An unidentified flying object (UFO) forced Xiaoshan Airport in Hangzhou, China to cease operations on July 7. A flight crew preparing for descent first detected the object around 8:40 p.m. and notified the air traffic control department. Aviation authorities responded within minutes, grounding outbound flights and diverting inbound ones to airports in Ningbo and Wuxi.
Eighteen flights were affected. Though normal operations resumed an hour later, the incident captured the attention of the Chinese media and sparked a firestorm of speculation on the UFO's identity.
"It is a hidden U.S. bomber flying toward China," one Internet user wrote on Monday. Another wrote on Sunday night, "In my opinion, the UFO is neither a U.S. missile nor a Russian satellite. Suggestions that it is extraterrestrial are even more preposterous. Everyone, use your head. This is clearly a man-made phenomenon. Would the U.S. or Russia risk provoking China's anger by firing a missile or satellite rocket in Chinese skies, without warning? I believe the Chinese military is responsible for the UFO. It is a new missile or aircraft being tested out."
Fueling speculations further, Hangzhou residents released photos, taken in the afternoon before the delays, of a hovering object bathed in golden light and exhibiting a comet-like tail. Less than an hour before the Xiaoshan airport shut down, residents said they also saw a flying object emitting red and white rays of light.
Resident Ma Shijun was taking a nighttime stroll with his wife when he saw the object.
"I felt a beam of light over my head. Looking up, I saw a streak of bright, white light flying across the sky, so I picked up the camera and took the photo. The time was 8:26 p.m. However, whether the object was a plane, or whether it was Xiaoshan Airport's UFO, I don't have a clear answer," Ma told the Xinhua news agency.
The photos taken by Hangzhou residents may be unrelated to the UFO that shut down Xiaoshan Airport. According to Hangzhou meteorological authorities, residents in the afternoon probably saw light reflecting off of an airplane. As for Ma's nighttime photo, Beijing Planetarium curator Zhu Jing told Xinhua that the object looks just like a plane shining its strobe lamps.
For now, the UFO's identity remains shrouded in mystery. A spokesman from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) confirmed to ABC News that the matter is under investigation. He declined to disclose further details. A day after the sighting, however, an anonymous source told China Daily that authorities already discovered the identity of the UFO after an investigation but could not publically disclose the information because "there was a military connection." An official explanation is expected to be released on Friday, the source said.
Today, five researchers from the Beijing UFO Research Society and the Shanghai UFO Investigative Research Center traveled to Hangzhou to study the phenomenon.
"We have several places to visit on our agenda, including the Xiaoshan Airport and the CAAC East China Regional Administration," the director of the Shanghai UFO Investigative Research Center, Lou Jinhong, told ABC News. "I cannot offer an opinion on this case, because we have not yet collected all the relevant documents and data. It's not clear how long the investigation will take."
The Hangzhou incident comes after a string of recent UFO sightings in China. On June 30, residents in Xinjiang province saw a flying object bathed in a fan of white light. Sightings have also been reported in Hunan, Shandong and Jiangsu provinces.