An earlier version of this article was originally published in Fate Magazine www.fatemag.com, and is reprinted here with their consent.
When UFOs are seen over the oceans—sometimes diving into or emerging from the waters—they are labeled USO: Unidentified Sea (or Submarine) Object. Our planet’s oceans and large seas offer unique advantages over land-based sightings. Sailors and navigators are probably among the best qualified sky observers, as they have so much time to indulge in it. Orienting oneself through the stars was indeed a crucial element in starting navigation itself!
A good example comes from a remarkable navigator, the late Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl, who crossed the oceans in primitive vessels—the Kon-Tiki, Ra and Tigris—to show a reluctant academic community that ancient mankind could have undertaken these voyages. After his successful trek across the Pacific, Heyerdahl tried crossing the Atlantic in 1969 from Africa to the Caribbean in a reed boat called Ra, after the Egyptian deity. Ra I sank, but a second attempt in the Ra II succeeded in 1970. It was toward the closing days of this journey, on June 29, when Heyerdahl and his international crew had their observation, duly noted in his book The Ra Expeditions:
“It was like the Day of Judgment. Over the horizon to starboard, in the northwest, rose a pale, round disc, which never completely left the water, but grew and grew like a phantom aluminum-colored moon rising half-hidden by the rim of sea. Like a compact nebula, brighter than the Milky Way and symmetrically round, it grew in size, a stemless mushroom, and seemed to be rushing straight toward us as it spread farther and farther across the sky. The moon was up on the opposite side, in a starry, cloudless sky.” Several possible explanations to the phenomenon flashed through Heyerdahl’s mind, “but the feeling that a scintillating shower of foreign bodies was descending on us from the cosmos persisted, until the disc of light was covering about thirty degrees of sky. Then it suddenly stopped growing, dissolved almost imperceptibly and disappeared. We were left without an explanation.”
This sighting has a striking similarity with the June 22, 1976 massive sighting over the Spanish Canary Islands on Africa’s Atlantic coast, which was one of the “case histories” selected for the Laurance Rockefeller-sponsored UFO Briefing Document – The Best Available Evidence, coauthored by this writer. That, too, was described as a luminous circle expanding in the night sky, seen by countless witnesses both on land and in ships from the Spanish Navy. You can now download the whole UFO Briefing Document here and look for the chapter titled, “1976: Multiple Witness Case In The Canary Islands.” Be that as it may, there are some highly interesting USO cases scattered among countries with sizeable coastlines. Yet USO cases are usually harder to come by than land-based testimonies. For starters, there are far less people regularly in the oceans than on land. Secondly, perhaps a third or so of the vessels belong to various national navies, which are subjected to military restrictions. UFOs have been traditionally tackled by the air forces and not the navies. There are a few exceptions, such as an official Argentine Navy UFO Commission in the 1960s, but this was because many sightings were occurring over naval bases in the southern Patagonian coast, and also at meteorological stations in Antarctica. (You can read all about these cases and the Navy Commission at previous articles posted on this site here and here.
IMPRESSIVE DISCLOSURE BY CHILEAN NAVY CHIEF
In 2001, there were brief accounts on several ufological web pages that Admiral (Ret.) Jorge Martínez Busch, a former Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Navy, stated that “UFOs are real” in an interview with Rodrigo Ugarte, a TV news reporter with Channel 13, a large network owned by the Catholic University of Chile. (I met Ugarte a few years ago in New York, when he interviewed me for a special on Roswell he was then working on.) I eventually obtained a copy of the full program from my Chilean colleague Rodrigo Fuenzalida.
Admiral Martínez was born in 1936, the son of an army general, graduating from the Naval Academy in 1957. He served as commanding officer in a number of naval ships and taught in many facilities, including Logistics and National Security at the Naval War Academy. He became Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Navy in 1990, the crucial year of the peaceful transition to civilian democracy in Chile, serving in that capacity until 1997, when he became a designated senator until 2006.
Besides managing the navy, Adm. Martínez became known for his numerous academic contributions, lecturing at several Chilean universities and international conferences. His main contribution was the development of the field of “Oceanpolitics,” which his official biography posted in Chile’s Navy website describes as “occupying the oceanic space as the true space for growth and development of the state, followed by the next step of developing a maritime consciousness.” He expanded this concept in 1993 with the publication of his book, Oceanpolitics: an alternative for development, where he advocated changing the traditional concept of geopolitics with that of oceanpolitics.
