UFO over Trindade Island: One of UFOlogy's best cases

by Tim Printy © June 2004

Chaos on the deck!

Shortly after noon on January 16, 1958, the Brazilian Navy training ship, Almirante Saldanha, had finished dropping off supplies and personnel to the island of Trindade. Because of the ship's connection with the International Geophysical Year (IGY), there were civilians on board in the form of scientists, some journalists, and a diving club. According to Almiro Barauna, a member of the diving group and a "free lance" journalist, the reason he was on board was because:

We were going to try to beat some records on submarine hunting. Personally, I was going to take underwater photographs for the Navy, and also to write some articles about the Island and the activities of the scientists working for the IGY. (Fontes)

The visit to Trindade seems to have been uneventful even though several members of the Brazilian military had been reporting UFOs during the month prior to the ships arrival. As the ship was preparing to hoist a small boat aboard prior to departure, the voyage suddenly became anything but ordinary.

Two of the divers, an ex-Air Force Captain, Jose Viegas and Amilar Vieira Filho , were on the ship's stern and saw something approaching the island. According to Viegas,

I was on the deck. My friend Amilar Vieira Filho suddenly called my attention to what he thought to be a ‘big seagull.’ I looked toward it and was unable to control my excitement, shouting: ‘Flying saucer!’ Mr. Barauna was 20 yards away with his Rolleiflex, watching the maneuvers. He heard my shouts and came running—in time to take four pictures of the object. Other people were also alerted by my alarm: a sergeant, sailors, the ship’s dentist (Lieutenant Captain Homero Ribeiro), and other persons. They all sighted the object. The photographer Farias de Azevedo, who was more distant, didn’t come in time to get photos.

The first view was that of a disk shining with a phosphorescent glow, which—even at daylight—appeared to be brighter than the moon. The object was about the apparent size (angular diameter) of the full moon. As it followed its path across the sky, changing to a tilted position, its real shape was clearly outlined against the sky: that of a flattened sphere encircled, at the equator, by a large ring or platform. Its speed was around 700 miles an hour at the moment it disappeared into the horizon. (Fontes)

Filho, who seemed somewhat reluctant to talk to the press, would eventually report:

First, I want to make it very clear that I don’t know if what I saw was really the so-called ‘flying saucer.’ What I saw, in fact, was an object of gray color and oval in shape when first sighted, which passed over the island and then—emitting a fluorescent light it didn’t possess before—went away toward the horizon and was gone, vanishing just on the horizon line. Everything happened in just a few seconds, in no more than. 20 4econds, and for this reason I cannot give you more details about the curious craft. It looked like an object with polished surface and uniform color. I am sure it was not a balloon, an airplane, or a seagull...Generally speaking, the shape of the object sighted was the same seen on the negatives developed aboard the NE ‘Almirante Saldanha.’ (Fontes)

The photographer Barauna, seemed to give the most detailed description even though he only saw the UFO for a shorter duration than Viegas/Filho:

Suddenly Mr. Amilar Vieira and Captain Viegas called me, pointing to a certain spot in the sky and yelling about a bright object which was approaching the island. At this same moment, when I was still trying to see what it was, Lieutenant Homero, the ship's dentist, came from the bow toward us, running, pointing to the sky and yelling about the object he was watching. Then I was finally able to locate the object by the flash it emitted. It was already close to the island. It glittered at times, perhaps reflecting sunlight, perhaps changing its own light--I don't know. It was coming over the sea, moving toward the point called the "Galo Crest." I had lost about thirty seconds looking for the object, but the camera was already in my hands, ready, when I sighted it clearly silhouetted against the clouds. I shot two photos before it disappeared behind Desejado peak. My camera was set at at speed of .125 with an F/8 aperture, and this was the cause of the overexposure error, as I discovered later. The object remained out of sight for a few seconds, behind the peak, reappearing larger in size and flying in the opposite direction. It was lower and closer than before and moving at a higher speed. I shot the third photo. The fourth and fifth shots were lost, partly because of the speed at which the object was moving, and partly because I was being pushed and pulled about in the excitement. It was moving in the direction from which it had come, and it appeared to stop in mid-air for a brief time. At that moment I shot my last photo, the last on the film. After about ten seconds the object continued to increase its distance from the ship, gradually diminishing in size and finally disappearing into the horizon. (Lorenzen 165)

