AS THE HUGE EGG-SHAPED OBJECT ATtached itself to the roof of the speeding Ford Telstar and lifted it off the road, Faye Knowles reached out or the car to touch it. "It was like a rubber suction pad," she said. "The hood was sort, warm and spongy and I pulled my hand back in the car."

The horrified mother and her three sons, aged from 18 to 21, said their voices became slurred and abnormally slow as if they were in a time-warp. When the object dropped the car, it hit the road with such a bump that it blew out a tyre.

The Knowles family or Perth had their encounter while driving along the Eyre Highway near the West Australian-South Australian border on January 20, 1988. For months afterwards, Mrs Knowles's hand had red bloches which swelled up at the same time every night. After the incident - the 14th time in the past 30 years that people had reported being picked up by a UFO - her eldest son, Patrick, joined Australia's largest UFO group, the 250-member Victorian UFO Research Society.

Until 1985, the RAAF investigated all reports of Unusual Aerial Sightings, as it calls them, and the Victorian society is one or about eight private organization which now do the job. Squadron Leader Russ Vance or the RAAF's Directorate or Operational Support in Canberra says the private organizations were better qualified to deal with reports and were less likely to be accused of covering up. "We get feedback on their findings. They are generally well done and well researched," he says.

However, there is probably a logical explanation, admits long-time sky watcher Frank Wilks, who calls his one-man UFO operation UFO Research Projects or Australasia. "NinetyEight per cent of sightings are mistakes," Wilks says. "And I can't tell you how many times people have rung up to tell me about a bright light in the sky and I look out of my window and see Venus."

The unsolved mystery of Fredrick Valentich, a cadet pilot whose Cessna 182L disappeared over Bass Strait on October 21, 1978, was the 20th such case worldwide in the past 30 years.

Valentich reported seeing a long silvery object approaching his plane but Melbourne night service informed him there were no aircraft in the area. He reported that the object was directly over him and his engine starting rough-idling through some electromagnetic effect. A sound that could not be identified as either mechanical or electronic was then heard before transmission was interrupted. No body or wreckage was found.

More recently, a host of people, particularly in the US, has claimed to have been aboard spaceships and returned to tell the tale. "I used to think these stories were rubbish," Frank Wilks says, "but lately there have been some convincing stories.

"All we need now is one tangible piece of evidence, a piece of metal from a ship or something. That would be just wonderful."