My recent postings on Fort Itaipu has ignited a firestorm of controversy. Well, not exactly. It sparked a semi-heated debate about the incident that seems to be more directed at the use of the term “fraudulent” in conjunction with information developed by Dr. Olavo Fontes than it was the facts of the case. It seems the alleged “character assassination” of Fontes was the source of the annoyance.
|Dr. Olavo Fontes|
Given this minor flap, and two different interpretations of a single article, I thought I would revisit this case because, frankly, I had no dog in the fight. I am more interested in getting to the bottom of a story than I am in sticking to a theory that might be in error.
Although it is often overlooked in the various accounts of the events and mentioned almost in passing in others, in the early morning of November 4, 1957, the pilot of a cargo plane, Captain Jean Vincent de Beyssac, reported that he saw a red light to his left. As the light seemed to grow, de Beyssac decided to investigate but as he turned toward it, the light suddenly jumped in size suggesting it had come closer. At that moment the aircraft’s automatic direction finder (ADF), the right generator and the transmitter burned out. The UFO vanished at that point.
Frank Edwards, in Flying Saucers – Serious Business devoted just over two pages to this sighting. He then noted that one of “those well-documented ‘heat cases’ took place in Brazil on the same night” as de Beyssac’s encounter. Edwards provided no source for his two paragraph report on Fort Itaipu and no documentation for it, but a good guess would be that he was following the path provided by NICAP. This lead back to APRO and Fontes because there is nothing new in that account. Note, however, this is speculation based on Edwards’ relation with Donald Keyhoe and NICAP.
Some forty minutes after Beyssac saw his UFO, and according Dr. Olavo Fontes Teixeira, at Fort Itaipu, on the Atlantic coast of Brazil, two sentries spotted a bright orange “star” appear in the cloudless sky. “The whole garrison was sleeping in peace. Two sentries were on duty on top of the military fortifications. They were common soldiers, they did not know that flying saucers existed.” I could ask how he knows this since he never interviewed them but will let that go for now.
The light raced toward the fort and stopped overhead then began drifting down. The reports suggest that it was large, disc-shaped and surrounded by an orange glow. They heard a hum coming from it and the sentries were then hit by some sort of heat wave. Fontes reported, “The sentries were frozen on the ground, their eyes wide with surprise, the Tommy guns hung limply from their hands like dead things.” (And I can’t resist on saying that this is some really lousy writing.)
Fontes continued, “The sentinels were startled, unable to think what to do about the UAO.” [I interject here that it would be logical for them to alert the corporal of the guard or the sergeant of the guard… SOP] … Then something hot touched their faces (one of them thinks he heard a faint whining sound he could not identify at that same moment). [parens in the original].”
Fontes goes on saying that one of the sentries later reported that “when the heat engulfed him it was like a fire burning all over his clothes.” At that point blind panic “yammered at him.” He staggered around, attempting to escape from the heat that he believed was burning him alive. He blacked out at some point. (I will note here, again, that neither of the sentries was ever interviewed, and those soldiers who were in the fort that night and who were interviewed provided no information to suggest this description is accurate.)
Fontes wrote that the other sentry also had the feeling his clothes were on fire. He began to scream, horribly, while running and stumbling and crying. He didn’t know what he was doing but found some shelter under one of the cannon emplacements. Fontes wrote that his cries were so loud that they woke the rest of the garrison.
Apparently things were no better in the living quarters of the soldiers. There, according to Fontes, “everything was confusion.” While no one seemed to have a clue as to what to do, the lights went out (and yes, this is my interpretation of what Fontes was suggesting, boiled down so that we can move along). The power failed, and even the backup generators failed. Fontes provided a long list of things that were going on and tells us that there was fear on every face… I’m sorry but this strikes me as hyperbole regardless of the unusual, strange, and frightening situation.
Fontes wrote that the event lasted about three minutes. He said that the next day the fort commander ordered no one to talk about what had happened or what had been seen. The injured soldiers were being treated for their burns and the fort was placed under martial law which seems a strange thing to have said since, as a military installation, it would already be under martial law.
Fontes claimed that officers from the U.S. military mission arrived to investigate. They were accompanied by officers of the Brazilian Air Force, and learned that intelligence officers, apparently from the fort, were in charge of the investigation.
