During the last few days there has been quite a bit of discussion in the UFO forums about the alleged hoax “confession” by the late Brazilian professional photographer, Almiro Baraúna, regarding the famous photographic sequence of a flying disc he took onboard the Brazilian Navy ship “Almirante Saldanha” on the coast of Trindade Island in January 16, 1958. These UFO photos are among the best known ever in the history of ufology, not just because of their quality but also due to their background, such as the fact that were taken in a navy ship; that the object was seen by many of the crewmen; that the case was officially investigated by the Brazilian Navy; and last but not least, that the case became known when Brazil’s President, Juscelino Kubitschek, gave copies of the photos to a reporter from the Rio de Janeiro (the nation’s capital back then) newspaper Correio da Manha (Morning Courier), where they were published on the front page on February 21, 1958 (see clip). The case and photos became a cause célèbre ever since, appearing in hundreds of UFO articles, books and TV programs.
The alleged second-hand confession of Baraúna, who passed away in 2000, appeared on the highly popular prime time television program Fantástico, broadcast by the Globo TV network earlier this month. While Fantástico has produced many UFO segments in the past, most of which were positive towards the field, this particular one was quite negative, as they debunked not just the Trindade photos but many famous Brazilian UFO cases. The section on Baraúna was very short and contained very little specific information. It basically consisted on a sound byte by a friend of Baraúna, an ad agency career woman called Emília Bittencourt, who said the following: “He [Baraúna] took two cooking tablespoons, joined them and made a spaceship, using his home refrigerator as the backdrop. He photographed the object on the refrigerator door with the perfect lighting. He laughed about it.” The TV program then added that, “the collection of Baraúna is with his niece, who declined to be recorded [on camera], but confirmed the fraud.”
That is the extent of the second-hand “confession” as told by Emília Bittencourt on Fantástico. By all accounts, Baraúna was a highly skilled photographer who could have created a good quality hoaxed UFO photo, but there are a couple of problems with her statement. One is whether two spoons would look like the Saturn-shaped object in the Trindade photos, a point raised by optical physicist Dr. Bruce Maccabee, who has long studied this case. The other is the reference to “his home refrigerator as a backdrop.” Baraúna could have not used his “home refrigerator” for the simple reason that he was not home but in the Navy ship “Almirante Saldanha.” He would have had to use the ship’s kitchen refrigerator in view of the cook and a bunch of sailors and this is extremely unlikely. Instead, there is a probable explanation for this alleged “confession” that was also mentioned by Maccabee, which is that Baraúna did indeed hoax some UFO photos that were published in the Brazilian magazine Mundo Ilustrado (Illustrated World) in 1954, and which could have led to a confusion about what the old man told his friend and his niece.
You can see the Mundo Ilustrado clip below. The translation of the title and subtitle is the following: “A FLYING SAUCER WAS IN MY HOUSE… How can you make a Martian spacecraft, or what is the truth and untruth of the saucers. Photographic tricks can be used for exploration and fun.” The text was written by Vinicius Lima and the photos were made by none other than Almiro Baraúna. In fact, in the photos you can see how a woman is joining two pieces of something (I am unable to read the caption as the text is very small). A final point about this 1954 article is worth mentioning, and that is that this was an upfront, declared trick, not a hoax in which you are pretending that the UFO photo is real.
The Brazilian skeptic Kentaro Mori pointed to another interview, this one with Baraúna himself just three years before his death, made by researcher Marco Antonio Petit in 1997. The headline posted by Mori reads, “Almiro Baraúna tells details of the trick.” However, when I saw the clip on YouTube, I couldn’t find any specific reference to Baraúna hoaxing the Trindade photos. There was some talk of him and his fellow companions of the Icarai diving club (who were also witnesses in the “Almirante Saldanha” ship) talking about a safe they had found, which they pretended to be an old French safe, and how he didn’t get along with the editor of the famous O’Cruzeiro magazine, and so on, but no “confession” of hoaxing the Trindade photos. There is a final point that I want to make that is particularly germane to anyone who lived in Latin America during the Cold War era. Pulling a high-profile hoax right under the noses of a military institution and keeping it up for a long time would have been certainly not impossible but foolish and even quite risky. The Latin American military forces back then had immense power and not the best record on human rights, to put it mildly, so that’s an additional factor to keep in mind.
