"It's quite spectacular and never seen anything like it before."
That's how pilots flying a private jet over the Atlantic Ocean in the early hours of Oct. 16, 2014, described a flashing object "moving very erratically" nearby.
"Trying to get a video of it but can't seem to get it," the pilots told air traffic controllers in Gander, N.L.
The unidentified flying object — which the pilots said had green, white, and red flashing lights, and occasionally reflected a beam of light off the nearby clouds – didn't appear on radar. According to a report sent to Transport Canada, the mysterious object followed the jet for at least another 20 minutes.
Another recent UFO report, obtained through access to information laws, describes people in Kelowna, B.C. spotting "orbs of light flying in the sky" in May 2014. The callers said there were "evil spirits" in the lights.
These accounts are just some of the thousands of Canadian UFO reports received by the government and private researchers over the past five years.
The federal government doesn't exactly have an X-Files-style team to investigate the sightings, though, so Transport Canada regularly sends the UFO reports to one man in Manitoba.
“We’re not quite the Fox Mulders or Dana Scullys of Canada, but we’re the ones who actually receive the reports and go out and talk to people,” says Chris Rutkowski, an astronomer who's become Canada's go-to UFO expert.
He and his dozen-or-so colleagues across the country use the reports to compile annual data.
Rutkowski and his team aren't done compiling the most recent data yet, but he said it looks like there were the usual 900-1000 reports in 2015.
Of course, as Transport Canada and Rutkowski both pointed out, a UFO can be anything from a paper lantern to meteors to drones. “The vast majority of cases are simple misidentifications,” Rutkowski said.
But what about those that aren't misidentifications? A smaller percentage of the reports — anywhere from 5 to 10% each year — can't be explained. Rutkowski then whittles the total down to 1 to 2% "high-quality" reports.
Concluding that a sighting was in fact of extraterrestrial origin is a big step, though. “What we can say is that we haven’t been able to come up with an easy explanation," Rutkowski said.
He said he's never seen an extraterrestrial with his own eyes, either. “I guess aliens are scared of me or something,” he laughed.
Rutkowski said he and most other astronomers nonetheless believe there's likely life out there somewhere. "The trouble is of course the vast distances, the technology, and things like that," he said.
There's a common assumption that people who report seeing UFOs are hallucinating, paranoid, or otherwise impaired, Rutkowski said, but he's found that they're usually regular folks who just want to understand what they've seen.
“We have as humans this innate desire to wonder if we’re alone, whether there’s anything more to the universe,” he said.
“If there really isn’t a physical phenomenon of UFOs, there’s at the very least a psychological or a sociological phenomenon of UFOs," Rutkowski said, "and in either case, it should be studied by science."
Last April, former Canadian defence minister Paul Hellyer, now 92, told a UFO symposium in Toronto that governments were covering up the presence of aliens on Earth.
A few more examples of UFO reports from Transport Canada:
Jan. 1, 2011: A circular, orange-glowing object "50 times bigger than an aircraft" is seen "hovering quite quickly back and forth" just above a tree line near Bridgenorth, Ont.
Feb. 28, 2015: A quiet "formation of triangular lights" is seen flying at low speed for about one hour near Ancaster, Ont. The caller, who says he has aviation experience, "has never seen anything like this before."
May 2, 2012: A caller reports "seeing two strange lights travelling in a boomerang pattern over the Laurentians."
March 30, 2013: Gander air traffic control reports that five different flights near Stephenville, N.L., saw a UFO. "Also received the same information from RCMP" the following day, the report says.