Monday, September 13, 2010

Argentina: The El Macón UFO and the Abominable Snowmen of La Puna

The Mystery of the El Macon UFO and the Abominable Men of La Puna
By Fabio Picasso
(Translated by Scott Corrales (c) 2010)

This series of events constitutes one of the darkest and examined pages of Argentinean ufology. It is not my intention to clarify these points. However, as a kick-off point for a subsequent compilation, I have considered it opportune to expand on the events that occurred in those inhospitable regions of Salta in detail and in chronological order. To do this, I have employed the original articles appearing in the La Razon newspaper and some less relevant sources. Everything apparently began in 1955 when “from Tolar Grande, a community close to the El Macon mountain, a tremendous commotion was seen to occur on one of the slopes, as though an aerolith had impacted against it. This event was not investigated and there were those who said that the object that crashed against El Macon was an airship of unusual configuration, later specifying that it was cigar-shaped (1). One year later, an explorer tried to research these events and the mountain was climbed yet again in 1957: the first case involved a geologist and the second was for presumably archaeological purposes. It is curious to note that this case may have been the conclusion of a hitherto unknown wave that in a way continued the 1954 flap, which extended into the first months of 1955. But as I have said, the alleged accident at El Macon occurred at an unspecified date in 1955, and would have almost certainly been forgotten had it not been for the UFOs photographed in the vicinity of Salar de Arizaro. “According to a group of citizens from Salar de Arizaro, Department of Los Andes, strange objects were seen to cross the skies at high on the 15th of the month.

One of the residents, the foreman of a National Highway Service squad, stated that they had seen such strange bodies in the sky before, but never like today. He added that they flew low enough to allow their shapes to be clearly seen, despite their prodigious speed. He added that members of his squad were stunned to see elongated, silvery structures, cigar-shaped, appear in a NE to SW direction, making quick changes in trajectory. In a matter of seconds, the objects were on the far side of the salt desert. They made no noise whatsoever as they traveled and each one of them expelled a wake of white smoke that practically covered the skies in that location. The devices continued toward their Arita Mine before passing over the Achibarca Mountains and then to the Antofalla Volcano.” (2)

Journalistic sources would experience a silence of nearly one month, as the photographs were apparently kept secret, since it was said that the National Gendarmerie had intervened in the case. This circumstance arises from the article I now transcribe: “Despite officialdom’s silence regarding the appearance of the flying cigars in the region known as Salar de Arizaro, it can affirm that the National Gendarmerie has been investigating the case since last March 15th (April, n.a), the date of the strange incident which has stirred public opinion throughout the country. It can also be ascertained that photos obtained of the flying saucers by the National Highways staff in the overflown region are now in the possession of the same official agency. Readers will recall that the strange objects crossed space at high speed, appearing to stand still at a given moment, which was employed to take photographs. Casual observers of the unknown travelers determined that they were cigar-shaped and that their movement was absolutely silent, thus discarding the possibility that they were jet aircraft from Chile or Bolivia. Moreover, known jet aircraft do not have a great autonomy of flight, nor are there any bases near the Salar de Arizaro.” (3)

Another month went by in silence until the National Gendarmerie finally issued, in early June 1956, a communiqué trying to explain the events. “Expanding on what was made known before, it has been confirmed that on April 13, personnel of the Tolar Grande Section of the National Gendarmerie, attached to the San Antonio de los Cobres barracks in Salta Province, a strange cigar-shaped flying object, 300 meters long, which gave off silver flashes, giving the impression of being made of aluminum, progressed at high speed over the Salar de Arizaro in a NW direction toward Socompa, leaving a white wake in its path. Given the object’s high speed, its characteristics could not be specified. With regard to the photograph, the same report states that it was taken by Mr. Maximo Chilo, a worker with National Highways, who was in the vicinity and managed to photograph the flying body.” (4)