With this brief biographical sketch of the man, let’s now take a look at the admiral’s statements on the record given to Channel 13. “There have been submarine contacts impossible to identify, with the characteristics of a submarine, metallic sound, rapid displacement, there are inexplicable things that require a more profound study,” stated Adm. Martínez on camera. The reasons for his open-minded attitude were undoubtedly rooted in two first-hand sightings he experienced earlier on in his career as a young naval officer.
The first case occurred in the summer of 1965, when then Lieutenant Martínez was navigating in a patrol vessel on the southern channels near Puerto Williams. At approximately 22:00 hours, his watchman reported that a strange object was passing over them. “Very luminous, very transparent up in the sky, at a very high speed, an unexplainable situation,” said the retired Navy Chief, adding that, “unfortunately, we didn’t have the radar on, so we concluded that it was a visual observation.”
The second case occurred on May 22, 1970, off the coast of Chañaral in northern Chile, at approximately 04:00 hours. Captain Martínez Busch was then in command of the destroyer Lord Cochrane (named after the British founder of the Chilean Navy, who fought in its war of independence 200 years ago). This time the situation was far more alarming than in the previous case. Adm. Martínez described it in detail:
“We had a situation in which we were exposed to three elements: first, an electronic contact that appeared on the [radar] screen; in the second place, it had a velocity; on the third place, it had a direction. As a consequence of this information on the bridge—by searching over—the watchmen identified a white luminous object, that was effectively passing over [the ship]. This lasted approximately—I remembered timing it—about 30 seconds. We reported the contact [to Navy superiors] and we didn’t give it too much importance, except when in jest one says, well, that’s an unidentified flying object, so therefore not a single comment.”
The last line is quite revealing. Adm. Martínez was breaking off here the “no comment” rule, but probably the great of majority of naval officers never do, and these incidents cannot therefore be catalogued and studied. Nevertheless, Ugarte located another witness, retired chief petty officer Guillermo Jiménez, who served 32 years in the Navy, 14 as helmsman. Jimenez disclosed a third case, which took place in the spring of 1967 at the Golfo de Penas (also on Chile’s southern waters). It was 21:30 hours onboard the destroyer Williams. The sea was calm and everything seemed normal. Helmsman Jiménez tells what happened next:
“On a precise moment, the instrument which guided me, the gyro-compass, was blanked, it started turning in mad fashion; the same problem happened immediately with the radar detector and even the radar screen was blanked. Then they alerted immediately the chief below, the main [equipment] on the interior cabin, and they had the same problem.” Jiménez added that a cargo plane also reported instrumental failure on that same night. Fifteen days earlier, the cargo ship Aguila (Eagle) suffered a similar phenomenon while crossing that coastal area. “No, I don’t understand,” recapped Jiménez, “I can’t still figure out the picture, because the instruments are not supposed to fail; it’s possible that one can fail but not all.”
Our friend and colleague Rodrigo Fuenzalida—probably Chile’s highest profile ufologist—was also interviewed briefly on the UC-13 TV news program. Rodrigo has collected several interesting USO cases from naval personnel, both active and retired, but unfortunately the identities of these witnesses are off the record for the moment. I have many other USO cases in my files reported throughout Chile’s long coast. In a statistical study of “300 UFO Observations in Chile” that I presented at the MUFON International UFO Symposium in Washington, DC in 1987, 4% (12 cases) were reported from vessels in the Pacific Ocean; many more by land-based witnesses on the coastal areas. I will post some of these cases in future articles, but for now let’s move on north to the neighboring waters of Peru.
NAVAL & FISHING USOS IN PERU
As we move northward along the Pacific into the coasts of Peru, we enter waters rich in fishing resources. USO cases can be found here both among fishermen and Peruvian Navy ships. Well known Spanish author J.-J. Benítez reported an interesting USO incident off the coast of Lambayeque in northern Peru on May 2, 1969, in one of his earlier books about Peruvian UFO contactees, OVNIs: S.O.S. a la Humanidad (UFOs: SOS to Humanity). The case of the fishing vessel Roncal from the company “Norpesca S. A.” is—to put it bluntly—a down-to-water case, since it involved five sonar readings showing two unknown objects at the bottom of the sea. Benítez was shown, and reproduced, some of the printed sheets with the sonar readings by the fishing engineer who made them, Mr. Belevan.