According to Fontes, some three weeks after the sighting, he was contacted by one of the officers who knew of his, Fontes’, interest in UAOs. Fontes refused to give the name because the officer feared some sort of repercussions for revealing information that had apparently been classified by his commanding officer. This first leak was not enough, for Fontes, and he said nothing about it for two months when three other officers from the Brazilian Army who had been there that night told their tale. It seems that Fontes contacted them, though this isn’t clear in his first article if this was the case. They did, however, according to him, confirm the details.
This then is a rough outline of the story as originally told by Fontes. What I sometimes do, as those who visit here regularly know, is chase the footnotes. I have said that the story, in all its various forms, meaning the attack on the fort as opposed to the sighting of an orange object, comes from Fontes. Let’s see how that works with this one. Richard Dolan in his UFOs and the National Security State reported on the case on page 203. He doesn’t provide much in the way of detail and his footnote takes us to Don Keyhoe’s Flying Saucers Top Secret, Jerome Clark’s The Emergence of a Phenomenon: UFOs from the Beginning through 1959 and to Jacques Vallee’s Passport to Magonia. Both Keyhoe and Vallee also
mentioned the case in other books, Keyhoe in Aliens from Space and Vallee in Anatomy
of a Phenomenon. Vallee’s footnotes take us to Coral Lorenzen and her The Great
Flying Saucer Hoax (which was later published as Flying Saucers: The Startling Evidence of Invasion from Outer Space)
which, of course, takes us to Fontes and his report from the APRO Bulletin. Clark takes us to both
Fontes and Lorenzen.
|APRO's Coral Lorenzen|
Keyhoe adds a detail that is interesting. According to him, “Since the United States had far more knowledge of UFOs, the high Brazilian officers asked the American Embassy for help in their investigation. As soon as possible, U.S. Army and Air Force officers were flown to the fort, accompanied by Brazilian Air Force investigators.”
This, I believe, is supposition by Keyhoe. Fontes mentions that military mission members, meaning, I would guess, the American Embassy military attaches, accompanied the Brazilian Air Force officers, but there is no mention of a request for help. Given the circumstances as outlined by Fontes, there would be no way for the Americans to know of the attack, so a request is logical given these circumstances.
There nothing to tell us Keyhoe’s source. However, Richard Hall who compiled The UFO Evidence for NICAP, the organization that had Keyhoe as its director, mentioned the case in two places. According to the footnote, his information came from the APRO Bulletin which was where the information was first published in the United States. Fontes was the author of that report. He also references it in another section with little detail and no footnote. It seems clear that Keyhoe used the Fontes information in his analysis of the case because it is obvious that NICAP had the information in their files.
Although the story was carried in a variety of UFO books over the years, there seemed to be nothing new to it. No names of witnesses surfaced and inquiries to the fort produced no corroboration. Magazines in Brazil did mention the case, provided several dates for the event and little in additional detail. Given the number of dates, it was difficult to find any sort of corroboration.
Over the years a number of UFO investigators attempted to learn more even though the date was in question. The case was carried in the Flying Saucer Review of January 1960 which is a rehash of the APRO Bulletin article, which is to say, it is traced back to Fontes. An analysis of the information was published at http://thebiggeststudy.blogspot.com/2010/04/flying-saucer-review-volume-6.html. Here is was noted:
I have a small discomfort zone about Fontes. The three great Rio UFO researchers [identified in the text as [Auriphebo Berrance] Simoes, [Flavio Augusto] Periera, [Jose Escobar] Faria] knew Fontes well and liked him. I believe they felt he was an honest man. But they thought that he was a bit “enthusiastic” about his research. Just due to that, I take Fontes’ cases with more discretion than some others. Ft. Itaipu is one such instance…
Fontes heard about the case from a military friend on the condition of anonymity [this is quite possible, as there were Brazilian officers high up who would talk to the Rio guys often]. [The brackets appear in the original text]. Fontes said that he could not use his medical doctor status to get entry to the hospital, but did find out that the burns were severe and over about 10% of the bodies. Later he said that he got confirmation of the affair from three other personnel.
This incident could [emphasis in original] have happened. If so, it would be a very rare incident of severe damage to a witness.