As a curious note, a gigantic “cloud-cigar” – to use the terminology adopted by Aime Michel – appeared in the late afternoon in the center of Buenos Aires on June 29th, seen by many people (5). Oddly enough, on July 10th, La Razon published statements by the photographer who, paradoxically, wanted to remain anonymous, when the Gendarmerie report identified him a month earlier. It is impossible to know if it was the same person or if there were two photographers. In any event, it is interesting to note these statements: “...Now there is also debate over the strange object that flew over Salar de Arizaro on April 15th on the Salar de Arizaro plateau. In recent days, two men –Esteban Bossy and Diego Alfonso – stated that these cigars or flying objects were no more than jet engines that the army flies between Quito and Chile over this region. But a response to this statement did not take long to emerge. A witness and author of the photos of the object published in Buenos Aires with the authorization of the National Gendarmerie reiterates that we are in the presence of foreign objects – perhaps foreign to the planet itself – whose “atomic irradiation” produced a precipitation of the sensitive emulsion of the photo film. Supporting this theory, the reporter notes the fact that three of the instant film rolls taken of the objects were completely or partly clouded, despite the proper shutter speed and camera usage. According to the witness, who requests anonymity, these were not jet aircraft nor any other aircraft of conventional design known by civil or military aeronautical authorities in the world. These were strange objects. He added: “The machines or objects observed, aside from their size, did not have any wings or rudders. Their structure – smooth and spindle-shaped – made them look like huge, extraordinarily maneuverable blimps, making sharp and steep turns at high speed. Finally, the witness, who supports statements made by many others from the National Highway Service and the Gendarmerie itself, says that the train of smoke left in their wake surpassed in volume the possible condensation of gases that could be expelled from any jet’s engines.” (6)

Everything seemed to end with these statements and I believe that very little may have emerged from those desert regions, had it not been for a geologist named Spitch, who added a further condiment to the area’s altered tranquility. “Now comes the most sensation, if it were possible. The Abominable Snowman, whose exploits caused us to smile, has sobered the people of Salta. This is to be expected. Yeti, the strange Himalayan being, has appeared at Nevado El Macon, in La Puna. This is the story that is spreading from mouth to mouth. Only days ago, engineer Claudio Level Spitch, an unquestionable authority in radioactive minerals, returned from El Macón after carrying out a mission involving his specialization. But his findings have surpassed all expectations, since aside from determining the existence the type of mineral sought, he has found human footprints at an elevation in excess of 5700 meters. But aside from this, the prints are over 40 centimeters long and Engineer Sptich himself, making statements to the El Tribuno de Salta newspaper, compared the strange similarity of his find with those of the Abominable Snowman in legendary Tibet. The footprints found at the summit of majestic El Macón exceed all human possibilities, said Spitch.” (7)

It should be noted that national newspapers had been publishing, on a rather regular basis, stories about the Yeti and other hairy Asian creatures, including those of Malaysia. It will suffice to scan the pages of La Razón between 1951 and 1956, from which I have gathered at least 13 articles alluding to Wild Men or yetis. (8) Two days after some additional details on Spitch’s remarks appeared in the press.

“After the first sensational statements made by mining engineer Claudio Spitch about the presence of strange beings in the vicinity of El Macón, which stands 6600 meters over the wilderness of La Puna de Atacama, other stories have been received to confirm the news provided by the aforementioned technical minor. In fact, official sources have ascertained the existence of footprints with human characteristics, but of gigantic proportions, in the frozen sands of El Macón as well as in its ice fields. These footprints, according to these sources, were found with greater clarity in two occasions. The first was around a year ago, when from Tolar Grande, a community near El Macón, a colossal explosion was witnessed. The second in which the footprints that have caused concern among the population were reported is now, that is to say, a few weeks after having noticed the strange manifestation of aerial artifacts in the skies of Salar de Arizaro, described in some cases as “flying cigars” with scattered photo evidence obtained. Popular imagination, growing by leaps and bounds, is weaving the possibility that we are facing sensational events that indicate the landing of extraterrestrial beings in this part of the planet. Mention is made of the coincidence of similar reports in the so-called Rooftop of the World, the Himalayas, where the Yeti or Abominable Snowman has disturbed laymen and scientists alike. These otherworldly beings would seem to chose the highest elevations, and perhaps the coldest climates, as best suited to conduct their first incursions to our planet. Sidereal space, unexplored by humans, is the best-suited means for enabling all manner of navigation (sic) and La Puna de Atacama is too, given the enormous surface extension of its frozen reaches, making it the best place for landing spacecraft of unheard-of sizes. It should be remembered that casual observers of the objects crossing the skies of Salr de Arizaro on April 14th stated that these could have easily been 300 meters long. Personnel from the Gendarmerie became involved immediately, ordering the confiscation of the photos taken. Subsequently, copies of the photos taken were distributed to metropolitan papers, documenting the transit of the strange objects.” (9)

