In the years of 1977 and 1978, locals of northern Brazil were terrorized by what they described as luminous and vampire balls of light, a phenomenon soon nicknamed “chupa-chupa“, meaning “suck-suck”. The panic reached great proportions and led to the creation of a military operation of the Brazilian Air force dedicated to investigate the subject. Called “Operation Saucer”, it would become one of the biggest “ufology” stories in Brazil, mainly after in 1997 its commander, Uyrange Hollanda, publicly confirmed his participation in the operation. Recently, the episode was revisited in a popular Brazilian TV show, “Linha Direta“, and was also one of the subjects of a series of documentaries from History Channel, titled “The Brazilian Roswell“.
But little concrete evidence is known about the operation. To the “Linha Direta” TV show, the Brazilian Air Force stated that the operation had been the result of personal interest from those involved, and that it only had some reports of one of the members of the operation. And the author of mostly all reports was Sergeant João Flávio de Freitas Costa. Unfortunately, Flávio Costa passed away in 1993, without giving greater details of his participation in the Operation, then still officially secret.
Even Flávio Costa’s death became subject of speculations regarding “alien implants” — which commander Uyrangê Hollanda later claimed to have had –, and it was investigating these claims that we met Fernando Costa, the son of sergeant Flávio Costa. To our surprise, Fernando Costa not only was already exposing such unfounded stories on the rather mundane death of his father, he was also ready to reveal valuable information on little known aspects of the Operation. The following interview was conducted in collaboration with journalist Jeferson Martinho, from the Brazilian electronic magazine Vigilia:
CA: Flávio Costa was the author of almost all of the reports, drawings and pictures of the “Operation Saucer“. He also helped to convince Uyrangê Hollanda that they were dealing with something unknown. How do you view, today, your father’s role in this polemic Operation?
Fernando: Viewing today, I can see a man divided between his personal beliefs — with some mysticism, and very enthusiastic with ufology — and a strict military man, zealous with his missions, that had to limit himself to factual reports, scientifically based.
CA: You told us that your father was passionate about ufology. Did he happen to tell some story on the subject?
Fernando: To the close ones, he was always telling stories… He always put personal impressions in a convincing and meticulous way, with a lot of excitement and a dose of mysticism. Regarding facts related with the military activity, he only spoke what his duty allowed him to. He very seldom let away secret details of his activities. After he retired, in the Sunday lunches, after some drinks, I managed to know some things. I think in the beginning of the Operation Saucer he was quite unsatisfied with the lack of resources for obtaining evidence. I got to see pictures of three circles, harmoniously disposed in a triangular form, imprinted in the grass as if they had been burned. He told that radioactivity was detected in those marks. For him, that represented the impression of the landing of a ship. I didn’t see, in any of the reports to which I had access, any reference or comment on that picture.
CA: Your father’s reports are detailed in their descriptions of the sightings, from weather conditions to many maps and diagrams. He was trained as a meteorologist, wasn’t he?
Fernando: He was a graduate meteorologist from the School of Specialists of the Brazilian Aeronautics. We can notice, below his signature in the reports, that besides his military rank there’s the acronym QMT, designating his specialty. In spite of not having concluded the Flying School on the Para Aeroclub, he also piloted small airplanes.
CA: Did he comment on how he understood the UFO phenomenon and the Chupa-chupa specifically?
Fernando: He had some theories: he associated the occurrence of ufological phenomena to geodesic faults. He spoke about a fault that went from the central plateau to Colares, in Para, and that the great majority of the phenomena observed by him were located in that line. But he didn’t dismiss the possibility that such phenomena involved experiments from developed countries, with top secret vectors still in testing phase. We cannot forget the similarity of the illustration of a sighting in the area of Santarém, with the today known “Stealth” flying wings.
CA: And did you see something at that time? Do you remember how the phenomenon was publicized by the media and how did the people react to it?
Fernando: The Chupa-chupa phenomenon took a great space in the local media, which generated some conflict between the military and part of the press. There are some stories that the then captain Hollanda invaded the office of a newspaper and confiscated pictures related with the Operation. For my part, I wasn’t interested in the subject, so much so that I always escaped from the patrols [to watch for the UFOs] when I was called. Studying was always a good excuse. My mother joined several patrols and she is even mentioned in one of the lists of witnesses in the reports.
CA: And how was it to participate, in a certain way, personally in the Operation?
Fernando: Today, I think it was indeed interesting. But at that time, it was a horror. To be the son of a military man, of the “big sergeant”, was not an easy task. As such, I had to walk always “in the line”, not to involve myself with student politics and to be an exemplary student. I was studying in high school and I was finishing an apprenticeship in the Bank of Brazil in which I passed, in Brasília, in an excellent position. My father did everything he could to direct me to the military career, because he knew that I had potential for it. I always rejected such possibility, because I thought I had been already “serving” the military during all my life and passed all the possible trainings, including the “united order”, handling of weapons, survival in the jungle, navigation notions, aviation, airplane modeling and so on. My heart pointed me to the road of the humanities and social sciences that, later on, I ended up studying. The conflict between generations and ideologies was quite stark, but it did maintain a respectful level as much as possible.
During the time of Operation Saucer, an improvised photographic laboratory was set up, with equipment of the I COMAR, in the maid’s room of our house, in the military village. My participation in the developing some pictures of the operation was imposed by my father: “It is better for you to be learning a profession home, instead of learning useless things in the street”. Today I can understand it, but for an adolescent that generated a big rebellion. While I was developing the pictures in the small room, he was at the living room, writing reports and drawing many of the illustrations of the Operation. In that period, the rage ended up overcoming the reason and I started to “play”, enlarging any luminous point in the film to make them similar to a “flying saucer”. Afterwards, some of those pictures leaked, I don’t know how, and I laughed a lot when I had news of their publication in ufology books. I shared the reason of the laughter only with some close friends.
