US fighter jets were sent to investigate a mysterious flying object as it hovered off the coast of San Diego, previously classified footage has revealed.
A video released by the US Department of Defence (DoD) shows Navy pilots reacting with astonishment as they tracked the whitish oval as it glided above the Pacific Ocean.
The footage was studied by a secret multimillion dollar programmetasked with investigating reports of unidentified flying objects (UFOs).
The Pentagon has admitted the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Programme (AATIP) ran from 2007 to 2012 with $22m (£15m) in annual funding, buried in DoD budgets.
The recently released footage shows a 2014 encounter between an apparent object, roughly the size of a commercial plane, and two Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets, from the aircraft carrier Nimitz.
Commander David Fravor and Lieutenant Commander Jim Slaight were on a routine training mission 100 miles out into the Pacific when they were asked to investigate the object.
The object had been detected appearing suddenly at 80,000ft by the USS Princeton, a Naval cruiser, which had been tracking mysterious aircraft for two weeks.
“Look at that thing, dude,” one of the pilots is heard exclaiming in the clip. “It’s rotating.”
Commander Fravor told The New York Times the object was about 40ft long, had no plumes, wings or rotors, and outpaced their F-18s. It was big enough to churn the sea 50ft below it, he said.
“I have no idea what I saw… It accelerated like nothing I’ve ever seen,” he added, admitting he was “pretty weirded out”.
The pilots’ Navy superiors did not investigate any further and it remains unclear what the object was. Experts say there is usually a worldly explanation for apparent UFO sightings and caution that an absence of an explanation is not proof of extraterrestrial life.
The Pentagon said the AATIP closed five years ago when defence officials shifted attention and funding to other priorities.
But it was less clear about whether officials continue to investigate claimed UFO sightings. According to its backers, the programme remains in existence in some form.
The programme’s initial funding came largely at the request of former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, known for his enthusiasm for space phenomena.
“The AATIP ended in the 2012 timeframe,” Pentagon spokesperson Laura Ochoa said.
“It was determined that there were other, higher priority issues that merited funding and it was in the best interest of the DoD to make a change,” she added.
Asked if the department continued to investigate sightings, she said: “The DoD takes seriously all threats and potential threats to our people, our assets, and our mission and takes action whenever credible information is developed.”