This is the first reference that I can find that suggests that Fontes might have been less than candid in his reporting. Although they use the term “enthusiastic” to describe some of his research, it also suggests that he might exaggerate the claims or embellish them for dramatic effect. This is not an allegation that he was inventing details, only that he was providing his own analysis that might not have been overly supported by the information he had. In another arena and another subject it might be best described as literary license. The information is an extrapolation from the apparent facts but that extrapolation might not be accurate
and without names, there is no way of knowing what Fontes might have
been told and what additions he might have made.
|Brazilian UFO researcher Edison Boaventura at the|
front of Fort Itaipu near Sao Paulo, Brazil.
More research was conducted over the years as outlined by an article written by Edison Boaventura. One of the first things that he accomplished through a FOIA request was a document from the Brazilian Embassy in the United States. It said:
At two o’clock on the morning of November 4, 1957, in Fort Itaipu, located in the vicinity of Santos, Sao Paulo [Brazil], according to a Report by Dr. Olavo Fontes, two guards where [sic] on watch duty at the top of the highest lookcout [sic] tower facing the ocean. Suddenly an orange color light appeared and quickly positioned itself at approximately 50 meters about the guards. With inoperable automatic weapons, they watched the starange [sic] glow and high pitched noise emerging from the strange object. Suddenly the two guards were hit by an intolerable heat wave, knocking one of the guards unconscious. The other thought himself to be in flames, and screamed to alert the others. The troops in the Fort quickly became alarmed due to a failure of all the power systems, including lights, elevators and weapons. Three minutes later the power returned with many officers claiming to have seen the strange object rapidally [sic] climb towards the sky. The two guards sustained first and second degree burns over 10% of their bodies. The alarm system and the automatic electric clocks which were originally set for 5 am, went off at 2:30 of the same morning. After the incident the Fort was shut down and investigations by the Brazilian Secret Police and afterwards by North American Officials was conducted. The results were not made available.
There wasn’t much new in the document, other than a mention of the Brazilian Secret Police being involved and the alarm clocks ringing early. As mentioned in the document, the information came from the same source as all the other information, that is Fontes. There is nothing to suggest that anyone else provided any information to the report. Boaventura noted, “Interestingly, the document that briefly brought the episode [to their attention] did not contain the names of the military, only the name of Dr. Fontes and also there was no sign of anyone who could identify the source of the document.”
Boaventura did search for other documentation including newspaper or magazine articles published at the time. According to him:
Through research I conducted at the National Library of Rio de Janeiro I found four unique stories of Robert E. Sullivan, published in the defunct magazine Mundo Ilustrado (Nos 50, 51, 52 and 53 - Period November – December 1958 [or one year after the reported incident though it seems that only one article mentioned Fort Itaipu]) that allows us to glimpse the setting in which it occurred…
The second issue of the journal “Mundo Ilustrado”, entitled “Operation outer vast proportions over the planet as a show of force [the translation of some of the article is not in precise English] found on page 26… [was] information that multiple installations of the Brazilian Army had been overflown… Itaipu, in Santos, Sao Paulo (5 or 6 Nov) …
Boaventura goes on to explain that most of the sightings can be explained but that two of them are without explanation. He’s not sure which two but that Fort Itaipu might be one of them. There is one passage that said, “One of these, which was not reported in the press, particularly [in] stunning detail, able to shake the most stubborn of skeptics.”
In the four articles, there is nothing more about the alleged incident at Fort Itaipu. The date given for it is wrong if the November 4 date is accepted and there is the question about which of the sightings Sullivan thought were reliable. It is apparently confusing and it is only a guess that Fort Itaipu is one of them.
Boaventura said that he had searched for years in national and local newspapers and in magazines for the original story. The best he could do was a paragraph in O Cruzeiro magazine on February 22, 1958. Again the information is confusing, but it seemed to say, “On November 2, 1957, another ‘unidentified aerial object’ evolved over Fort Itaipu, in Sao Vicente (Sao Paulo), for more than five minutes seen by officialdom. The commander ordered a secret report on the case.”
On May 24, 1958, the magazine apparently reprinted those few lines and added that the case “would have been witnessed by officers and the Commander of the fort itself, can not be described in detail, since it was not officially confirmed by those authorities. Informed sources assure that the captain ordered preparation of a secret report about [it]. They also say that electric devices suffered interference, having been paralyzed. For our part, though, nothing we can say because we have not authorized statement that support us, restricting us, so that to declare the incident as it was reported including the press of Sao Vicente (Sao Paulo).” Yes, the translation is confusing but seems to suggest, at least to me, that they have no authorized statement from the fort and no confirmation of the story.
