This is the second part of the article “Argentina’s Military UFO Dossier,” published originally in the Japanese magazine Borderline in 1997, with a few adjustments and an update at the end.
1960’s: PATAGONIAN USOS
When UFOs are reported entering and leaving bodies of water, whether the oceans, seas, large rivers or lakes, they are designated USOs for Unidentified Sea (or Submarine) Objects. In the 1960’s, the Argentinean Navy seemed to have its hands full with mysterious USO activity around the southern Patagonian coast. Official USO reports were rarely released by the Navy, but some cases were nevertheless tracked by two pioneer civilian ufologists. Both had excellent qualifications: Dr. Oscar A. Galindez was a judge and Oscar A. Uriondo worked in the Library of Congress in Buenos Aires. The two “Oscars” were the first to conduct a systematic scientific field investigation in the open, publishing their reports in books and articles. We can outline the following USO cases in Patagonia:
- Feb. 1960: The Navy detected two USOs in Golfo [Gulf] Nuevo and tried to catch them for two weeks. US Navy experts came to help with special sub-hunting equipment, but to no avail. Tons of explosives were used but the USOs got away, still unidentified. The late Ivan Sanderson, a British author specialized in USOs, wrote that the Golfo Nuevo subs “were able to stay submerged for several days and could outrun the surface ships… All nations owning submarines denied emphatically that the subs were theirs.”
- Nov. 12, 1963: Oscar Uriondo in his classic 1968 book, The Scientific Problem of UFOs, summarized another intriguing case from Golfo Nuevo: “The Navy transport ship ‘Punta Medanos’ was navigating on the South Atlantic facing Golfo Nuevo. Suddenly, a large UFO crossed rapidly at 2 km from the ship; although the passage was very quick, the needles on the compasses onboard jumped off course abruptly and continued to do so for 55 minutes.” The Navy Commission was unable to explain the case, and recruited the assistance of the Hydrographic Service to check the electromagnetic effect (EME) on the compasses. In the end, they could find no conventional explanation for the EME other than “the presence of the UFO.”
- July 28, 1964: Several USO cases are mentioned by Dr. Galindez in a 1974 article entitled, “Marine Implications of the UFO Phenomenon.” The judge revealed another USO case in the Patagonian Golfo San Jorge, involving two Argentinean oil tankers and the Norwegian vessel ‘Sumber.’ All these ships observed after 9 PM the apparent fall of an object, perhaps “an aerolite or small comet.” However, it was flying “horizontally” and “emitted a luminosity that, at times, became intense,” according to the official report submitted by the ‘Sumber’ skipper to Argentinean naval authorities. The ships looked for possible survivors, but nothing was found. This case has certain similarities to the famous Canadian 1967 UFO crash in Shag Harbour, Nova Scotia.
- March 18, 1966: The crash of a cigar-shaped object on the ocean was reported and sketched by farmer Carlos Corosan from a deserted beach near Deseado, south of Golfo San Jorge. Corosan had a good view of the object at 4 PM, estimating it was 65 to 70 feet long, with a metallic appearance and no wings, windows or markings. The UFO seemed to be in trouble, emitting “a short, muffled blast of smoke,” and then began to hum and “vibrate all over as though it were coming apart,” said Corosan. The farmer added the object finally hit the sea, but “it did not float at all, it just hit the water with a huge splash and went down quickly.” As far as we know, Corosan was the only witness, although Navy ships were reportedly seen in the area later on. The military neither confirmed nor denied his account.
1965: ANTARCTICA WAVE
One of the best documented Navy cases occurred at Deception Island, which belongs to the South Shetland Islands west of the Antarctic Peninsula in the Argentinean sector. Three nations (Argentina, Chile and Britain) maintained research stations in 1965 in this island of volcanic origin, formed by the remains of a crater flooded by the sea [see Map]. A detailed report of these sightings was prepared by Captain Daniel A. Perissé, who was in 1965 commanding officer of the Argentinean Navy garrison in Deception Island with the rank of Lieutenant. A total of seven UFO sightings occurred there between June 7 and July 3, 1965. An eighth incident followed in August at the Argentinean post at the South Orkney Islands.
