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 Case #19

Antofagasta, Chile - October 1978

The earliest source we located for this radar/visual incident is an article in the July-August 1979 issue of the British Flying Saucer Review (FSR Vol. 25, No. 4, p. iii). In essence, this item is an English translation of a Spanish account published in June 1979 (exact date unknown) by the Chilean newspaper La Tercera. Here's the translated text of this news article as it was published in FSR:

Chilean Air force Squadron Leader Capt. Danilo Catalan Farias, Flight Instructor of area F.5.E at the Cerro Moreno Base at Antofagasta, who affirmed having seen a gigantic UFO, has now added further details about the sighting he had while on a flying mission.

Capt. Catalan has been flying combat aircraft for 11 years, and has a brilliant service record. He says: "We were about to conduct a flying class, and took off normally round about 12.00 noon near the coast of Antofagasta in a south-westerly direction, and going through all the routine procedures, when ground control called to warn that a UFO had appeared on their radar. In this area there is traffic whose 'fly-over' permission usually arrives later, so we are quite used to referring to these as 'UFOs' or 'unidentified aircraft.' When we received the communication, my companion in another plane was ordered to seperate from us and head north. We calculated the object was doing a good speed, about 0.92 mach. which is near the speed of sound. As my companion to the north could not overtake the object, I, who was a bit more to the south, was ordered to pursue. I accelerated to 1.3 (above the speed of sound) at a height of 37,000 feet, then on the radar I had it at 20 miles distance, and its blip was a bit bigger than a normal plane's. I continued accelerating and at some 10 miles to the south I made visual contact, but suddenly there it was – only 2 miles away. I looked and saw a cloudy form.

"A pilot, at two miles distance is accustomed to identify a plane perfectly, even at 10 miles weather conditions permitting. I began relaying to ground control what I was seeing. I was very excited as this was an unexpected experience. I was unable to define what type of apparatus this was. I tried positioning myself parallel to it and so was able to make out some kind of black triangle with two small tails. When I came to within a mile and a half of it (which was quite near) the UFO veered off and accelerated violently.

"This manoeuvre was observed on radar by ground control. I calculated that it deviated at a speed more than 3 times that of sound. At this moment I thought this must be something unreal. I used to be a disbeliever – not now."

More details about this case were found in two separate interviews with retired Chilean Air Force General Hernan GABRIELLI ROJAS, the pilot of the second F-5 plane involved in the incident. The first interview with the general was conducted in December 2002; The second in August 2003. The original transcripts are in Spanish and were published respectively in Inexplicata (January 2, 2003) and in Revista TOC - Tecnología, OVNIs y Ciencia (August 31, 2003). The quotes below are from an English translation published at

Excerpt from the December 2002 interview with Gen. GABRIELLI ROJAS:


SOURCE: Ovnivisión (Chile) [Ovnivisión is a long-time UFO research group - WVU]
DATE: December 26, 2002

SANTIAGO DE CHILE.- In an interview with ["" or Terra Chile is an Internet multinational company with headquarters in Spain - WVU], retired general Hernan Gabrielli Rojas mentioned that he had squared off against a gigantic UFO while engaging in a training flight in the skies of northern Chile.

According to the military man, the object was the size of 10 or 15 aircraft carriers, and its presence was picked up by the radars aboard two F-5 jet fighters as well as the Cerro Moreno airport in Antofagasta.

- What do you remember about your contact with the UFO?

Over 20 years have gone by (this was in 1978). I was a captain and was flying a mission with two F-5 fighters. It was noon and I was flying with captain Danilo Catalán - we were both flight instructors. Accompanying us was Fernando Gomez, an avionics tech, 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 told 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 plaintain banana. It was swathed in smoke.

- What was the object's size?

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 minues. 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.

- What happened later?

The object then disappeared toward Easter Island at an impressive rate of speed. The sky cleared and the lines on the radar vanished. 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.

Excerpt from the August 2003 interview with Gen. GABRIELLI ROJAS:


[Interview conducted by Alejandro Guillier; transcription by Rodrigo Cuadra Salazar]

Alejandro Guillier (journalist): UFOs, well...nothing better than to ask a war pilot about the experiences he's had if he's seen anything, but it turns out that I've heard talk about there being a military pilot in Antofagasta who toward the late Seventies -- '78 -- had been flying and ran into a very strange thing. It also turns out that the pilot became a general, retired general Hernan Gabrielli, and we're going to talk to him about this rather interesting experience. How do you do, general? Good morning.

Hernan Gabrielli Rojas (General-Ret.): Hello, Alejandro. Good morning to you.

Alejandro Guillier: This occurred in '78, according to one version, but what is the story about your running into a UFO while flying a warplane?

Hernan Gabrielli: We were two F-5s, dual training craft, and we were returning to base after completing our mission, Cerro Moreno, noon. From Mejillones to Antofagasta, at an altitude of some 35,000 feet - 40,000 feet. I suddenly detected a radar fault and saw a line that ran side to side on the scope, and my student, Danilo Catalán, also detected the same, and curiously enough it was the ground radar, which has a large screen, that also indicated a radar fault. At that time we looked toward [the part of the sky indicated on the radar screen] and we saw that UFO.

Alejandro Guillier: What was it exactly? What was it you managed to see? Can it be described?