Images “leaked” from the Operation
CA: Very interesting. But did some of the images that you saw or manipulated catch your attention? Some story or element especially memorable that you could share?
Fernando: There was one that all of us thought was the best, and that was around in my mother’s house and that I don’t know where it ended up. The objects in the films that I manipulated were almost always spherical or cylindrical. However, there was a picture of an object that resembled a sea ray. That was not developed by me, but, in fact, it was impressive.
CA: In one of the reports written by your father, he regrets the lack of resources and admits that the accumulated evidence could not sustain the conclusions that they had arrived to regarding the phenomena being “intelligently driven”. Hollanda also told how he bought film for the recordings with his own money. Did your father speak something about the lack of resources?
Fernando: He spoke on the initial difficulties with the equipment for photographic registration. Only after a larger repercussion of the subject they received an improvement of resources. I think the position of BSB was very skeptical, though they did send some observers, which left the Operation Saucer members a little frustrated. As a military observer, he was very impressed with the capability of abrupt maneuvers of the UFOs, that, according to him, violated the possibilities of movement of the known vectors.
CA: The late American journalist Bob Pratt also investigated the Chupa-chupa phenomenon, and he even became friend of commander Uyrangê Hollanda. Today we also know that your father received military training in USA. How do you see those suggestions of a great involvement and interest of American government in the Operation Saucer?
Fernando: I noticed in my father’s comments an enormous distrust in relation to the “foreigner” (Pratt). Since my father came back from a training abroad, he nurtured some xenophobia. He was always photographing and classifying members of religious missions, that he said were foreign agents that took abroad all possible information on the great treasure of the world, the Amazon. Even then, I read that he traveled with Mr. Bob Pratt. Sometimes there were civil observers, ufology buffs, linked with the civil aviation. Some were even effective collaborators of the Operation, as Mr. Piñon. However, in the case of Mr. Pratt, I don’t believe that a captain and a sergeant had autonomy to introduce a foreigner in an operation considered so secret. I was always under the impression that the imposition of Mr. Pratt came from the top. There was another foreigner too, Priest Alfredo de la O, that, if I’m not mistaken, was parish of the area of Colares in Pará, and that later collaborated here with the information services in other political subjects, so common in this area. I heard my father’s comment, where he suspected that the priest was a CIA agent.
CA: After almost thirty years, the phenomena and the Operation got the public’s attention again with the production of the TV program “Linha Direta” of TV Globo. Following this renewed interest, some of those involved began to make new declarations, like Ubiratan Piñon, who made imaginative claims about your father’s death.
Fernando: The claims are imaginative and complete lies. This gentleman was always prone to the fantastic stories. I know people that already heard him tell that he witnessed a sea cow turning into a man [a folkloric Brazilian legend], there in the Marajo Island… While he was limiting himself to the Amazonian legends and myths, everything was well. But it happens that he made false claims to an ufology publication about my father’s death. Publication that didn’t have enough responsibility in verifying the claims with Flávio Costas’s family and the doctors of the Air Force Hospital, that treated my father.
Could it be that the medical team that cared for my father was incompetent to the point of not noticing an “implant put by the aliens”? Wouldn’t the family that took care of his personal hygiene after the stroke have noticed? Piñon claimed he went to our house after my father’s death, and attributed false statements to my mother. In the beginning of January, 1993, Flávio Costa had a stroke. He was hospitalized at the Air Force Hospital of Belém for about a month. As a result of the stroke, he became hemiplegic in the right side and also lost his speech. After he was released from the hospital, the family took him home, hired a private physiotherapist and took care of him, giving bath, making all his personal hygiene and curatives, as the long stay in the bed of the hospital left him with bed sores. The wife and children examined him carefully, therefore, they would have noticed anything strange. The death certificate, by Dr. José Luiz Carvalho, indicates CARDIOREPIRATORY STOP, HEART ATTACK AND CEREBRAL VASCULAR ACCIDENT as Causa Mortis. Mr. Ubiratan Piñon must have suffered some kind of mental mutilation to make the statements he did.
Excerpt from Flávio Costa’s death certificate
CA: What is your opinion on the way the events are being approached today? And finally, what do you think about the Chupa-chupa and the Operation Saucer?
Fernando: The occurrence of a strange phenomenon is undeniable. It affected a portion of the population of Amazon. Even knowing that our natives are very prone to myths and legends, it is difficult to deny the bizarre occurrences. However, some claims should be more responsible. The “conspiracy theorists” love to invent things. Such was the case with my father’s death, with the death of Hollanda, and even with the Japanese balloons of the Second World War destined to cause fires in the USA [Fugos] and other hundreds of stories. Sometimes they believe so much in the baloney they help to create that they omit facts that can solve their myths.
Even with the death of some members of the Operation Saucer, the easy communication that we have today gives us better investigation resources, which allow for more accurate and responsible work. When our family discovered and was shocked with the article published with Mr. Piñon’s absurd statements, I decided to find and talk with one of the officials of the Operation. Even in a country with hundreds of thousands of municipal districts, it took me only three days investigating and I got a phone contact. With the help of the internet and some phone calls, I located who I was after. It is worth noting that in some rare occasions I work as a journalist, in a specialized magazine in my area. I am an audio professional. I write about some events whose sound stage complexity can be interesting to the readers. But investigative journalism was never my area.
With a little bit of intelligence and good will, it is possible. You have to responsible with your readers!
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