Target Acquired: The Armed Response to UFOs
By Scott Corrales
On Wednesday, November 27, 2002, a flight of Lockheed F?16 interceptors was launched to investigate what was described by a NORAD spokesman as "a trail of condensation" moving from the Caribbean Sea toward the United Stated. This contrail apparently alerted the Air Space Command, located in Colorado Springs, that a rogue aircraft or missile may have been fired toward a target in the continental U.S. The fighters reached the indicated coordinates, but were unable to find the source of the contrail.
Only a few months earlier, in July 2002, reports of an unexplained object zooming low over suburban Washington D.C. caused yet another "scramble" ? one of hundreds since the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The military, fearing any possible aerial attack, was taking no chances against the possibility of another similar incident?this time in the nation's capital. The media did not mention that 50 years previous, almost to the day, fighters had unsuccessfully tried to reach the UFOs that sailed leisurely past the dome of the U.S. Capitol.
The experience appears to have repeated itself six months later: according to the late Ohio-based researcher Kenny Young, a D.C. area witness reported hearing two fighter jets chasing an object over that city at 10:50 a.m. on December 16, 2002. Describing the object as "bright silver and reflecting the sun" and much larger than an airplane, the witness added that it was as swift as any interceptor. The fact that she did not report seeing interceptors in pursuit led her to believe that the F-15's "had just missed it." (http://www.rense.com/general33/restrict.htm).
It is almost inevitable: in a world as thoroughly militarized as our own, with openly declared wars and high- and low-intensity conflicts raging over five continents, jet fighters--the pride and first line of defense of a country's sovereign airspace--are also the first official committee to deal with the unknown. Since the development of high-speed interceptors in WWII, aircraft of many nations have had brushes with the still-unexplained aerial phenomena known as UFOs. In some cases, the prudent response has been to shadow the intruders and photograph their movements with the interceptor's gun camera (the source of many intriguing stills and movies dealing with the phenomenon. In others, authorization to open fire has been granted, prompting a wide range of responses from the intruder. Sometimes the unknown object simply zooms out of reach, sometimes it disappears. Upon occasion, the "uncorrelated target" shoots back with devastating results.
The history of encounters between the U.S. military and unidentified objects forms a major component of ufological study, yet the brave men and women of the USAF are hardly alone in their efforts, as their counterparts in other countries have also been called upon to square off against the unknown: UFO researcher Kevin Randle mentions a 1972 article written by Jean Thoraval, a correspondent for two major U.S. newspapers, regarding the luminous orange sphere seen over Hanoi during the Vietnam War. Citing the correspondent's article, Randle states that North Vietnamese SAMs (surface-to-air missiles) were launched against the intruder. Thoraval claims having seen how the projectiles "flamed out" short of their mysterious target, a sign that the orange sphere was at a very high altitude but large enough to be clearly seen from the surface. In 1960, the French Air Force scrambled Mystere fighters in 1960 to intercept two disk-shaped objects that appeared over Paris. The pursuit lasted less than a half hour, and the unknown craft darted out away from the jets, vanishing into the horizon.
Mexico Reacts to the UFO Issue
In October 1995, in the initial rush of excitement over the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a U.S. military delegation visited Mexico City for a low-key but highly important opportunity: changing the Mexican military's perception of the U.S. from that of an aggressor to more of a partner. William Perry, Secretary of Defense under the Clinton Administration, and General Barry McCaffrey, met with their Mexican counterparts and proposed "bringing together the mechanisms for a joint struggle...and a better exchange of both equipment and armaments."
Secretary Perry took advantage of a ceremony at a Mexican military base to state that one of the crucial components of this new joint struggle--ostensibly in the war against drugs--included improved air defenses, something that had never been stressed before. Like most Latin American air forces, Mexico had relied heavily on T-33 fighters (used for training purposes by the USAF) and some newer purchases from Europe. Might it be too bold to suppose that the Pentagon's request that our southern neighbor "beef up" its air defenses have something to do with the UFO activity experienced earlier in the decade?