Another version of Barauna's account stated,

It took me about 30 seconds to see the object. Its glow seemed or looked like the sun rays over a car windshield.   Then I noticed that. it was detached against the background of clouds I shot the first three photos.  At this moment, flashing at high speed the disc disappeared behind the Desejado Peak.  Two seconds later, however, it reappeared flying horizontally and very low.  It stopped for about five seconds over the line of the horizon and again disappeared.(Simoes)

Strangely, we learn that Barauna seems confused about when the third photograph was taken. Was it before or after it went behind the peak? This could be a problem in translation but it raises some interesting questions. Barauna also noted that the UFO seemed to bounce around as it moved across the sky. He stated, "It showed an undulatory movement as it flew across the sky, like the flight of a bat. And when it came back, it changed speed abruptly, with no transition, in a jump" (Fontes).

In a later interview, Barauna would claim that all power was lost on the ship at the time of the UFOs arrival. According to Willy Smith:

Toward the close of this informal interview, three things came up which I feel are significant.  Just to clear the record, I asked if the object had been detected by ship’s radar. He replied that it hadn’t because all the electrical power aboard ship was out at the time. He was sure of the reality of the power outage because just before the object appeared a launch was being hauled up from the water by electric pulley, and it stopped midway just as the UFO appeared! (Smith)

This seems to mimic something stated to the news media shortly after the incident where Barauna stated, "The radar was not in operation at the time. The object was already gone when it was put to work" (Fontes). Here we discover that the radar was not working but there is no statement of power being lost. It is odd that Barauna would even know the status of the radar on the ship since he was up on deck taking photographs.

Barauna did not seem too surprised that he was the only one to capture the UFO on film, "Besides myself, there were at least four other persons with cameras at the time of the sighting. But apparently they were not able to spot the object in time, or were paralyzed by their own emotions" (Fontes). As previously stated by Viegas, the newspaper photographer, de Azevedo, did not get a photograph because he was in the wrong location. Strangely Barauna, who was 20 yards away, was in position to get the photographs even though the ship was only 20 yards across. How could Azevedo be on the wrong part of the deck if he was, at best, the same distance from the port side of the ship, where the UFO was visible from? To apparently answer this problem, Barauna would later state it was not because of location but because he "became so excited that he wet his pants..." (Smith). If an experienced news photographer would wet his pants over a UFO, it is truly lucky that a free-lancer like Barauna was able to capture the event so easily.

Commander Bacellar, who was the commanding officer of Trindade Island had come aboard the ship previously but was not on deck at the time. Apparently, all the yelling and shouting brought him up on deck (as well as other crew members) where he apparently saw a state of chaos, "The fact caused some natural excitation and the subsequent racing of people to the ship’s deck, attracted by the shouts of those who sighted the object" (Fontes). Being the senior officer on deck, Bacellar seems to have taken command of the situation and attempted to figure out what had occurred. With everyone racing towards the stern to see the UFO, it was not hard to identify those who had first sighted the object as well as the lucky cameraman who managed to catch the entire event on film:

The photographer Almiro Barauna was on the deck with his camera and, after the happening, was under a deep nervous excitation. I stayed at his side all the time, in order to watch him develop the film..The film was developed in a photo-laboratory prepared aboard, when Barauna was able to get his nerves under control—about an hour after the incident...The AF Captain Jose Teobaldo Viegas (retired) went with him into the darkroom, holding a flashlight during the film’s development, while I waited outside (Fontes)

Viegas also noted Barauna's excitement stating that he almost ruined the pictures:

He got so nervous after the sighting that he needed more than an hour to calm down and be able to develop the film. However, in his excitement he forgot to rewind the film before opening the camera, and it would have been ruined if he had not been warned by an officer at the last moment. (Fontes)

Why Viegas was asked to escort Barauna into the darkroom is not clear. The implication is that he was sent into the darkroom to prevent Barauna from conducting any "funny business" with the film. If this is so, it was Bacellar who directed it and it implies that he was skeptical of what he was hearing despite the "many" witnesses that saw the event. It is luck that it was Barauna's diving club companion, who was picked to escort him. Was he selected or did he just happen to volunteer?

