The case was discussed openly by high ranking government officials. It was first reported by Colonel (Ret.) Ozires Silva, president of the state-owned oil company Petrobrás, who was flying on an executive Xingu jet, when he and the pilot saw and pursued unidentified objects for about 25 minutes. The incident was covered widely in the Brazilian media, leading to a press conference at the Ministry of Aeronautics in Brasilia on May 23, with air traffic controllers and air force pilots involved in the scramble mission.
The Minister of Aeronautics, Brigadier General Otávio Moreira Lima, was very outspoken:
“Between 20:00 hrs. (5/19) and 01:00 hrs. (5/20) at least 20 objects were detected by Brazilian radars. They saturated the radars and interrupted traffic in the area. Each time that radar detected unidentified objects, fighters took off for intercept. Radar detects only solid metallic bodies and heavy (mass) clouds. There were no clouds nor conventional aircraft in the region. The sky was clear. Radar doesn’t have optical illusions.
“We can only give technical explanations and we don’t have them. It would be very difficult for us to talk about the hypothesis of an electronic war. It’s very remote and it’s not the case here in Brazil. It’s fantastic. The signals on the radar were quite clear.”112
The Minister also announced that a commission would study the incident. Air Force Major Ney Cerqueira, in charge of the Air Defense Operations Center (CODA), was equally candid:
“We don’t have technical operational conditions to explain it. The appearance and disappearance of these objects on the radar screens are unexplained. They are Unidentified Aerial Movements… The technical instruments used for the identification of the lights had problems in registering them. CODA activated two F-5E and three Mirages to identify the objects. One F-5E and one Mirage remained grounded on alert. A similar case occurred four years ago [the Commander Brito VASP airliner radar-visual incident in 1982]. The lights were moving at a speed ranging between 250 and 1,500 km./hr. [150 to 1,000 mph] The Air Force has not closed the case.”113
Aeronautics Commission report was not released. However, the accounts of air force pilots and radar controllers were published widely in the press and later studied by Brazilian researchers. A comprehensive report was made by Basílio Baranoff, an airline captain, member of the Aerospace Technical Center, and consultant for the Brazilian UFO organization CBPDV. Baranoff provided a chronology of events for the night of May 19, 1986:
“6:30 p.m. local time – First visual sightings by control tower personnel at the São José dos Campos airport in São Paulo State. Controllers notice two intense lights aligned with the runway axis at 330 degrees azimuth and approximately 15 km. [10 m.] distance from the tower.
“7:00 p.m. – The control towers in São Paulo and Brazilia confirm to São José that they have three primary targets on their screens, and that there are no scheduled aircraft in those areas.
“8:00 p.m. – CINDACTA (Brasilia) detects up to eight targets (echoes) on its screens.
“8:30 p.m. – A new object is observed with binoculars at the São José tower; it shows defined edges and red-orange color; it approaches the tower and then retreats.
“9:00 p.m. – The oil company Xingu executive jet with Col. Silva requests landing conditions at São José. Both Silva and Commander Alcir Pereira, the Xingu pilot, confirm visually the luminous objects at 330 degrees azimuth. The Xingu jet attempts to follow the UFOs for 10 minutes.
“9:10 p.m. – The Xingu jet returns for landing when a new, large luminous object heads toward the aircraft. The São Paulo tower confirms two echoes: the Xingu and an unknown, which disappears from the screen 15 minutes later.
“9:20 p.m. – The Air Control Center in Brasilia (ACC-BR) informs the Air Defense Command about the situation.
“9:25 p.m. – The Xingu returns for a second landing attempt when the São Paulo tower reports yet another object at 180 degrees south, which is observed and followed by Commander Pereira.
“9:30 p.m. – The Xingu returns for a third landing attempt when ACC-BR reports the appearance of new objects. The Xingu, now at 3,000 meters [10,000 ft.] of altitude, makes visual contact with three luminous objects flying low over Petrobrás refineries and heading towards Serra do Mar. The Xingu finally lands in São José dos Campos.
“9:40 p.m. – More visual sightings of a round object at 320 degrees azimuth.
“9:50 p.m. – A luminous yellow object surrounded by smaller lights is observed at 110 degrees azimuth.
“10:23 p.m. – The first F-5E jet fighter, piloted by Air Force Lt. Kleber Caldas Marinho, is scrambled from Santa Cruz AFB in Rio State.
“10:45 p.m. – The second F-5E jet, piloted by Captain Brisola Jordão, is scrambled from Santa Cruz. The first Mirage F-103, armed with Sidewinder and Matra missiles, is scrambled from Anápolis AFB in Goias State.