Given its long history of animosity toward the U.S. military (a result of the wars of 1845-47 and the early 20th century incursions into Northern Mexico by Gen. Sam Pershing, not to mention the siege of Veracruz), the Mexican military establishment had never been worked intimately with the Pentagon.
Mexico's history of encounters between unidentified flying objects and aircraft begins only a few years after Kenneth Arnold's historic 1947 sighting over Mount Rainier: on March 3, 1950, a Mexican aviation official engaged in a routine tour of inspection of the airports in the northern regions of the country when he saw a curious yellowish disk suspended at an estimated altitude of 15,000 feet over the city of Chihuahua's airport. A press report indicated that two airplanes--whether military or civilian--tried to intercept the object but were unable to reach it.
By mid-March, the saucers were over Mexico City itself. On the 14th, many hundreds of witnesses reported seeing four flying saucers over Mexico's international airport, creating a sensation across the city. Activity reached its peak on March 21, when the El Nacional newspaper reported that an unidentified object was seen so clearly over Mexico City that movie camera operators were allegedly able to capture it on film. Sensational claims continued to emerge, such as the supposed collision of a saucer in the Sierra de Moronesa mountains of Zacatecas--an impact that caused the earth to shake.
In 1957, the Mexican newspaper El Universal Gráfico published a comprehensive account on the alleged landing of a disk-shaped object in the community farms of San Juan de Aragón, an event witnessed by farmer Gilberto Espinoza. Although the incident had taken place in November of the preceding year, the newspaper ran its story in January 1958. An early UFO pursuit occurred on December 12, 1957, when a Douglas DC-3 belonging to Aerolíneas Mexicanas was intercepted by a "speeding saucer" over San Luis Potosí. Passengers aboard the aircraft were apparently petrified with fright as the pilot, Capt. Gilberto Alba, cooly put the DC-3 through a series of evasive maneuvers.
In August 1997, while ufologists worldwide were distracted by the hoaxed UFO over the Mexican neighborhood of Polanco, Mexico's prestigious El Financiero concerned itself with another matter: the possibility that unidentified flying objects had collided somewhere in the Chiapas 7th Military Region, the region which had attained global prominence due to the struggles of the Tzetzil natives and the Zapatista movement. UFOs had been reported over small populations in the vast rural state, but workers at Red Cross infirmary in the village of Cintalapa had managed to see a large round object giving off tongues of fire which disappeared behind the Sierra Madre. Some believed that the object fell into the el Sumidero Canyon while others said it had fallen into the Pacific Ocean. The Mexican armed forces initiated a thorough search of the region.
Mexican author and ufologist Carlos Alberto Guzmán Rojas has collected a wealth of encounters between aviators and UFOs in his book Los OVNIS y la Aviación Mexicana (Mexico:TM, 2001). While focusing mainly on civilian airliner encounters, Guzmán also includes some notable military encounters, some of them dating back to the early 1960s, when a Douglas C-54 belonging to the FAM (acronym for Fuerza Aérea Mexicana, the Mexican air force) had a mid-air UFO encounter during a cross-border flight to Texas on a mission to secure matériel: a silver saucer flew alongside the cargo plane over the Gulf of Mexico, less than two thousand feet off the starboard wing. The intruder finally peeled off when the C-54 was about to land at a U.S. base. The crew was so unnerved by the experience, and so fearful of reprisals if the matter was broached either at the U.S. base or back in Mexico, that it was years before anyone discussed the encounter openly.
In November 1978, a spectacular UFO incident occurred over Mexico City: thousands looked on as subsonic T-33's launched from the Santa Lucía AFB, home of the 202nd Fighter Wing, the one nearest to the Aztec capital, tried to catch up with a disk-shaped, multi-hued and windowed craft at around 7:45 p.m.. Nine Lockheed T-33 did their level best to intercept the intruder, which seemed to remain at a safe distance from the fighters' twenty-millimeter guns. Two years later, a squadron of Rockwell Turbocommanders participating in the Independence Day celebrations on September 16, 1980 were stalked by a black discoidal UFO which remained hidden in the cloud banks over Mexico City. According to Carlos Guzmán, photos of the concealed intruder were taken by Alejandro Guízar and his friends from the rooftop of their house as they observed the aerial maneuvers.