The situation develops

Barauna seems to omit any reference to suffering after effects of the event but did confirm that he had developed the negatives under supervision:

The ship’s commander and several officers from the garrison wanted to see what I had got in the photos. As I was very curious too, I decided to develop the exposed film at once, aboard the ship. The processing was done under the supervision of several officers, including Com. Carlos A. Bacellar. But only the negatives were seen aboard. The reason: there was no photographic paper for the copies on the ship at that time. The negatives, however, were seen and examined by the whole crew. (Fontes)

It is odd that Barauna states that several officers supervised the developing of the film when it was only Viegas who escorted him into the darkroom. Of course, this could be a problem in translation but it seems that it is something of an exaggeration.

Once Barauna and Viegas came out of the small darkroom with the freshly developed negatives, Bacellar wanted to examine them:

I saw the film immediately after it was developed, still wet, and—making a careful examination—I was able to determine:

"(a) that the pictures preceding the sequence connected with the object’s passage corresponded with scenes taken aboard a few minutes before the incident;

"(b) that, in the pictures connected with the sighting, was visible, in different positions, an image looking like the object seen later on the copies—with details which only the enlargements made afterward showed more clearly;

"(c) and that the two photos lost by Barauna because he was too nervous, or because he was pushed by other excited people around him—showed the sea and part of the Island’s mountains;

"(d) the negatives referred to were seen by many people aboard. (Fontes)

We don't know what the definition of "many" is and there are no names. All we know is that those who reported seeing the UFO stated that it was captured on the negative.

After the negatives were examined, Barauna was able to keep them. Nobody seemed to interested in taking them away from him. According to Baruna, "Com. Saldanha da Gama (the ship’s C.O.) and the other Navy officers aboard were very kind. They never tried to get the negatives from me" (Fontes). The captain was so disinterested, he seems to have never seen the photographs or the negatives. He is on record as stating, "I confess sincerely that I have not yet seen the photos.  I can’t tell anything more"(Simoes). It is odd that the captain of a ship would not be interested in examining these negatives and the photographs as soon as possible if they were really important. Apparently, the captain considered the whole thing a "non-event".

At the next port stop, Barauna and the diving club were allowed to depart the ship and return home via bus. Again, no attempt was made to get the negatives from Barauna:

The ship stopped first at Vitoria, in the State of Espirito Santo. As it was going to stay there for two days and later travel to Rio, we were permitted—the civilians from the submarine hunting group only—to leave the ship there and to take a bus for the rest of the trip. Later, two days after the arrival of the ‘Almirante Saldanha’ at Rio, Com. Bacellar (ex-commander of the Navy Post at Trindade) appeared at my residence. He wanted to see the enlargements made from the negatives, and asked permission to take them to the Navy’s authorities. Two days later they were returned with congratulations. I was also requested to appear at the Navy Ministry as soon as possible. They wanted to ask me certain questions, and to see the negatives again.(Fontes)

The Brazilian military would later document what had occurred in Barauna's personal darkroom:

He kept the negatives and brought them to Rio where, in his photolab, he made several enlargements; the UAO appeared well only in two pictures because the other negatives were very dark...In order to increase the contrast, he made an operation known as "clearing", which consists in clearing homogeneously the whole negative; however, as in two pictures the UAO appeared with great clarity and he was in fear of losing them if the process failed, he cut the film and submitted to the process only the four other negatives; as a result the UAO appeared with great clarity in two of them, in different positions. (A.P.R.O.)

This implies that there was some darkroom work on the images that were published. Exactly what this work was is not obvious since the term "clearing" is not often used in order to increase the contrast of a negative. What appears to may have happened is that Barauna used a "reducer" solution to remove some of the silver on the negative and "clear" it away because he had overexposed the film. The effect is essentially a bleaching action. Also important to note is that Barauna cut the negatives such that nobody could see the other shots that were on the roll of film. Whatever Barauna did to the negatives or prints, what resulted was not an exact replica of what was originally on the negatives.

