The 1972 Rose Bowl Helicopter Patrol UFO Incident

First Published: April 29, 2019 Last updated: May 27th, 2019 Written by: Marcus Lowth Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes Posted in: UFOs

While the incident in October 1972 over Pasadena, California was but a mere sighting, it is an intriguing case for several reasons. It occurred only several months before the entire United States became awash with UFO sightings throughout much of 1973 one of the most high-profile of which in Ohio featured a military helicopter that would get much closer. Incidentally, many of the subsequent 1973 sightings, as we have examined previously, featured several “humanoid occupant” reports.

Pasadena Rose Bowl UFO

It also featured multiple witnesses, who themselves were police officers and trained in aerial phenomena as part of their duties as aerial patrol officers. And given California’s relatively steady and persistent stream of UFO sightings across the decades, any such sightings deserve to remain in the conscience of the UFO community lest an explanation or even further witnesses are forthcoming.

What is perhaps interesting is that despite the two pilots making official incident reports following the encounter, and even though they would both speak openly of it over the years, it would only arrive in the public arena in a significant way when the surviving witness volunteered the report to MUFON in 2009.

Aerial Night Patrol Over Pasadena, California

On the evening of 15th October 1972, police helicopter pilot, Pat Spafford was on night patrol duty from the skies of Pasadena, California, where he overlooked the mountains and foothills of this largely picturesque part of the United States.

Beneath him, the roads crisscrossed each other, interspersed with the greenery and urban trails of the woodlands. Such sprawling coliseums for the modern gladiators as the Rose Bowl also commanded his attention, with even more contemporary towers reaching ever upwards from the ground below.

Pasadena UFO Police

Matisoft (left) and Spafford (right)

As Spafford and his flying partner, Al Matisoft surveyed the area below them, each of them noticed strange flashing lights in the distance near the foothills of the mountain ranges. They believed it was a military helicopter, possibly a Sikorsky one. Strangely, however, it was hovering relatively low to the ground over a residential area.

As the police helicopter approached the mysterious aerial vehicle, though, it suddenly rose in the air before heading towards the west of their location.

The pilots each agreed to follow it and investigate further.

As they moved in, however, the craft appeared to descend quickly, “as if it was going into auto rotation”. As the patrol unit got closer, however, they could see a “large, round, and rotating” object. It had the appearance of a “big bunch of balloons tied together” and the pilots would estimate it was traveling around 60 miles per hour.

Spafford would announce over the helicopter’s intercom system that “a UFO” was in front of them.

I’m Going To “Light It Up!”

At the same time as Spafford was reporting the sighting to the switchboard desk, Matisoft would shut down the main lights and switch to their “night star” search lights. This was “standard operating procedure” for activating the search lights.

The two pilots, however, would disagree in the moment about their course of action. Spafford would switch the running lights back on in response to Matisoft stating he was going to “light it up!” Spafford, being the higher ranking, insisted they simply observe.

They continued to watch the craft, its lights still flashing, for several moments as it continued west but at the same speed as the helicopter and so maintaining the same distance.

As this was happening, a dense fog was beginning to roll in over the area from the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. Once again, so as to avoid getting lost in the fog, standard procedure was for them to return to base at Bracket Field in nearby Pomona. They would continue westward, however, keeping the object within its range and their sights.

Sudden Acceleration Over The Rose Bowl

Below them, the details and yard lines of the field at the Rose Bowl stadium were clear to the pilots such was their altitude. Just in front of them, the strange disc-shaped craft passed over the stadium. However, shortly after doing so, it began to increase its speed dramatically. In fact, “in just a few seconds” the object had vanished into the distance, well beyond the skyscrapers and glass towers of downtown Los Angeles.

Pasadena UFO

Both pilots were shocked at the pace of the craft, stating it was clearly traveling at a speed “faster than supersonic”. After taking a moment to gather their senses and thoughts, Spafford would head back to base. Once on the ground, they would begin investigating the incident, beginning by contacting other airports and control towers in the area.

However, no airports – military or commercial – had anything out of the ordinary on their radar screens. And none of the air force bases – at least officially – were conducting any type of experiment or test flight. It is perhaps worth noting that when Matisoft contact Jet Propulsion Laboratory, he had the distinct impression that not only were they not being fully honest in their responses, but that they were “expecting” such reports.