Although no clear-cut connection can be made, the protracted Mexican UFO wave of the mid-1970s may have caused the government to see the need to upgrade its hardware. In 1982, the FAM ordered the creation of the Escuadrón Aéreo 401 (401st Fighter Wing), charging it with safeguarding the integrity of the nation's airspace. Delivery of the first of several Northrop F-5 E/F jet fighters took place on the very same year as Mexico went on a buying spree: Antonov heavy cargo planes, Israeli-built Arava aircraft and Swiss Pilatus C-7 trainers. While these military expenditures could be seen as a result of the country's oil boom in the late '70s and early '80s, it is still interesting that a country with no clear-cut adversaries should behave thus. None of Mexico's neighbors to the south (Guatemala and Belize) have long-range air power; to the north it faces the air supremacy of the United States and to the east, Cuba's Soviet-era MIGs. But if the hypothesis presented in this article has any truth to it, the Mexican government has not succeeded in inspiring confidence among people who work in aviation.
Carlos Guzmán and Alfonzo Salazar interviewed Enrique Kolbeck, a senior air traffic controller at Mexico City's Benito Juarez airport. When asked his opinion on the FAM's record of UFO interception, Kolbeck was skeptical. "Without being pejorative, our air force is not developed, it isn't the type of air force able to make interceptions, as do other air forces. The priorities of the persons in charge do not extend to UFOs, I think. Perhaps there is an arrangement between governments so that every time a strange object falls in our Mexico, another country can take it away to engage in research on it."
Events such as the one which occurred on March 23, 1999 clearly indicate why any country would want to avail itself of some means of "credible response" to unknown forces. Between 6:15 and 6:30 that evening, an elongated flying object measuring an astounding 2 kilometers in length and shaped like an office building was reported to the Benito Juarez airport tower. Enshrouded in clouds, the flying behemoth remained over the Texcoco Dry Lake and was clearly seen by nearly two dozen airport mechanics who were waiting to service a flight arriving from Acapulco.
This story, which appeared in Mexico's La Prensa newspaper, was never officially confirmed. However, air traffic controller Enrique Kolbeck made reference to a similar case which occurred some years earlier to the north of Mexico City and involving an object so large to be classified as "hair-raising" by the controller. The object matched the description of a UFO "mothership" and appeared to be surrounded by a swarm of lesser craft.
A Showdown in Spain
In October 1976, Spanish journalist Juan José Benítez's research into the subject of UFOs took a sudden and utterly unexpected turn when a general of the Ejército del Aire (the Spanish Air Force) handed him a dossier of a dozen UFO cases marked "top secret". This unexpected windfall gave Benítez a leg-up over other UFO investigators, particularly when the general -- who had demanded anonymity -- seemed to hint that his superiors in the government had given tacit approval to this handing over of information to a prominent journalist.
The twelve cases included in the dossier, which were published two years later in book form under the title OVNIS: Documentos Oficiales del Gobierno Español (UFOs: Official Documents of the Spanish Government) would have softened the most hardened skeptic and pleased the most scientifically-minded UFO researcher. Each case was thoroughly substantiated with affidavits, photographs, and 8mm movie film from witnesses. Some of them were gun-camera films taken by Spanish fighter pilots who had flown missions to intercept unidentified flying objects venturing into their country's airspace.
Benítez's one-on-one interview with General Carlos Castro Cavero constituted the lengthiest interview granted by a high-ranking officer of Spain's air force on the subject of UFO's, and never before had a general been so outspoken: "Of course they exist." Castro declared at one point "What is more, I believe that they are extraterrestrial spacecraft." He went on to explain that in his opinion, any vehicle that could not be identified as an airplane, a weather balloon, or a natural phenomenon, yet was clearly a solid object, must be, perforce, a vehicle originating from a place outside our planet's atmosphere.
