Sleuth solves Puget Sound UFO mystery

Was it an airplane? A missile? An honest-to-goodness unidentified flying object? For a couple of days, a mystery swirled around a long bright streak that was caught by a webcam pointing up from Western Washington’s Kitsap Peninsula.

Now the mystery has been solved. But it wasn’t easy.

It took a couple of days for Tyler Rogoway, a writer who specializes in the hush-hush corners of aviation, to figure out what was in the 20-second time-lapse webcam view, which was captured on Sunday by a camera pointed toward Whidbey Island.

Skunk Bay Weather’s Greg Johnson shared the picture in a tweet on Monday:

The blog item by University of Washington atmospheric scientist Cliff Mass sparked a host of hypotheses — ranging from the launch of a Trident ballistic missile, to the overflight of an Alaska Airlines jet, to a sun-illuminated contrail, to a Russian rocket body, to an out-and-out hoax. The tale sparked click-baity reports from Russian and British news websites.

Rogoway, meanwhile, gathered some additional details from Johnson about the circumstances of the webcam shot, including its precise positioning.

He checked with Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. No dice there. The Federal Aviation Administration didn’t have anything that matched up with the observation, either. (That Alaska Airlines flight was out of the webcam’s field of view.)

But a look at Flightradar24’s online tracking database revealed that an Airlift Northwest helicopter was flying on a track that matched what the webcam saw.

You can get the full story by reading Rogoway’s recap on The Drive, but the bottom line is that the time-lapse photo’s rocket-style appearance is consistent with the lighting and the geometry of the helicopter’s flight.

Here are a few tweets that tell the tale:

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