The Brazilian Navy tango

By late February, the word was out and the photographs had been published. The news media probed for official comment. The Brazilian navy, apparently not ready for flood of questions, gave contradictory responses. The first word by the military on the subject came from a Navy spokesman on February 21st, who released some form of "unofficial" statement,

On the morning of January 16, 1958, over the Island of Trindade, the crew of the school ship ‘Almirante Saldanha’ sighted an unidentified aerial object for a few seconds. A civilian who was aboard the ship took some pictures of the object. The Navy has no connection with the case, and its only connection with the occurrence was the fact that the photographer was aboard the school ship, and came back with the ship to Rio. (Fontes)

It is strange that the Navy had no connection especially if a large number of the crew had seen the event. Another statement was made the same day from the Navy high staff command:

The news about a flying saucer sighted over the Island of Trindade were received here with utmost reserve. There will be an investigation to verify the authenticity of the sighting and photos. No officer or sailor from the NE ‘Almirante Saldanha’ witnessed the event. (Fontes)

In this we are led to believe the military was stating the only witnesses to the event were civilians on board. Still another statement was made to the press and would appear in the papers the 22nd:

The Chief of Staff of the Navy declared: "I considered the fact as alien to the activities of the Navy, because the flying disc or any related phenomenon was photographed by a civilian reporter, who happened to be aboard the ship, Officially the Command and the officers of the "Almirante Saldanha" did not acknowledge the fact and did not see supposed flying disc. They learned about fact through the civilian who was aboard and through the sailors who had seen the thing. (Simoes)

So now, it seems that certain unnamed sailors may have seen the event but the officers had not (even though the dentist was an officer). All of these responses were made within a day of each other and all seem to give conflicting answers on the matter. What is certain in these responses is that the principal witnesses involved were the civilians and, maybe, a few other crewmen. Strangely, none of the crewmen were ever interviewed and UFOlogists suggest that they were told to keep quiet. Barauna seems to contradict this by stating, "They did not try to cover it up. They did not become "Watergatey" [A new word in Portuguese]. I had total support from the Navy" (Smith). Whatever the case, members of the crew were not interviewed or declined to comment. Nobody ever documented talking to any crew members such as the dentist or to the other civilians who were on board. Instead, we were treated to the descriptions by Filho, Barauna, and Viegas. The Navy would "officially" respond to the allegations of "cover-up" by stating:

Relatively to the news spread by the press that this Ministry is being opposed to the divagation of facts about the apparition of a strange object over the Trindade Island, this Ministry states that such news (that the Ministry is opposed to divagation) are not true.  This Ministry see no reason why the news should not be released as well as the photos taken by Mr. Almiro Baraúna who was at Trindade Island invited by the Navy and who photographed the disc in presence of several men belonging to the crew of the NE Saldanha da Gama, from there the photos were obtained.  It is clear that this Ministry cannot make any statement about the object seen over Trindade, because the photos are not proof sufficient to any statement. (Simoes)

Again, there are implications that Barauna as well as a few unnamed others saw the event. There is no statement suggesting that a large number of the crew had sighted the UFO as later stated by Barauna. In fact, they use the term "several" and not "several dozen" implying only a small number of crewman may have reported seeing the UFO. Additionally, they do not state they saw the UFO outright but instead imply that these unnamed seamen were present when Barauna was taking photographs of a UFO. This may seem like a minor point but it appears that many who were on deck never reported seeing the UFO photographed by Barauna but were sure that Barauna photographed a UFO. Additionally, it is important to note that the Navy felt the negatives were not adequate proof for the event even though the popular story was that a great number of the crew had seen the event as it was photographed.