Yet in his wildest dreams, the journalist could not have expected the general to admit -- for the record, anyway -- to having actually seen a UFO. Yet General Castro smiled and stated: "Yes, I have seen one [...] At a farm I own in the province of Zaragoza, at Sádaba. I witnessed a shining object there. It hung motionless in the sky and at an altitude which was hard to determine, since I was unable to determine its size...I summoned my relatives and all the farmhands, and they all saw it. I recall that all of Sádaba saw it...it lasted for over an hour."
The general answered many other questions, some of a more practical nature, such as the mechanisms that went into effect when the Spanish Air Force was alerted to a UFO sighting: first, an arbiter was appointed, more often than not a chief aviator familiar with all the different phenomena to be found in the skies at different altitudes. The arbiter contacts the witnesses, asking them direct questions in order to assess their degree of education as well as other details pertaining to the sighting, such as place, time, flight path followed by the object or objects, luminosity, and other particulars. A meteorological report for the location where the sighting occurred is added to the official record. The arbiter then interviews air traffic control operators to see if any airplanes or weather balloons were over the area.
Perhaps General Castro's willingness to express his views on UFOs constituted the preamble to the twelve cases delivered to Benítez months later.
The most outstanding among these cases included a sighting made by the officers and crew of the destroyer Atrevida, belonging to the Spanish Navy, which was stationed off the island of Fuerteventura (one of the Canary Islands, and by far the most mysterious) in June 1976. At 9:27 p.m. on the evening of June 22, a yellowish light was seen to move off Fuerteventura's shores in a direct line toward the warship. The enigmatic sphere of light halted its progress half-way toward the vessel, and gyrating beam of light issuing from the sphere became visible for a number of minutes. Spellbound by the unknown phenomenon, those on the ship noticed a halo of bluish-yellow light envelop the object, which later split into two distinct components, one of which made a spiral ascent into the night sky before disappearing. The bluish-yellow halo of light remained in place for over half an hour after the object itself had disappeared.
Rivers of ink have flown over another one of these cases, the landing of a UFO in the gunnery range of the Zaragoza Air Force Base in Bardenas Reales. A number of expurgated versions of the account had made the rounds, omitting any mention of UFOs. However, the declassified files more than compensated for the omission.
At eleven o' clock on the evening of January 2, 1975, a corporal and four soldiers on watch in one of the gunnery range's buildings suddenly became aware of a red light on the ground about a mile away from their position. At first, they believed that the light issued from a tractor, but realized upon closer inspection that such a vehicle was in the middle of the gunnery range at an ungodly hour. The guards kept a careful eye on the unexplained light source from their perch on the highest level of the installation's watchtower. Their monotonous routine was about to go down in history.
After half an hour, the red light rose gently into the sky to a height of about a hundred feet. It flew toward an auxiliary watchtower directly across from the one occupied by the alarmed soldiers. After flying a loop around the auxiliary tower, it headed straight for them, flying over their position and changing in color from red to orange before flying off into the night sky. It was then that the alarmed soldiers (most of them just conscripts fulfilling Spain's two-year compulsory military service requirement) realized that another object -- a glowing, unearthly white rather than red -- occupied the same location where the red object had been.
This was too much for the corporal, who phoned the gunnery range barracks, containing about 30 soldiers and commanded by a sergeant, who was told that the guards in the main watchtower were reporting a UFO within the base perimeter. The sergeant stepped out of the barracks carrying binoculars and followed by the other soldiers. Through his binoculars, he saw that the light was, in his own words, "as round as a beret". It gave off bright flashes against the ground before rising into the air, following the same trajectory as the red object, and vanishing.
An encore performance took place a few nights later, on January 5th: this time four white lights were seen side by side at the same spot where the original incident had transpired. A vehicle with armed soldiers was quickly dispatched across the gunnery range to challenge the four intruders, which flew off as the vehicle approached them. Nonetheless, enough "ground effects" were found to substantiate the fact that something had indeed been there. The soldiers found burning vegetation and an entirely scorched circle some thirty feet in diameter. Nonetheless, a wedge-shaped section of terrain was left completely unscathed. Official investigators inspected the damaged on the next day, determining that the burning had been caused by poachers operating in the area.