On July 7, the Argentinean Navy Bulletin #172 stated that, “Lt. Perissé confirmed… that all the garrison personnel observed an extremely brilliant object, moving toward the north with variable speed, sometimes hovering, displaying sudden accelerations and changes of direction. The characteristics of the object and its motion, added Lt. Perisse, were such that the possibility of a weather balloon, a plane or a star were ruled out. The object was observed by a total of 17 persons, including three visiting Non-commissioned officers from the Chilean base ‘Pedro Aguirre Cerda’.”
The Chilean Air Force, in charge of the Antarctic bases ‘Aguirre Cerda’ and ‘Arturo Prat,’ confirmed their own UFO sightings in Deception Island with an official communiqué released the same day. “According to a message sent by Commander Mario Jahn Barrera from the Antarctic Chilean base ‘Arturo Prat,’ a luminous object was sighted for about 20 minutes by nine members of the garrison who were performing routine meteorological observations. It changed colors, speeds and direction, moving with an oscillatory motion at high speed.”
Capt. Perissé published later a thorough analysis of the sightings and particularly the more spectacular one on July 3. First seen by nine witnesses at the Chilean base beginning at 7:20 PM, the object moved to the Argentinean base by 7:42, where it was seen by 17 witnesses for 62 minutes, until 8:44 PM. Perissé wrote that “the shape of the object was similar to a rugby ball… with a red center and ill defined edges of changing colors (yellow, green, orange, blue and white)… The actual size of the UFO was somewhere between 75 and 90 meters.” There is still one more mystery concerning the July 3 event. The Navy Bulletin #172 quoted above added that, “from the Navy post at the South Orkney Islands comes a message of extreme importance: during the passage of the strange object over the base [earlier the same day], two magnetometers in perfect working condition registered sudden and strong disturbances of the magnetic field (at 17:03 Hrs.), which were recorded on their tapes.”
The public interest generated by these cases led the Navy to rescue the “problem from semi-clandestiness,” as put by the Director of the Navy UFO project, Capt. Pagani. In a famous 1965 press conference quoted in Part I, Pagani declared that “UFOs exist” and “their presence and intelligent displacement in Argentinean airspace has been proven.” There were no known photos taken during the July and August 1965 UFO flap in Deception Island, but in late 1967 the well known Argentinean weekly magazine Siete Días (Seven Days) published a very interesting UFO photo reportedly taken by a navy officer in the island during an underwater volcanic eruption on December 11, 1967 (see photo). Its authenticity, however, remains in question because the photographer’s name was never disclosed or identified.
The Deception Island UFO flap was also covered in some detail by the U.S. military attachés stationed in Buenos Aires and Santiago, Chile, who digested and translated the local press coverage and the reports published in the Argentinean Navy Bulletin. These documents, released by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) years ago under the Freedom of Information Act, can be downloaded here.
Interestingly, the Deception Island incidents launched Capt. Perissé’s ufological career: first under the Navy Commission and, after his retirement from the service in 1984, as a civilian ufologist with the groups CEFAI and CIU, and in the 1990s with a semi-official study group within the Institute of Scientific and Technological Research of the Armed Forces (CITEFA in Spanish). Perissé presented a scientific paper full of charts and mathematical formulas entitled, “Correlation Between the UFO Phenomenon and Its Associated Entities,” at the MUFON International UFO Symposium at the American University in Washington, DC in July 1987, where I had the opportunity of meeting him.