This seems to be the only references to anything at the fort until the publication of the report in the APRO Bulletin. Fontes is the author of it, with all the added details with which we are now familiar. Other than additional writers and researchers repeating the story as told by Fontes, it seemed that no one else attempted to learn anything new about it or even tried to verify it. The mention in Flying Saucer Review, for example, can be traced back to Fontes who was, at the time, the APRO representative in Brazil.
Several years after the turn of the century, or in other words, some fifty years later, Boaventura began searching for the soldiers who had been in the fort on the night of the attack. Eventually he would receive a list of some four hundred soldiers who were there.
He interviewed Captain Galileo Ramos, who had served for 30 years at the fort, and who said that one of the soldiers burned had not survived. He also said that due to the intensity of the heat, the barrel of one of the rifles was twisted. The critical question asked by Boaventura was if Ramos knew the names of the burned soldiers but he said that he didn’t. He had heard the story told by others. What had seemed to be important information added by an officer who might have been there (it is not clear from the story if Ramos had been at the fort in 1957) turned out to be something that had been told to him by another soldier. He had not witnessed the event.
Boaventura interviewed a sergeant who told him of another soldier who had been there on that night, but the soldier had only seen a UFO. That object descended to the horizon, made a number of zigzag maneuvers and then disappeared at high speed. Apparently he did not witness the burning of the soldiers but did search for “some logical explanation for the fact, but was not successful.”
On January 25, 2008, Boaventura talked with Lieutenant Azevedo, who apparently was currently one of the public affairs officers at the fort who confirmed the story. He also said that rifle with the twisted barrel was in the History Museum of the Rio de Janeiro Army. He said that there had been a blackout and that one of the soldiers was burned, rolling on the floor while the other was unconscious. He said, “I’ve never seen, but several cases have happened in the fort [There is a record of UFO sightings around the area in November 1957 but these are merely sightings]. About the soldiers report that both were treated at the clinic of the Unit that is currently not located in the same place.” Of course, in the confusing translation of the story, it seems that Azevedo was saying that he hadn’t witnessed any of this and that he did not know the names of any of the soldiers involved. He was repeating something he had heard.
Boaventura attempted to follow the trail of the rifle with the twisted barrel. He visited the museum but didn’t find it on display. He wrote to the museum about that and asked for a picture of it and on March 17, 2008, he learned that no evidence was found after a search by those in the museum but they would continue to search and if anything was discovered, Boaventura would be informed. If the rifle ever existed, it was nowhere to be found and the logical conclusion is that it never did given the way the information appeared in the story decades later.
Boaventura found others who had served at the fort and while some of them had heard the details of the case, it was never clear when they heard them. He found no one who had actually witnessed them. The son of one of the commanding officers said that his father had mentioned a UFO sighting but didn’t say a thing about soldiers who were injured. The son hadn’t seen anything himself.
Specifically, the son of the commander told Brazilian researchers on June 13, 2016 and in an email provided to me, “I can say, without a doubt that this fact is true, because I am the son of Adston Pompeu Piza, at the time commander of Fort of Itaipu. This sighting occurred at the beginning of November 1957, reported by my father to me, my brother and my mother. My sister at the time was a baby. This was related by my father to us numerous times and out relatives and friends who frequented our house. The repair to be done was never heard, and I heard hundreds of times this account, is that never heard my father talk about the soldiers suffered burns.” Or, in other words, there had been a UFO sighting, but all the additional details, about the burned soldiers and melted rifle barrels was not confirmed. In fact, Mundo Ilustrado lists several sightings in the Sao Paulo area and near various Army installations in November and December, 1957, which might account for what the son had been told.
Boaventura didn’t find anyone who had been in the fort on the dates in question who had witnessed the event as described by Fontes. He wrote to nearly two hundred of the soldiers whose names he had and universally, none could report anything on a first-hand basis. He wrote, “Unanimously, all contacts I got from April [which is to say the first batch of responses he received] from these former soldiers were to report they knew nothing…”
One of the contacts, Jose Castello who had served in the Army for 37 years wrote, “Unfortunately, I could not have any real information about the case, despite having talked to several friends who served with me at that time. In 1957 I was a soldier at Fort Itaipu and served in Battery Command and we’ve heard this rumor and we took it in jest. Unfortunately, there is nothing real in this story.”
