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The FAA and LAPD release the first possible glimpse of the LAX Jetpack Man. Photo / Supplied, LAPD

One of the quirkier investigations of last year were sightings of a “jetpack man” called in by pilots on approach to Los Angeles Airport.

31 August 2020 an American Airlines pilot first reported sighting a “guy in a jetpack” at 900 metres on the left side of their plane.

There was much speculation – and disbelief – after the FBI launched an investigation of Los Angeles Airport “jetpack man”, following several more sightings in October 2020. The commercial airline pilots reported similar sightings over the course of a few months.

Amateur sleuths proposed possible theories including drones, kites, ‘UFOs’ or even a genuine man on a jet-powered joyride. However, the FBI’s final ruling may leave conspiracy theories a bit deflated.

Officials suggest the pilots may have seen helium balloons.

Images released by the Los Angeles Police Department show a Halloween decoration hovering over Beverly Hills.

The video taken by LAPD helicopter a few days after the second sighting shows the eerie effigy at 900m. On closer inspection the helium balloon was in the likeness of a character from 1993 Tim Burton Film The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Jetpack man? The FAA and FBI found the inflatable effigy had a likeness to Jack Skellington. Photo / Screenshot, OrientalTrading
Jetpack man? The FAA and FBI found the inflatable effigy had a likeness to Jack Skellington. Photo / Screenshot, OrientalTrading

Part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s report on the sighting they found that the life-sized helium balloons were readily available over Halloween, and were the most likely culprit.

On Wednesday FAA spokesperson Rick Breitenfeldt said their “working theory” was that an escaped Jack Skellington balloon was being seen by pilots.

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

Professor of aviation at Ohio State University, told the New York Times that large party balloons do not pose a threat to passenger planes. “If they get ingested into an engine they would do far less damage than a goose would,” he said.

Cluster balloon: This is not the first time Los Angeles airspace has been disrupted by inflatables. Photo / Wikimedia Commons, omnibus
Cluster balloon: This is not the first time Los Angeles airspace has been disrupted by inflatables. Photo / Wikimedia Commons, omnibus

The FBI investigation began following the third sighting, to help the FAA get to the bottom of the mystery jetpackist. In spite of being identified early as “jetpack man”, the investigation did not rate the possibility highly.

Manufacturers of portable jet engines were extremely skeptical, saying that their designs did not have enough fuel to reach such altitudes.

This isn’t the first time inflatable balloons have caused a stir over Los Angeles’ controlled airspace. In 1982, Lawrence Richard “Lawnchair” Larry Walters made a 45 minute flight in a deckchair suspended from a cluster of helium balloons. His flight grounded aircraft after drifting over the approach of Long Beach Airport, Los Angeles.