The debate over another case remains strong to this day: the "Manises Incident", an encounter between an airliner and a UFO on November 11, 1979.
A Super Caravelle bearing tourists from Barcelona to the Canary Islands was engaged at an altitude of 23,000 feet by a huge object with two powerful red lights on its front and rear. To the crew's alarm, the "thing" came within some 70 feet of the Super Caravelle's left wing. Unable to shake the unwelcome escort, the airliner radioed the Manises Control Tower in Valencia, advising the traffic controllers that it was coming in for an emergency landing. The news hit the wire services within minutes of the plane's arrival: an airliner with 109 passengers had been forced out of the sky by a UFO.
A Mirage F-1 fighter was scrambled from the Los Llanos Air Facility in Albacete to intercept not one, but three UFOs hovering over the area. At speeds of five hundred knots an hour, the F-1 pursued one of the contacts--a mysterious red light--toward the African shore before being recalled to pursue another unidentified object flying over Valencia and headed toward the city of Teruel. Unsure of what to do, the pilot radioed to his base: "Well, so what should I do? Throw him out of Spain?"
But before approval the option to removing the unwelcome visitor from his nation's airspace was given, the pilot was ordered to pursue a third contact over the Mediterranean--a luminous white disk. But the realities of a low fuel situation prompted the F-1 to return to Albacete, with the enigmatic object flying behind it until it landed at Los Llanos.
South America Faces the Unknown
Although it may come a surprise to some, in the few years following World War II, Argentina stood on the verge of becoming a world superpower.
According to Spanish aerospace expert Francisco Mañez, a number former Luftwaffe pilots--renowned air aces such as Adolf Galland and Hans Ulrich Rudel--joined the exodus of military talent from post-war Germany to Argentina. Flying wing designer Reimar Horten took his genius along with him, and so did Kurt Tank, director of Focke-Wulf Aviation. They soon found a dictator willing to employ their services: the charismatic and ambitious Juan Perón.
Perón's dream was to harness the newly disclosed secrets of the atom to air power. To achieve this, he hired exiled physicist Ronald Richter and set him up in a nuclear laboratory on the island of Huemul, located in the middle of Nahuel Huapi, the lake known to cryptozoologists for its mysterious marine monster. Richter's efforts were aimed at achieving what is now termed "cold fusion", and in 1951, Perón announced a breakthrough to the world. Under U.S. pressure, Richter was detained and his work stopped, but there were other things at work in the mysterious island of Huemul, such as an atomic engine to power the Argentinean submarine fleet and advanced aircraft such as the IA-38 flying wing, the IA-48 interceptor and the IA-36 transport -- streamlined futuristic aircraft decades ahead of their time. "The winds of silence," writes Máñez in his book Historias Aeronáuticas (Spain: Tetragrammaton, 2000) "still blow over Huemul. One can play the tourist and visit the facilities which sheltered the Axis scientists and their mysterious work, but we cannot even cast a glance at the classified papers of Richter or his collaborators--Beck, Haffke, Ehrenberg, Seelman-Eggebert, Greinel, Abele and Pinardi..."
Argentina's "brief, shining moment" as budding superpower ended with the fall of the Perón regime. The new government scrapped all of the Buck Rogerish prototypes and dutifully purchased U.S. made Sabres and DC-3s. Máñez argues that the UFO reports stemming from that part of the Andean range (the cities of Mendoza and Córdoba) are due to the fact that secret testing of these advanced aircraft is still taking place, now under the watchful eyes of the Pentagon. In 1974, a UFO reported by ground crews and controllers at the Bariloche Airport, and photographed by a witness, bears a strong resemblance to the controversial AVZ-9 Avrocar--a project terminated in 1961--but alive and well and being flown south of the U.S. border.
Whether man-made circular craft are being tested in South America is a subject for another article; the fact remains that the Argentinean military establishment, perhaps much less sophisticated than it might have been unless Juan Perón's dreams come true, has had close encounters of its own with unexplained intruders.