“10:55 p.m. – Anápolis AFB detects the objects on radar. The Mirage piloted by Captain Viriato does not make visual contact with the UFO, but a target is detected on its onboard radar… Captain Viriato later explained at the press conference in Brasilia that he was chasing the UFO ‘at 1,350 km./hr. [850 mph], approaching the object up to a distance of 6 miles [9.5 km.]. The object was heading up front and moving from one side to the other (zig-zagging) on my radar scope. Suddenly, the blip disappeared from my radar scope.’
“11:00 p.m – The second Mirage F-103 is scrambled from Anápolis.
“11:15 p.m. – Lt. Kleber’s F-5E makes visual contact with a ball of light and chases the UFO at Mach 1.1 (1,320 km./hr. or 850 mph)… Kleber later declared at the press conference: ‘I had one visual contact and one contact with my aircraft radar of something that looked like a luminous point, which was 12 miles [19 km.] in front of me, a distance confirmed by ground radar. The object was moving from left to right and then began to climb… [it] was at 10 km [6 mi.] of altitude and flying over 1,000 km./hr. [600 mph]. I followed it up to 200 miles [320 km.] over the Atlantic Ocean [limit of Brazil’s territorial waters]. I wasn’t afraid because I like the unknown.’
“11:17 p.m. – The third Mirage jet is scrambled from Anápolis AFB.
“11:20 p.m. – Captain Jordão’s F-5E establishes radar contact… At the press conference a few days later, he stated: ‘Near to São José dos Campos, radar detected several targets, 10 to 13 targets, at a distance of 20 miles [32 km.]. The sky was clear but I didn’t see anything. Ground radar informed me that the objects were closing in: 20 miles, 15, 10, 5, suddenly there were 13 objects behind my aircraft, 6 on one side and 7 on the other, during several minutes. After I maneuvered the aircraft, the objects had disappeared.’ [Captain Jordão flew for 1 hour 20 minutes.]
“11:36 p.m. – The third Mirage is scrambled from Anápolis AFB.
“1:00 a.m. (May 20) – By this time all jet fighters have returned to their bases.”114
These are the basic known facts surrounding the multiple UFO jet scramble incidents over southeastern Brazil on the night of May 19-20, 1986. It is noteworthy that Captain Baranoff added that “two nights after, ten to eleven unidentified luminous objects returned for a new round over São José dos Campos; they were observed visually and detected by the São Paulo, ACC-BR and by CINDACTA 1 radars.” This time there was no official confirmation from Air Force authorities.115
Lacking the final Ministry Commission report with all the pertinent data, it is difficult to make a final conclusion about this case. Many hypotheses were offered in the Brazilian media by skeptical astronomers and scientists, ranging from a meteor shower, a reflection of the full moon and ball lightning, to radar malfunction, space debris and spy planes. Most of these explanations seem quite insufficient to explain the events of May 19. One of the more plausible was offered by British space researcher Geoffrey Perry. According to Perry, the Soviet space station Salyut-7 ejected several boxes of debris on that night, which re-entered the earth’s atmosphere around central-western Brazil. The re-entry of NASA’s Solarwind satellite was also discussed in the Brazilian press.116
However, Brigadier José Cavalcanti from Brazil’s Air Defense Command, was not impressed with the Salyut-7 and Solarwind explanations. He told the weekly magazine Veja:
“It could have been space debris, but it wasn’t only that. A metallic box with space debris can be detected by radar, but it will always fall in the same direction and at constant velocity. That was not the case of what was seen in Brazil, where the objects detected by radar had speeds that varied from very slow to extremely high.”117
Another interesting view is the final comment in a short message from the USDAO (U.S. Defense Attaché Office) in Rio to DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) on the subject, entitled “BAF [Brazilian Air Force] has a Close Encounter of the First Kind”:
“COMMENT: [Censored] While RO [Reporting Officer] does not believe in UFO’s or all the hoopla that surrounds previous reporting, there is too much here to be ignored. Three visual sightings and positive radar contact from three different types of radar systems, leads one to believe that something arrived over Brazil the night of 19 May.”118
112. Covo, Claudeir, “Maio de 86 – A Mobilizaçao No Céu Brasileiro,” o assunto é… UFOLOGIA, No. 14, Editora Trés, Sao Paulo, 1986; contains transcripts of all the statements by military officers at the May 23, 1986 press conference.
114. Baranoff, Basílio, “Casuistica UFO – OVNIs em Maio de 1986”, PSI-UFO, No. 4, CBPDV, Campo Grande, Jan./Feb. 1987. CBPDV stands for Centro Brasileiro para Pesquisas de Discos Voadores.
116. Huneeus, Antonio, “UFO Alert in Brazil,” UFO Review, New York, 1986.
117. Veja, “Lixo espacial – Surgem novas explicações para os OVNIs da FAB,” September 10, 1986; English translation in Huneeus, A., ibid.
118. Department of Defense JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff] Message Center, “Info Report” re “Subject: BAF has a Close Encounter of the First Kind,” May 1986.