Up to here, the elements leaned toward the presence of strange beings. But beyond the footprints, no one had really seen these creatures. However, a muleteer ran into the beast. “Ernesto Sanitolay, 35, a muleteer, told authorities of the police station at Quebrada de Agua de Chuya – hesitantly and with clear signs of agitation – that while leading cattle through a gorge, he was startled by a strange creature covered in dense fur, wailing as it tried to spook his animals. After the initial confusion, the muleteer was able to see that the being was somewhat larger than a monkey, covered in frosted hair and very agile, capable of eluding the shots fired by a shotgun. The police, certain of the story’s authenticity, has commenced the pertinent investigation.” (10)

The same newspaper would subsequently publish more details on the encounter, although confusing the witnesses name and age. “With the arrival of muleteer Ciriaco Taritolay (sic) in Chicoana, who lived through the harrowing experience of seeing the Yeti or Abominable Snowman, new details on the unique event are becoming known. On July 23rd, while heading toward this community at the entrance of Quebrada de Agua Chuya, he was taken by surprise by a supernatural apparition that it considered completely real and not a hallucination. The apparition was a gigantic creature, seemingly covered in frosted hair. The area is covered in snow and snow-capped mountains, explained the muleteer. This being, whose feet, as I was able to calculate, were greater than 45 centimeters long, traveled before me by leaps and bounds and with startling agility. It shape was more human than simian. Having overcome my initial surprise and fear, and seeing that the creature was trying to flee rather than approach, I chased with my shotgun, but not before it vanished into the hillside.” This is the story told by the witness, a native of Quebrada de Esocipe, currently 65 years old (sic) and who knows the mountain ranges and snow-capped mountains of Chañí very well. The story by the Chicoana muleteer confirms earlier information about prints of a large creature found in the mountains of La Puna, and which were widely reported in the national press.” (11)

On the next day, we found new information provided by La Razon’s correspondent in Tolar Grande, a correspondent probably attached to Diario El Tribuno, whose report was transcribed without citing sources. “A correspondent returning to Salta states that he is in a position to supply numerous details about the strange creature that would have appeared in El Macón. After a visit to Tolar Grande, a rail station near the place where the events occurred, there are new stories and details that confirm the adventures of Polish mining technician C.L. Spitch, and later by the Chicoana muleteer. According the new sources, humble residents of La Puna, for some 3 years now, since the strange collision against El Macón, attributed to an aerolith at the time, there have been statements suggesting the presence of one or several strange beings in the snow-capped mountains of la Puna. One source, requesting anonymity, explained that on several occasions it has been able to hear powerful, resonant screams clearly at twilight, and particularly as the streams begin to frost over in the early hours of the evening. Furthermore – also attested by several persons – mountain birds, such as condors and Puna eagles, have been found dead and torn to shreds, with their nests ransacked. Added to these fantastic accounts is that in all cases, large footprints have been found next to the destroyed nests. Given their characteristics, the prints have not been associated with bear prints, animals initially believed responsible. (Keep in mind that the only known bear in the Andes is the so called spectacled bear or Tremarctus Ornatus, which lives at elevations far lower than those of the Puna). All agree that these reports suggest the presence of the infamous Abominable Snowman from far-off Tibet, which has been noted for some time but has been kept confidential due to a fear of mockery. Now, people are encouraged to speak after Spitch’s statements, who mentioned the existence of traces of unknown creatures at the end of one of his customary excursions through the Puna, searching for radioactive minerals. Regarding the collision against Cerro El Macon 3 years ago (keep in mind that other reports placed it in 1955), new details have also been gleaned. While at the time the loud report was attributed to the collision of an aerolith against the mountain, local residents now claim that it was a strange object of tremendous size, which broke up when it rammed the mountain, with unknown materials being subsequently found in the area. It is correct to suppose that the appearance of possible supernatural creatures in La Puna is the talk of the day not only in this city, but in the rest of the province.” (12)