Journalist Alejandro Agostinelli, one of his country's most respected and controversial investigators of the UFO scene, notes that it was in 1952 that the Argentinean Navy, not its Air Force, created its first UFO inquiry agency at the Puerto Belgrano Naval Facility. Three years later, Capt. Jorge Milberg, would translate Maj. Donald Keyhoe's Flying Saucers from Outer Space. On July 3, 1960, Capt. Hugo Niotti, seconded to the Underofficer's Training Academy in Cordoba, photographed a conical object flying parallel to the ground that traveled at an estimated 200 kilometers per hour near the vicinity of Yacanto.
At 7:20 p.m. on May 22, 1962 a squadron of fighters in the vicinity of Bahía Blanca's Comandante Espora Naval Base, reported the presence of UFOs along its flight path. The interception lasted 35 minutes. Direct eyewitnesses to this incident were Lt. Rodolfo César Galdós and his student, Roberto Wilkinson. This was the first official acknowledgement of the phenomenon and would lead to the
Argentinean Navy's inception of its first Permanent Commission for the Study of the UFO Phenomenon (COPEFO, in Spanish), headed by a team composed of naval officers and journalists. Not to be outdone, the Air Force promptly created its own saucer study group.
In August 1965, the Navy's COPEFO decided to track UFOs using a combination of radar and chase planes from the Punta Indio Aeronaval Base: during one incident, a strange echo was picked up on the radar screen. A Navy interceptor was scrambled after the radar contact, but the UFO repeatedly managed to elude its pursuer. The pilot reported that the object had an "ellipsoid" configuration, having a diameter of some twelve diameter and at one point, coming within two hundred meters of his fighter.
Despite its highly auspicious start, the Navy's UFO panel ran aground in 1967, possibly due to a statement made by one of its directors supporting the existence of unidentified flying objects. A hasty retraction was issued by a spokesman, making it clear that the director's opinions did not reflect the Navy's official stance on the matter. Another contrast between the Air and Navy services became evident when the commander in chief of the Argentine Air Force, Brig. Gen. Adolfo Alvarez embraced the existence of "flying saucers" in July 1968, cryptically adding "Otherwise, I wouldn't be an aviator."
On May 29, 1978, Marcelo Pérez, then 17 years old, was a high school student lodging in the dormitories of the Puerto Belgrano Naval Facility (a military installation bedeviled by UFO and paranormal events, as is the case with certain U.S. military facilities). Shortly after ten o'clock at night, the student was enjoying the refreshingly cold air when his gaze happened to wander upward: less than twenty meters over his head he could see two bluish-white lights that darted around at considerable speed over the base. One of the lights zoomed over the base hospital and chapel before vanishing from sight.
According to author Gustavo Fernández, Argentina has never opted to declassify its UFO files in the way that Spain and the United Kingdom have chosen to, nor has there ever been what he terms "a sincere dialogue between civilian and military personnel aimed at dusting off the cases filed in some government office."
While there is no disputing this assertion, members of the military establishment of some other South American countries can be surprisingly candid about their involvement with unknown aerial craft. In December 2002, journalist Cristián Riffo of OVNIVISION managed to interview Hernán Gabrielli Rojas, a retired Chilean brigadier general, regarding a colossal UFO over the deserts of northern Chile.
General Gabrielli recalls that in 1978, while conducting a training flight involving a pair of Northrop F-5E Tiger IIs not far from Antofagasta, their radars alerted them to the presence of a mammoth intruder.
"It was noon and I was flying with captain Danilo Catalán??we were both flight instructors," Gabrielli told the journalist." Accompanying us were avionics tech Fernando Gómez and another trainee. The F?5 is radar?equipped, and a line appeared from side to side??in other words, a trace throughout the bottom side of the screen. A trace for a surface ship, a cruiser, is approximately one centimeter long, but this line went from one side [of the screen] to another. I assumed the radar scope had failed, and I said as much to Danilo Catalán, but his radar also "failed". I then advised the ground radar at Antofagasta and they also picked up the line. We were engaged with these details when we looked toward the east: we were flying from north to south in the vicinity of Mejillones, and saw a deformed cigar?shaped object. Deformed, like a plantain banana. It was swathed in smoke."
