Turns Out the LA 'Jetpack Man' From 2020 Was a Balloon

So says the FBI.
Christopher McFadden
A jetpack man.Loren Javier/Flickr

Back in August and October of last year, various sightings of an apparent "jetpack man" made the news. However, after over a year of in-depth investigations, it appears the sightings may have been of something less exciting - runaway novelty balloons. 

By studying footage obtained by police helicopters, and still images, a team of FBI investigators believes pilots who reported seeing a "jetpack man" were most likely mistaken. In fact, the suspect jetpack-wielding person was most likely an inflatable effigy of Jack Skellington from the 1990s classic film "The Nightmare Before Christmas".

Throughout late summer and fall of 2020, various eyewitness reports from pilots were recorded of the strange object near LA airport.

"We just passed a guy on a jetpack," one such pilot told air traffic controllers in August 2020.  "You don't hear that every day!" a controller replied.

As the controller advised the pilot to be cautious, he added: "Only in LA."

In October 2020, yet another pilot reported seeing a "jetpack" apparently flying at 6,000 ft (1,828 m), about seven miles (11km) northwest of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Another sighting was reported by a Boeing 747 pilot at 5,000ft over Los Angeles.

One key piece of evidence was a video published by NBC News this week that clearly shows a floating object in the skies above Beverly Hills. This footage was captured by police camera from a helicopter in November of 2020 - about two afters the second sighting around Halloween.

Jetpack manufacturers were skeptical from the beginning

The original sightings had attracted skepticism from personal jetpack manufacturers at the time, however. According to their appraisal, existing jetpack solutions tend to lack the fuel to be able to keep a human being aloft for more than a few minutes. This would mean that it was highly unlikely one existed to be able to get someone to the sort of heights recorded by pilots. 

Former American Airlines captain, Mark Weiss, said although it was uncommon for balloons to get in the path of aircraft, it is not unheard of and tends to be very startling for pilots. As you'd expect. 

You may wonder why highly trained professionals like pilots could mistake something like a balloon for a human being. But, remember the pilots were not as close as other aircraft or witnesses who caught it on camera. They were merely being diligent in their reportings as airborne objects can, if they stray into busy flightpaths, cause some serious damage to aircraft. 

 "If you see it coming towards you, you might need to do an abrupt maneuver - and you put the passengers at risk," he told the BBC. Balloons are typically harmless objects for planes, but they can have some metal parts that could if sucked into an engine, cause some very serious damage. 

After more than a year of investigation, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has reported that no other eyewitnesses have been found who actually saw the supposed "jetpack man".

"The FAA has worked closely with the FBI to investigate every reported jetpack sighting," a spokesman said. "So far, none of these sightings have been verified."

"One working theory is that pilots might have seen balloons," the spokesman added. 

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