THE AAF TAKES OVER
As the Navy UFO project was winding down and finally closed in 1974, the Argentinean Air Force (AAF) investigation was taking shape. The first public hint was provided by Brigadier Adolfo Alvarez, Commander in Chief of the AAF, in a radio interview in July 1968. The transcript was published in the influential Buenos Aires newspaper La Razón. When asked about flying saucers, Gen. Alvarez responded that “the Air Force has a specialized agency that has conducted investigations about this field for some time.” He cautioned, however, that he was not yet able to give a definitive opinion about the subject since “there are no sufficiently concrete facts.” Also in 1968, the military president of Argentina, General Juan Carlos Onganía, declared that, “I believe that flying saucers exist.”
With the exception of the early reports published by the National Review of Aeronautics, the AAF UFO policy was never as open as that of the Navy. It eventually transpired that the man in charge of UFO investigations was Captain Augusto Lima, who worked at the AAF’s National Commission for Space Research (Spanish acronym of CNIE), Argentina’s main space agency. Unfortunately, the CNIE investigations were kept confidential and no reports were leaked to the press or to civilian ufologists. Moreover, according to journalist Alejandro Agostinelli, “Capt. Lima attempts to project a dispassionate image, but in private conversations he confesses that the totality of UFO sightings can be reduced to conventional explanations. Lima keeps busy receiving and particularly filing UFO data from the different military services. He conducts eventually an official investigation of cases which, in his view, have received too much publicity. He then proceeds to explain them away… Most investigators agree that Capt. Lima continues to hold a ‘chair’ in that Department for purely bureaucratic reasons.”
Nevertheless, a few interesting cases did leak to the press. During a flap in 1971, for instance, AAF pilot Francisco Sartorio filmed an unidentified object with a 16 mm movie camera while flying in Mar de Plata [see picture]. As far as we know, neither the full film nor the official report and analysis have been released. There are also reports that the CNIE obtained some metallic debris which reportedly came down from space. In early January 1979, news about small metallic pieces recovered in the rural area of General Ocampo in Entre Rios province, surfaced briefly. The discovery was tied to a multi-colored UFO observed by hundreds of witnesses in the region on the night of December 21, 1978. On the following days, peasant Miguel Angel Romero went to work in the rice fields as he usually did, when he came across a piece of semi-hollowed bluish metal with a diameter of about 15 cm and a thickness of 2 mm. Another similar piece made its way during the same period to the newspaper El Heraldo in Concordia. Both were eventually requested by the CNIE for laboratory analysis.
When contacted by the weekly magazine Siete Días, AAF officers indicated that the piece, popularly referred to as “a door handle,” was made out of a very strong alloy resistant to the friction produced by contact with the atmosphere. They added that the piece was not part of a plane or a weather balloon, although they did not say what it was. More sensational was the crash of another alleged UFO on the evening of October 3, 1980 in a remote Andean area in the province of Río Negro, close to the Chilean border. The UFO had been sighted in the provinces of Río Negro and Neuquén, as well as in Chile, and there were several accounts of a loud explosion which shook the earth.
Despite the efforts of a group of Buenos Aires ufologists to reach the site in the high Andes, it was the Border Police and Capt. Lima who eventually located the crash site from a helicopter. They retrieved ash-like samples from what appeared to be three charred circular marks on the ground, but no further information on the contents of the samples was published. To this day, no final report on these or other cases investigated by the CNIE were ever released. By the mid-1980’s, however, the CNIE UFO project had practically faded away. The military lost political power after their defeat in the Falklands War with Britain in 1983 and were now facing budgetary cuts and renewed scrutiny from the new civilian democratic government. UFOs were no longer a priority. The CNIE project was finally closed officially with Capt. Lima’s retirement in 1987.
This attitude became evident in the case of airline pilot Capt. Jorge Polanco, who reported a close observation of a UFO while his Aerolinas Argentinas flight 734 from Buenos Aires was approaching Bariloche airport around midnight on July 31, 1995. The sighting coincided with a power blackout in the city (not uncommon in South America). Although Capt. Polanco was very outspoken to the media afterwards, stating that he thought it was an “extraterrestrial spaceship,” both AAF and the Civil Aviation authorities declined to make any public statements, giving the impression that they were not at all interested in the incident.