The general estimated the size of the craft as being comparable to that of a dozen aircraft carriers. "It was large and must have been some 15 to 20 miles away. It moved in the same direction as us. We had no missiles, guns or anything. As you can imagine, the fright was more or less considerable. We could see a large thing surrounded in smoke, and from which a vapor issued. All of this situation must have lasted some five minutes. We approached the UFO but it was motionless. It neither approached nor retreated??it merely sailed parallel to us. It was quite impressive, because it was truly something strange, and something could be seen in concealment behind the smoke," he recalled.
Although the F-5E's are equipped with gun cameras, the general did not say if any footage had been obtained. The UFO "mothership" eventually vanished, heading toward Easter Island. "The sky cleared and the lines on the radar vanished," he informed Riffo. "However, there had been an object physically flying there. It's not a yarn, let me tell you. It's my only experience with UFOs."
It may be General Gabrielli's only experience, but not the Chilean Air Force (FACh)'s only instance of dealing with the UFO phenomenon. A newswire from Agence France Presse in February 2001 reported that the FACh had turned over classified information regarding UFO sightings to the United States Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). This information would have included sightings in the cities of Arica, Antofagasta and Charanal in Chile's northern regions as well as other cases in the Chilean Antarctic. A stern denial by the military followed--Gen. Ricardo Bermúdez, director of the Comité de Estudios de Fenómenos Aéreos, was quoted as saying during the last International Air and Space Fair held in Santiago de Chile: "The Chilean Air Force has repeatedly stated, to the point of exhaustion, that there are no UFO files."
Uruguay, the smallest of the nations comprising the Southern Cone, puts both of its larger neighbors to shame in this regard. Not only does the country's military establishment manifest its concern over the UFO phenomenon, it has investigated hundreds of reports dating back to the 1930s. Even more surprisingly, Uruguay's CRIDOVNI (which translates as Receiving and Investigating Commission on UFO Claims) agency is a branch of the nation's air force.
The UFO research branch of the Uruguayan Air Force (FAU) can trace its beginnings to an incident which occurred on September 13, 1994, when residents of Paso de las Velas, some 150 km. from Montevideo, allegedly witnessed a UFO crashing into the ground. The event, which occurred after an electrical storm, caused witnesses to became aware of a solid rectangular object crossing the sky noiselessly. The orange rectangle suddenly plummeted to the ground, setting off an explosion which was heard for many kilometers around. Large plumes of smoke filled the air, but no traces of the object at the putative crash site.
In the light of this case, the Uruguayan Air Force decided to accept all UFO-related information and investigate each case directly. In March 2000, Col. Bernabé Gadea, CRIDOVNI's director, discussed the agency's research methods with Cesar Bianchi, a correspondent for Spain's El País newspaper. The setup is in some ways reminiscent of the early Project Blue Book: a three man operation, consisting of Gadea himself, psychologist Carlos Cantonet, and Lt. Col. Ariel Sánchez. UFO reports are dubbed "statements" and the CRIDOVNI troika is quick to state that "There are no UFO investigations taking place anywhere in the world, because we cannot investigate something we cannot identify. For this reason we research
claims??the events narrated by the eyewitnesses."
Ancillary to CRIDOVNI's core staff are meteorologists, aeronautical meteorologists, engineers, air traffic controllers, upper atmosphere physicists, psychologists and physicians. "We are Latin America's first official and public commission on the subject," Colonel Gadea informed the El País correspondent with certain pride, "and we have advised others, such as Chile's Comision de Estudios de Fenomenos Aereos Anomalos (CEFAA) in 1998." Procedure for the Uruguayan research organization is exacting: should physical evidence of an unknown object be left behind following a collision, for example, the "operations department" is responsible for reaching the point of impact and collecting evidence to be submitted to government ministries dealing with agronomy, mining and nuclear energy.
"We are one of the few countries," said psychologist Cantonet,"where the authorities issue an official reply to the phenomenon, whether we label it as "conventional" when we can explain it through our scientific evaluation methods to answer the public's questions, or "unconventional" when scientific
advances do not allow us to provide an answer."