For historical purposes, I want to reproduce an old document in Portuguese from Baraúna himself that I found in my files. It is a typewritten statement dated January 30, 1967 (nine years after the incident) signed by Baraúna and with a little sketch of a ship. As far as I can remember, I probably received it from the late Hungarian-American Col. Colman von Keviczky, director of ICUFON (Intercontinental UFO Network) in New York, who had corresponded with Baraúna and received good quality prints of the Trindade photos from him. My guess is that it was sort of a “form letter” done by Baraúna to respond to probably tons of letters he must have received about the case. Here is a reproduction of the original in Portuguese followed by an English translation:
English translation of the document:
HOW DID THE SIGHTING OF THE FLYING DISC OVER TRINDADE ISLAND TOOK PLACE
In January 16, 1958, the Brazilian war navy school ship “Almirante Saldanha” was docked at a cove on Trindade Island, about 800 miles from the coast of Espirito Santo. It was around 11 AM, clear weather, the crew was getting ready to return to Rio de Janeiro when suddenly a group of people located at the stern of the ship, amongst them the retired Brazilian Air Force Captain aviator Jose Viegas, alerted everyone.
Instantly, everybody that was at the deck of the ship, around 50 people, started looking at a strange aucer-shaped silvery object which moved from the sea towards the island. The object did not emit any noise, it was luminous and shifted sometimes fast, then slow, moved up and down smoothly and when speeding it left a phosphorescent white trail that fade away very quickly. In its trajectory, the object disappeared from behind the hill Pico Desejado and when everybody expected that it was going to appear on the opposite side of the hill, it reappeared at the same direction, stopped for a few seconds and then it disappeared again in an incredible speed through the horizon.
At the first moment when the object came back I was able to shoot six pictures, two of them were lost due to the pandemonium created at the deck, the other four pictures show the object at the horizon, on a reasonable sequence, approaching the island and at the hill side (the best), and finally disappearing, moving away. I pulled out the film from my camera 20 minutes later following a request from the commander who wanted to know if the pictures were of good quality. Almost all the ship crew saw the film and they were unanimous in their reports to the Brazilian Navy Secret Service.
These were the members of the ship crew:
Chief: Amilar Vieira Filho, banker, diver and athlete
Deputy Chief: Brazilian Air Force Retired Capitain Aviator Jose Viegas
Divers: Aluizio and Mauro
Photographer: Almiro Barauna
The team above were also members of the sea hunting group of Icarai.
Between the five members, only Mauro and Aluizio didn’t see the object since they were at the ship’s kitchen and when they rushed to see what was going on the object had already disappeared.
According to rumors I heard at the deck, the ship’s electric equipment stopped working during the apparition of the object; what I can confirm is that after the ship left the island it [electrical equipment] stopped three times and the officials didn’t have a firm explanation about what was happening. Every time the ship stopped, the lights faded out slowly until they were totally off. When it happened the officers walked to the deck with their binoculars, however, the sky was already full of clouds and they were not able to see anything.
I need to say that if the reporter from a newspaper called Correio da Manha wasn’t smart enough to seize copies of the photos offered to then president Juscelino Kubitschek, maybe nobody would have known about these facts since the Navy had already “checked” me asking how much I wanted to not give any publicity to the pictures. I’d like to make it clear that all the officers with whom I had contact during the entire time of the inquiries where very nice to me, I felt completely comfortable and they didn’t impose any objection to the disclosure of the case. They only mentioned that the sensationalist nature of the case could cause panic amongst the population and this was the reason why the Brazilian Armed Forces were trying to avoid any publicity to cases of this nature.
Officers / Sailors[drawing of ship]
* * *
A final point should be made: regardless of whether the Baraúna photos were real or hoaxed—a debate that is not finished despite his so-called “confession” to Bittancourt—there was a real UFO sighting experienced by many other witnesses in the “Almirante Saldanha” Navy ship in mid-January 1958. This much is clear from the many headlines in the Brazilian press at the time. One headline in the prestigious Rio de Janeiro newspaper O Jornal do Brasil reads: “Authentic Photos: Official note quotes ‘strange object seen over Trindade’.” Another newspaper clipping (my photocopy is cut so I am not sure which Brazilian paper it is) has the following headline and subtitle: “NAVY INQUIRY CONFIRMS THE EXISTENCE OF A FLYING DISC OVER TRINDADE ISLAND – ‘Aerial object’ seen several times on different days by technicians, sailors and officers of the Navy – ‘All indicates that it was not a photographic montage’ – Conclusions of the EMA [Navy Intelligence Service] inquiry sent to deputy [Congressman] Sérgio Magalhães – History of several sightings – Similar testimonies.”
For a full treatment of the Trindade Island case you can read what I wrote about it in the UFO Briefing Document – The Best Available Evidence here.