UPDATE: THE CITEFA EFFORT
This total lack of official interest, however, was not entirely true. In the 1990s, a group of retired military officers and some scientists associated with the Institute of Scientific and Technological Research of the Armed Forces (Spanish acronym of CITEFA) attempted to revive an official military UFO project, tentatively named Commission for the Study of Space Phenomena (Spanish acronym CEFE) or National Investigations Commission for Anomalous Phenomena (Spanish acronym CNIFA). Although the group avoided any publicity and media attention whatsoever, veteran Buenos Aires journalist and ufologist Alejandro Agostinelli was eventually able to track them down. The group’s leader was Commodore (Ret.) Juan Carlos Mascietti, who served as chief of planning for the General Staff during the democratic government of President Alfonsín in the 1980s and secretary general of CITEFA. Other key members were Capt. Perissé and speleologist Julio Goyén Aguado, president of the Argentinean Center of Speleology, who had close links with the military. After being dodged by Agostinelli for months, Commodore Mascietti finally agreed to do a very short interview for the science magazine Descubrir (Discover).
“We are acting prudently because we are not interested in getting involved in any noise,” said Mascietti. “Moreover, we need to protect the privacy of scientists who are not interested in seeing their names in the headlines. Also, due to the characteristics of this type of work, we don’t want to contaminate or being contaminated.” When asked by Agostinelli if the CITEFA group had official backing, Mascietti responded that, “not yet, the group is formed by military and scientific personnel linked to official circles, but the support it receives is informal. We are hoping that the Ministry of Defense will officialize our activities, that’s all.”
Agostinelli then asked him for his opinion on UFOs and Mascietti’s response was very cautious: “Our compromise is not to reveal personal opinions. One shared criteria is that we must be skeptical. Another is that there are certain phenomena that must be explained. We are not interested in games: more than ufologists, we are scientists who are searching for the truth.” Despite Mascietti’s cautious statements, the CITEFA members were seen in various parts of Argentina investigating UFO cases and collecting data. They compiled eventually a 300-page report that was officially given to the Ministry of Defense in 1997. This report has never been released, but according to Agostinelli, it concluded that there are “unidentified phenomena which leave physical effects that can be proved,” even though “this does not show evidence on the nature of this phenomena, which remains without explanation.” Despite the group’s efforts, however, the Ministry of Defense never gave the go ahead for the UFO project, which faded away by the end of the decade due to several circumstances—some tragic—with its key members. Commodore Mascietti left CITEFA and moved out of Buenos Aires, Capt. Perissé became seriously ill and passed away a few years later, and Goyén Aguado died in an accident in 2000.
We contacted Alejandro Agostinelli by email recently to ask him about the CEFORA motion to request President Cristina Fernández to release official UFO documents in Argentina. His response was not optimistic: “In our country, you have to fight in government offices with lower level personnel to obtain these types of documents, not request them politely with signatures to a president that has to deal with very serious problems every single day. At best, she will smile and pass the request to an official with the recommendation of giving an evasive answer. To show interest in cooperating with a UFO request represents for a government reasonably paranoid with the press like this one, a risk of negative publicity that they don’t want to face.”
Agostinelli added that he doesn’t want to discourage the efforts made by CEFORA, especially since “my own efforts to obtain any type of documents came empty handed. But I understand that the reasons why I didn’t succeed in obtaining official documents become harder with the passing of time. The middle level civilian or military official usually doesn’t stay too long in his post; if they don’t give much importance to these papers, they can be lost; and if they are interested, they take them to their homes.” In any event, time will tell if the CEFORA motion will succeed.
Those who read Spanish, can check the CEFORA website here.
Alejandro Agostinelli’s complete report in Spanish, “The UFO Dossiers of the Argentinean Armed Forces,” can be read here.