In an unfortunate twist that sparked the controversy here, Boaventura quoted an unidentified source about the case or rather Fontes’ investigation of it. According to Boaventura, in April 2008, he spoke with this unidentified researcher (though I do now know who it was, I’ll respect his request as well which means you all are free to reject it because there is no name attached) in Brazil who said, “First, I ask that you keep me anonymous because it is not pleasant what I’m talking about… Dr. Fontes invented the story to make his name in the United States, as he was well connected with the American investigators of APRO, one, [though this is not clear in the translation] forged document embassy in English. So much so, that he neither signed the alleged official document. So he made up other cases too, to satisfy [his] ego and gain notoriety. As for other classic cases he researched I cannot give my opinion, but the case of Fortaleza Itaipu is invented for sure. Why nobody knows the name of the soldiers! You are wasting your time.”
Boaventura did contact one of the former commanders at the fort, Colonel Erasmo Antonio Dias, who said that he knew nothing about it but suggested Boaventura contact another officer who also had commanded at the fort. Lieutenant Colonel Osman Ribeiro de Moura. He was old, infirm, but did confirm a UFO sighting at Duque de Caxias, the city in which the fort is located which is a suburb of Sao Paulo. But… “could not remember details of the episode and could not inform about the burned soldiers, neither knew the name of them.”
This could be, I suppose, a hint that the story is true because of the way the sentences are phrased. I would suggest it means that there were no burned soldiers so there were no names to be remembered. However, and again we run into translation problems. It seems that in April 2008, Boaventura received a telephone call from Colonel Erasmus Days [which is, of course, the English translation of Dias] who said, “Actually, I was commander of Fortaleza Itaipu and I am a living witness of the history of our country, but never heard of this case. It is absurd and should be a legend.”
What he is confirming here is that there had been UFO sightings in the area, which included a suburb of Sao Paulo where the fort stands but that there was no incident that involved sentries who were burned or blackouts and failures of equipment at the fort. We have something seen in the air which might have approached the fort, but we do not have the other elements that were introduced by Fontes.
So, here’s where we are in this case. All the information seems to trace back to the short, vague magazine articles which only seem to mention a sighting and the more robust information supplied by Fontes. While some of the soldiers interviewed said that they had heard of the case, not one of them said that he saw anything personally, though some were stationed at the fort at the time. The names of the injured soldiers have never been learned, there is no documentation about the case other than those magazine articles that are vague at best, refer only to UFO sightings in the area and suggestions by those in Brazil who investigated that the case is a hoax.
There are hints that Fontes had been less than candid in his reporting. Boaventura reported on a telephone call with a colleague who said that Fontes had invented the case for his own aggrandizement. But we don’t have the name of that researcher. We do, however, have the names of three other Brazilian UFO investigators, Simoes, Periera and Faria who were contemporaries of Fontes and who said that he was “enthusiastic” about his UFO cases. That can be interpreted in many ways, such as suggesting he didn’t follow negative leads to his introducing hyperbole into a tale to make it more exciting. However, it does seem that Fontes’ reputation in Brazil was not the best and there are multiple, named witnesses to that.
The alleged physical evidence can’t be located. Although Boaventura attempted to find the twisted rifle, he did not see it on his tour of the museum where it was supposedly housed. While everyone knows that the vast majority of the items in a museum’s collection are not on display, Boaventura did work with the archivist who would have had access to everything, and according to the documentation available, the rifle was not housed there. He said he would alert Boaventura if he found anything, but that has yet to happen.
No military records have been found to even confirm a UFO sighting at the fort on any of the dates offered though there were UFO reports in the area on a number of days near the fort and in the city associated with it, which might explain the multiple dates. The magazine articles are generic with few details, multiple dates for the sighting and no hint of any sort of power blackout or injuries to soldiers at the fort, which is no real corroboration for the tale.
Normally I would suggest that such a case like this be reduced to a footnote, but even that might be misleading. The evidence is so thin as to be nearly nonexistent and the only witness testimony is second hand at best and is based on what others might have said. We have no idea how much circulation the tale had in Brazil after Fontes reported it to Coral Lorenzen at APRO and the rumors heard might have originated there. This case is so poor, it should be erased from the UFO literature, but, naturally, it is too late for that. It will live on simply because it was widely reported in UFO books around the world. We should listen to our colleagues in Brazil who are suggesting that there is nothing to it… but, of course, that will never happen.