for powerplant noise and could not detect any sound of a reciprocating engine propellor-driven aircraft, no jet engine powerplant(s); nor could I hear the blade noise from a helicopter (our home is less than 3 nautical miles E of a hospital that has EMS helicopter service, or, that of the helicopter that serves another hospital approximately 4 miles WSW of us). Puzzled by the size of the light (at this point, much larger than any I've seen on private civil, commercial, and military aircraft); and the lack of both navigation lights and powerplant noise, I ducked into the backseat of our car to pull my professional Canon EOS 5D Mark III DSLR camera from its bag, turned the camera on, removed the lens cover (about 7-8 seconds at most), only to find that no aircraft or lights were visible whatsoever. Usua! lly, if police or hospital helicopters are flying away from me, I can see at least one position position and two or more strobe anti-collision lights of aircraft that have over-flown my zenith -- and usually, there is just enough dust or haze in the air that a landing light will display an apparent "beam" down to the ground which can be seen from all over the city. (The street that our restaurant is on is Oakdale Road, which points directly at the midfield of the MOD airport to the south of us: any aircraft landing at Modesto airport should havqe clearly been visible for several minutes more.) I scanned the sky east through northwest several times and could find absolutely no lights in the sky except those heading to or away from the MOD VOR at an altitude of approximately 10,000' MSL; the strobe lights of commercial jets on Jet-One ("J-1") at high altitude heading southbound; or transiting the skies far to the far south, apparently jet traffic heading into KSJC. No lights could be seen flying left- or right-traffic in the traffic pattern for landing at MOD airport or going in to either of the two local hospitals. The light had apparently and simply disappeared.
Any aircraft going into MOD or the two hospitals should have been visible another 2-4 minutes if landing at the airport or 1-2 minutes if landing at one of the two hospitals. Even looking through my camera's zoom lens, I should have been able to see at least some of the usual lights aircraft display, but saw nothing.