Nothing further appeared in the press until November, when a brief report mentioned the activities of an expedition made to the Puna. “A recent expedition by the Club Andino del Norte and the Centro de Estudios Libres of the School of Natural Sciences has made interesting discoveries that would determine the existence of strange animals in the frozen regions of the Puna de Atacama. The expedition occurred in the region of the Salar de Arizaro to the north, trying to locate means of accessing the Nevado de Aracar, Guanaqueros, El Macon and Incahuasi mountains, and coming within 3 kilometers of the Chilean border. Upon returning, members of the expedition turned over the remains of animals having curious characteristics to the School. Among them is a goat with strange horn formations, half-eaten by foxes, which are numerous in the area. These remains consist of hide, head and extremities. Another animal found, and whose species remains undetermined, is a sort of lizard measuring 70 centimeters long and, with a 40 cm. body and 30 cm. tail, powerful extremities and a head resembling that of a toad. The head has a formation similar to a chicken’s breast. This specimen is completely desiccated by the cold and salinity of the Puna.” (13)

Shortly a after, another expedition went to those inhospitable regions, showing an unusual interest, possibly by the event developed in these pages. “Upon returning from an expedition that managed to climb El Macón for the first time ever, Dr. Jose Cerato of the city of Cordoba has made statements to the press. Through the expedition, he has said, it was possible to collect information regarding the presence of strange aerial artifacts flying over the frozen reaches of the Puna – continuously and since 1955. At the top of the mountain, says the scholar, the existence of ancient indigenous structures was ascertained, as well as curious traces similar to what would be produced by the high speed descent of a sufficiently heavy object. The structures are a timbered dome, suggesting an Incan lookout point. Moreover, numerous people consulted along the rout agree in having seen circular and spindle-shaped objects flying at high speed on repeated occasions, far different from aeroliths or asteroid fragments.” (14)

The final chapter of this extraordinary saga occurred in 1957, and consisted in a new discovery of foot prints and hair samples. “Muleteers reaching Chicoana from the NW end of the Argentinean-Bolivian border have told strange stories about the presence of odd creatures in the wilderness of La Puna. Thoroughly knowledgeable about these regions, known for their intense cold and nearly-constant strong winds, the muleteers, Tránsito Corregidor among them, agree that some strange creature or animal is living in the area, as they have seen imprints resembling the footsteps of a giant man. Furthermore, among the brambles and bushes of the area, they found hairs whose characteristics do not match those of the animals that customarily occupy the rough and inhospitable country. There have been those who say that at night, when the cold and wind are at their harshest, they can hear human wails and screams that can cause the bravest man to quake. The new stories by the muleteers have resurrected the belief among many locals that the Puna de Atacama is inhabited by a “creole” version, or better yet, a kolla version, of the Abominable Snowman, known to the natives as Ukumar Zupai or Koquena, a figure of native mythology.” (15)

This brings to a close the extensive chronicle of the mysterious apparitions in La Puna between 1955-1957. Unfortunately, I have not yet had access to regional sources and for this reason, this project endeavors to be an approximation to a much more exhaustive study. In any event, all of these references have been gathered into a single work for the first time, and despite their possibly tedious reading, given the repetition of events and the confused writing style of the correspondents, I thought to keep the text as written.

The episodes in La Puna were continued by events in Chile (1958) which aroused similar interest and whose characteristics were strikingly similar, as I could determine through the excellent material provided by Chilean researcher Liliana Núñez Orellana. Later, in 1960, we had new apparitions of hairy humanoids in the northeastern area of Salta, specifically in the forests of Yariguarenda, cases that will appear in a new article – Fabio Picasso, 1999-2002.

[Fabio Picasso is the director of Archivos Forteanos Latinoamericanos (AFLA) and a contributor to the defunct STRANGE Magazine.]

[1] La Razón(Buenos Aires) 23 July 1956
[2] La Razón (Buenos Aires) 18 April 1956
[4] La Razón (Buenos Aires) 4 June 1956,pg.6
[5] La Razón (Buenos Aires) 30 June 1956.
[6] La Razón (Buenos Aires) 10 July1956.
[7] La Razón (Buenos Aires) 21 July 1956.
[8] Megatac Database 2001, Author’s file
[9] La Razón (Buenos Aires) 23 July 1956
[10] La Razón (Buenos Aires) 27 July 1956.
[11] La Razón (Buenos Aires) 30 July 1956.
[12] La Razón (Buenos Aires) 1 August 1956.
[13] La Razón (Buenos Aires) 2 November1956.
[14] La Razón (Buenos Aires) 2 Noember1957
[15] La Razón (Buenos Aires) 24 April 1957. Source: OVNI