Despite a lack of further supportive evidence, the pilots would agree to submit an incident report, and so placing the encounter officially on record.

A (Still) Unexplained Case With Ambiguous Loose Ends

The two officers would initially remain silent regarding the incident following their reports. However, as talk got around their department, including several “jibes” aimed their way, they would speak openly to anyone who might ask them about it. Over the years, particularly Matisoft, they would continue to do so.

Pasadena Rose Bowl

However, the case remains unexplained. As does whether or not any follow-up investigation took place following the two officer’s reports. Or indeed if they went to another department. Or perhaps even the military or intelligence services.

Was there some kind of purposeful covering up of the sighting by powers higher than Spafford and Matisoft? Or was there simply a desire by the officer’s immediate superiors to sweep under the rug an account that many would mock and perhaps question the capabilities of the force at large?

What is interesting, especially when we remember the initial description of “red balloons being tied together”, is another sighting only weeks earlier. This one, north of the border in Canada.

A Connection To The Lake Maniwaki Sighting?

In the early-fall of 1972 (between September and October) a sighting over Lake Maniwaki in Quebec, Canada, would bear remarkable similarities to the “red balloon” description given by the two police pilots. And what’s more, while the witness wished to remain anonymous, they would volunteer a photograph of their sighting. You can see that picture below.

Pasadena Canada UFO

The witness would recall how he was walking along the banks of Lake Maniwaki when he saw the “cone-shaped” craft, around 60-70 feet in height, resting on the ground nearby. He immediately reached for his camera.

As if sensing his movement, the object began to rise into the air. It was as it climbed that the witness managed to snap the best of his pictures. The object had a metallic, steel look to it. And along the bottom and top were several red, “light-radiating globes”. These were very similar perhaps to the “red balloons” look that initially caught the police pilots’ eyes.

The object would continue to rise until it had disappeared into the clouds and was no longer visible.

Dark And Intriguing Twists

The above incident, and photograph, are intriguing in their own right. Apparent incidents that would follow, though, are at least of equal intrigue.

Copies of the photograph were already in circulation following the publicity the sighting received. The original negative, however, was, according to some reports, sent for analysis in the United States. It is not clear where exactly it went, or requested it, or indeed if the account is even true. However, the original negative, today, would appear to be “lost”.

Pasadena Ball UFO

Even stranger perhaps is the fate of the witness himself. Or more accurately, the lack of knowledge of his fate. It would appear, if the reports are correct, that he simply “disappeared” not long after the photograph became public knowledge. It would seem he quietly literally vanished into thin air.

What’s more, several weeks later, another similar sighting occurred one 1972 October morning at a little after 8:30 am in Toronto. An unnamed witness, a teenage school student, was on her way to school when she noticed an “oval-shaped UFO”. It was speeding along just above the trees heading towards Lake Ontario.

The witness would describe the object as “metallic” with dents “like a golf ball” on its exterior. By far what stood out most, however, was a strip that went across the middle section of the craft. It contained several strange “black symbols” that looked unfamiliar to any letters and signs she was aware of.

What is even more interesting, is an almost identical sighting, and yet a further connection in the chain, to this incident that occurred back in the United States in Springfield, Virginia around the same time.

Silver “Orb” With Strip Of Strange Symbols Over Springfield, Virginia

The witness to the following case was only 7-years-old at the time. And the only people they would initially tell of the sighting was their parents and friends. Consequently, some of the exact details of the orb sighting over Springfield, Virginia are a little hazy. Not least, the exact date recalled only as 1972 by the witness.

Whether this account took place in the fall or even winter is therefore unclear. However, the details given are so close to the Toronto sighting above that even the fact the same year is mentioned forces us to include it here.


The witness would recall in 2004 that they were playing in their street following a recent rainstorm. They could distinctly recall how the road and pavement were still wet here and there. It was late afternoon. And while there was still some light left from the day, the evening was on it was with urgency.

The youngster was with two friends on this particular evening, both of whom lived on the same street. It was as they were walking across the street that the witness noticed a “round, silver, metal orb”. It hovered silently in the grey and rapidly darkening sky above.