The examination of the negatives by the Brazilian military was extensive. Barauna had been questioned extensively and some conclusions, according to Barauna, were drawn:

I was interviewed by several high-staff officers, who asked me all kinds of questions. I went there twice. At the first meeting, they requested the negatives for examination. They were sent to a civilian organization, the ‘Cruzeiro do Sul Aerophotogrammetric Service’, remaining there for four days. I was told by the Navy officers that the analyses proved they were genuine — excluding definitely the possibility of a trick or falsification. On the second visit, they performed several ‘Time-tests’. While I worked with my Rolleiflex, taking shots at the same time-intervals I had used to photograph the object, three Navy officers with chronometers registered the times. They came to the conclusion— based on these tests as well as on studies concerning the ship’s position and examinations of charts of the Island—that the object was flying at a speed between 900 and 1000 Km/hour (600 m.p.h.). The object’s size was also estimated, on the basis of studies related with the Island’s details also appearing on the photos, diagrams drawn on charts, graphs, etc. The object was about 120 feet in diameter, and about 24 feet high. (Fontes)

In the Brazilian navy document presented by A.P.R.O., there is never any mention of size, speed, or "time tests". It is odd that these details were left out. Were these estimates, accurate measurements, or guesses? When asked if he could have hoaxed the images, Barauna stated,"...I am an able photographer specialized (my emphasis) in trick photography, but I could not produce one that would withstand close and accurate examination" (Hynek 237). According to the US Navy attaché report, Barauna had some experience in hoax photography. He must have gotten this information from the news media because, according to Barauna, there were several newspapers that attacked his credibility, "Opinion was divided; three newspapers attacked me, six supported me. My enemies took advantage of the situation!" (Smith). Barauna would later state the papers attacked him because he could not let them have accesss to the photographs (they apparently were not part of the newspaper syndicate he sold the pictures to). It seems they brought up the fact he had faked a UFO photograph before. It would be interesting to read what these other newspapers wrote.

In a March 3, 1958 memo, the Brazilian Navy would comment on the entire incident. When it came to the negatives, they would state:

Concerning the negatives, they were submitted to examination by the Hydrography and Navigation Department’s technicians and by technicians from the Cruzeiro do Sul erophotgrammetric Service, with the following results:

I—The technician from the Navy’s HND, after examination of the negatives, affirms that they are natural;

II—The technicians from the Cruzeiro do Sul Aerophotogrammetric Service, after microscopic examinations to verify the granulation, analysis of signals, verification of luminosity and details of outlines, affirmed:

There was not any sign of photomontage in the negatives mentioned to, all the evidence indicating they are in fact negatives of an object really photographed;

The hypothesis of a photomontage contrived after the sighting is definitely excluded;

It is impossible to prove either the existence or the nonexistence of a previous photomontage, which requires however a high-precision technic and favorable circumstances to its execution. (A.P.R.O.)

Many years later, photographic expert, William Hyzer would state the following about hoax photographs,

In my opinion, fakery is virtually impossible to prove in a well-contrived image. If certain anomalies are detected, the best that any photographic analyst can do is to point them out as possible or probable artifacts of photographic fakery. (Hyzer 13)

The Brazilian Navy report made it clear they could not see evidence of any fakery but could not rule out the possibility. In the end they opined that they did not think that Barauna had the skill to create such a convincing hoax. With this type of endorsement and the implications of up to a hundred witnesses to verify the photographs authenticity, UFOlogists quickly begin to refer to this as a landmark case.

Works Cited

A.P.R.O. "New evidence on IGY Photos." APRO Bulletin. January 1965: 1,3-8. Available WWW: http://www.cufos.org/Trindade_New_Evidence_article.html

Fontes, Olavo. "The UAO sightings at the island of Trindade". APRO Bulletin. Available WWW: http://www.cufos.org/trindade_fontes_article1960.html

Hynek, J. Allen. The Hynek UFO Report. New York: Barnes & Nobles, 1997.

Hyzer, William G. "More Deceptive Imagery". Photomethods. September 1991 12-13

Lorenzen, Coral E., Flying Saucers: The startling evidence of the invasion from outer space. New York: New American Library, 1966

Simoes, Auriphebo B. "Letter to Lex."23 Feb. 1958. Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS). Available WWW: http://www.cufos.org/Trindade_Simoes_022358_letter.html

Smith, Willy. "Trindade Revisted" International UFO Reporter. July/August 1983. Available WWW: http://www.cufos.org/Trindade_Revisited.html


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