Hernan Gabrielli: It was visualized as a smoke-covered, half- deformed banana, very large, in other words, very large in plain sight. We were between 15 or 20 miles away. It was tremendously large and surrounded by a fumarole which moved in our very same direction and at the same speed as our aircraft.

Alejandro Guiller: ...and you felt tempted to check it out.

Hernan Gabrielli: We approached it carefully and...but those were good instructions. We were heading back from Attack 1, which is a combat tactic involving gun cameras, no cannon, missiles or anything else. So we approached it with caution. Unfortunately the UFO did not go away toward a single minute, so we arrived in an instant.

Alejandro Guillier: But I understand that you had to ascend.

Hernan Gabrielli: No...

Alejandro Guillier: In order to approach, what was your position? Going upward..

Hernan Gabrielli: No...we shared the same altitude, between 30,000 and 35,000 feet.

Alejandro Gabrielli: But F-5s are swift airplanes. When you got near it scurried way so...

Hernan Gabrielli: Of course. It's a fighter that covers 10 nautical miles a minute, in other words, 20 kilometers a minute. That is the normal speed for that aircraft.

Alejandro Guillier: And this object you saw, how soon did it vanish? At what speed?

Hernan Gabrielli: Unimaginable, in other words, thousands of nautical miles a minute, because it toward the west suddenly and the screen cleared up. In other words, all three radar screens--the ground radar, mine and Danilo's -- were operating normally; it wasn't just a visual experience but a physical one as well, a material one, that materialized on the screen. Now, if you ask me what it is, where it comes from, don't ask me. I haven't the slightest idea.

Translation (C) 2003 Scott Corrales Institute of Hispanic Ufology

Comment - The visual characteristics of the phenomenon ("a plaintain banana" according to Gen. GABRIELLI ROJAS; a "cloudy form" in the shape of "a black triangle with two small tails" according to Capt. CATALÁN FARIAS) bears a strong resemblence to Capt. HAROLD's description of the object seen over Labrador (a "delta-wing appearance" that "started to flatten down, stretching out, until it was now like a giant telephone receiver lying on its back in the sky". There are also similarities with the 1956 Billings case, in which an object resembling a "cartoonist's version of a dog-bone" was seen, and with the 1992 Heathrow case that mentions a black "inverted boomerang shape".

An object "swathed in smoke" or with "vapour issuing from it" is not unlike the image of a mirage affected by a turbulent air stream. Smoke/vapour is also mentioned in the following cases: 1952 Ennis, 1972 Kempsey, 1976 Lisbon and 1978 Okayama.

The sighting took place when the planes were flying on a North-South course over the Atacama Desert. The pilots were looking to the East, i.e. towards the Andes mountain range with peaks between 4,000 and 4,500 m (16,400 ft) at a distance of roughly 250 km (155 miles) from the Chilean coast. Possibly this is where to look for a target for a mirage.

The "unimaginable fast" disappearance at "thousands of nautical miles a minute" reminds of other dark blob reports in which the phenomena are said to have disappeared at fantastic speeds, and here too there are some descriptive elements that create doubt as to whether or not the phenomenon was actually seen to move from one part in the sky to another. According to Capt. CATALÁN FARIAS the object "veered off and accelerated violently" deviating "at a speed more than 3 times that of sound", a manoeuvre that was reportedly confirmed by ground control radar, but apparently neither pilots nor ground personel noticed a sonic boom. Gen. GABRIELLI ROJAS reported that the object "vanished toward the west", "towards Easter Island". Since the object was first seen in the East where it "was motionless" and "neither approached nor retreated" but "merely sailed parallel to us", this would mean that before shooting off to the west it crossed the path of his F-5. It is not told if this occurred in front of the airplane or behind. If the object was a mirage, we could speculate that a sudden upward movement or an increase in size of the mirage image created the impression of an object suddenly moving towards the plane. But if Gen. GABRIELLI ROJAS' description of the object disappearing in a westward direction is correct, this would require a second mirage shrinking in size on the other side of the plane. Possible targets for a westward mirage would be Isla San Ambrosio and Isla San Félix, respectively 920 km (572 miles) and 950 km (590 miles) from the Chilean coast (Easter Island itself being some 2.485 miles from the coast and therefore too far away for a candidate mirage target).

A clear discrepancy is noted with regard to the radar images. Screen-wide "lines" appearing on both the F-5 radars and the ground radar at Cerro Moreno Airport are mentioned by Gen. GABRIELLI ROJAS, but Capt. CATALÁN FARIAS describes the image on his screen as "a blip (...) a bit bigger than a normal plane's". Could these unusual radar registrations have been caused by a strong temperature inversion rather than a physical object, as we suggested in the 1976 Lisbon case?

In summary there are too many uncertanties to construct solid arguments for any theory. As Don LEDGER put it in a message at UFO Roundup Vol 8, No. 2:

Interesting speculation, but I wonder if something that appears as a mirage to the jets (...) would also affect the ground radar, assuming that the ground radar actually did pick up a 'line' target in the same direction as did the aircraft.

Unfortunately there is really not enough info here to make a good decision as to whether or not the sighting could be a result of natural causes. Had all the details been recorded at the time (sightings directions, tracks of the aircraft, exact direction of the "object" from the aircraft, exact direction of the supposed coincident target from the ground, grand radar distance, etc.) a decision probably could have been made.

The authors look forward to receiving additional reports and/or comments which may help assess the soundness of the mirage theory for this particular type of UAP sightings (to contact us, see our e-mail address on the contact page).