The object was at least 20 feet across and a strip or band was rotating around its middle section. Each of the young children stared at the object in quiet fascination.

A Rotating Section With “Letter-Like Symbols!”

As the witness continued to stare at the object, their attention would go to the rotating section. They could make out “letter-like symbols” which appeared to glow a “yellow-white” color. Although these strange shapes were shaped like letters, none of them was familiar to any of the witnesses.

They would recall how the object was:

…bigger than a car but a lot smaller than a house!

It was at this point when the witness realized that his friends had continued to walk ahead. And were unaware of the strange object overhead. He went to call out to them but stopped himself. Somehow, he couldn’t understand how they had not looked up or even back to see where he was.

This is perhaps an interesting detail. Many UFO witnesses, especially ones in close proximity, often have their encounters unfold without those around them being aware of anything out of the ordinary taking place. As if the experience is for the witness only. Might this have been a case where this particular UFO was visible to the witness only?

While that is pure speculation, it is certainly a point worth considering. As are the apparent, if tentative links between these otherwise “random” sightings. All around the North American continent during the fall of 1972.

Tentative Connections Between “Random” Incidents?

It is perhaps an interesting notion that from one UFO sighting in California, by connecting sightings through date, descriptions or location, we seemingly find ourselves traveling north across the border of the United States and back again. Of course, whether these connections are genuine or just incidental is perhaps open to debate.

What surely isn’t, is the fact that while 1973 can safely claim one of the busiest UFO years of the second half of the twentieth century, the skies were far from idle the previous year. Might there be a connection, albeit tentative, between these more sporadic sightings and the full-on surge of encounters the following year in 1973?

And what about the strange symbols? There are indeed countless UFO encounters on record. Some going back to the nineteenth century. Where strangely, on occasion, “Ancient Egyptian-like” symbols show up in reports on such objects. In fact, the reference and likening to Egyptian hieroglyphs come up more than many might think. And, interestingly or not, many UFO researchers have drawn links to this once great ancient civilization previously.

Perhaps as the Internet and digitalization bring these once “lost” UFO encounters out to the masses, immediately accessed by anyone who wishes to do so, more speculation will lead to more and more connections being made.

Check out the video below. It looks at a more recent UFO sighting from the skies of Pasadena.


The stories, accounts, and discussion in this article are not always based on proven facts and may go against currently accepted science and common beliefs. The details included in the article are based on the reports and accounts available to us as provided by witnesses and documentation.

By publishing these accounts, UFO Insight does not take responsibility for the integrity of them.  You should read this article with an open mind and come to a conclusion yourself.

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About Marcus Lowth

Marcus Lowth is a writer with a love for UFOs, aliens, and the Ancient Astronaut Theory, to the paranormal, general conspiracies and unsolved mysteries. He has been writing and researching with over 20 years experience. Marcus has been Editor-in-Chief for several years due to his excellent knowledge in these fields. Marcus also regularly appears as an expert on radio talk shows including Troubled Minds and Unexplained Radio discussing these topics.

You can contact Marcus via email.

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  • Rob says:

    good article and video clip too. Surprised i hadn’t already heard of this case as the photo they took is amazing too and never seen that before either. Some people think aliens are demons, but I dunno why God would let them abduct people if they are demons? Why should someone have to call out for help when God could help them regardless? Who knows. I’ve seen crazy stuff and still don’t have a clue. If aliens are interested in our nuclear weapons in case we hurt ourselves or damage the planet, then why didn’t they stop Hiroshima or our governments destroying the ozone layer? Oh, it’s coz Eve ate the apple so now we all gotta pay. Give me a break. I ate Adam’s apple and now he speaks out of my my. Peace. Sorry God and Jesus if I have missed the point but where you were you when we needed you, or was that you in the black saucer we saw? If it was demons flying the saucer, you just made us pray more, so shot yourselves in feet there too. Makes no sense at all. When I said “Jesus Christ” and it left, I was only swearing at it in disbelief, so i do appreciate that. I remember now. Thank you Jesus christ. And thank you to the demons too for making me realise that Jesus christ helped us. (.?.) still makes no sense.

  • Tim J Long says:

    I wonder how their original report stated,” appeared as a big bunch of balloons”, became Red Balloons?

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