Belevan told Benítez that the sonar readings were “an irrefutable proof of the existence of UFOs, and these sonar readings were obtained in 1969… those of us in the fishing community had discussed many times about these ‘unidentified submarine objects.’ And we always reached the conclusion that, in effect, they were spacecraft or flying saucers. Many of us—and let’s not even mention the owners and crewmen in the fishing boats—have even seen them entering and leaving the waters.”
At least one extraordinary USO incident involving the Peruvian Navy has been divulged. It occurred in September 1967 during the joint American-Peruvian Naval maneuvers called UNITAS. These maneuvers are undertaken every year by the U.S. Navy with the fleets of several South American countries as part of an Inter-American defense pact. In his 1991 book, OVNIS peregrinos del silencio (UFOs pilgrims of silence), Argentinean author and architect Roberto Banchs, one of the continent’s most respected ufologists, makes a reference to this case. “The Lima morning daily La Crónica affirmed on its edition of September 17, 1967,” wrote Banchs, “that three UFOs ‘spied on the anti-submarine maneuvers of the VIII UNITAS Operation,’ jointly undertaken by the navies of Peru and the United States. The objects were observed by officers and sailors of the ship Rodríguez from the Peruvian Navy, once this vessel had finished its provisioning operation with the oil tanker Sechura. Years later, during the same maneuvers with the Argentinean Navy, the presence of unusual aerial phenomena was reported once again.”
Many years ago I located a first-hand witness to this incident, Peruvian journalist Manuel Alcántara, who was then working for the Lima newspaper El Correo and was later editor in chief of the New York Hispanic daily, Noticias del Mundo. (In the 1980s and early ‘90s, I published a weekly science column, often devoted to UFOs, in this newspaper.) Alcántara explained in an interview that he participated in the 1967 UNITAS maneuvers as part of the press corps. “Usually—he said—the navy in my country invites journalists to go onboard either in Peruvian ships or in vessels from the U.S. Navy for the UNITAS military maneuvers, which go down to Chile. So, we had gone to Chile and during the return we had passed Lima and we were around Ancón more or less, when there was a nocturnal shooting practice. Then, they threw a flare and all the ships began to shoot, until an object appeared right in there, positioning itself right in the center of the shooting range. We were observing the shooting practice and everybody was asking, what is going on, what is that, when orders were given to suspend the fire. I was not the only one to see it, it was seen by other journalists… We all saw it, there would have been some three thousand people. The night was pitch black so any light could be easily seen, and we could see the silhouette perfectly. It was then that orders to stop firing were given to see what was happening. I estimate that it was there for a couple of minutes.”
I asked Alcántara whether the UFO looked like a solid object as opposed to just a nocturnal light and he answered, “yes, yes, a solid object, besides a beam of light that it was emitting, you could also see like little windows. These could be seen better when it made a movement, a strange maneuver, identical to when a sheet of paper is falling or a tree leaf,” which is a well known description of countless UFO sightings. “Then—continued Alcántara—it made like a double fall and stopped again. We were there observing it for a few seconds, maybe a minute, and then it left towards the horizon. During the fall we could see better its shape, that is, the light of the windows. It was a very graceful thing, so I have seen it [UFOs], I can’t deny that they exist.”
Most of the USO cases presented occurred in the 60s, so an update is called for, even if we have to get out of the water into land and air. In December of 2001, the Peruvian Air Force established an official group to study UFOs, called Office of Investigation of Aerial Anomalous Phenomena (OIFAA in Spanish), headed by Commander José Luis Chamorro. I met Cdr. Chamorro at the FIDAEE 2000 UFO Workshop, sponsored by the Chilean Air Force during a large aeronautical expo in Santiago in 2000. Peru thus joined other South American countries like Brazil, Chile and Uruguay with ongoing, official UFO probes. OIFAA was launched with a public lecture in Lima, where Cdr. Chamorro explained the rationale for the bureau, as quoted in the Spanish magazine Año Cero: “The key issue is security: if a craft that is not Peruvian enters without authorization in our airspace, it must be recognized or even intercepted immediately, whether it’s Ecuadorian, Russian or Martian.”