Argentina: What Happened at La Aurora?
[This article by our friend and colleague Pablo Villarubia appeared in Inexplicata #12 (Summer 2003). It describes one of the most shocking UFO incidents of the year 1977 - the so-called "Tonna Case", named after its protagonist, rancher Angel María Tonna - SC]
What Happened at La Aurora?
by Pablo Villarubia Mausó
I left Montevideo behind and was heading twoard the city of Salto on the Argentinean border, riding a dilapidated bus in order to rescue from oblivion the events which occurred one distant February 17, 1977. The central protagonist of the story was the owner of the La Aurora ranch, a man named Angel María Tronna. The victims included one dog, several sheep, a bull and one horse -- gravely affected by an object come from afar.
The first thing I did upon arriving was making a straight line toward the office of the El Pueblo newspaper to consult old newspapers which would put me on the track of the "Tonna Case". The Saturday the 19th edition was already legendary, since it presented the first news item on the macabre event.
On Sunday, February 13, 1977, at 5:30 a.m., Julio Cesar Rattín, 18, the youngest son of Angel Tonna, witnessed a UFO at a distance of some 150 meters, suspended of a copse of eucalyptus trees. It was light-emitting disk that illuminated a broad swath of countryside. On the following day, Monday at midnight, Tonna's wife, Elena Margarita Rattín, was watching TV before going to bed when a blackout suddenly occured. Upon going outside to insure the operation of their generator, she noticed an intense glow over La Aurora. Frightened, she ran back into the house.
It was the February 20, 1977 edition that anounced half a page saying "UFO in a ranch near the Daymán: Seen on three occasions." The anonymous journalist said that at 04:00 on February 17, Tonna, his children and some farmhands witnessed a strong light coming from behind a shed in which they stored feed. It was then that they saw a "flying saucer" measuring some 3 meters in diameter at an altitude of 15 meters. "The cows were frightened and stampeded, trampling one of the workers; the dogs howled in terror and we couldn't contain our astonishment. I was able to notice that the lights of the farm and the vicinity were totaly out and that the generator "coughed", threatening to seize up. THe disk moved slowly, almost in a zig-zag motion, and after passing over the pasture pond it headed toward the eucalyptus copse--the same one as on Sunday--and after a while wi didn't see it again," Tonna told the journalist.
The journalist interviewed the children and farmhands of the property. All versions agreed. Tonna spoke of the strange prints that had emerged three months ago on the pasture, shaped like a horseshoe 40 to 50 cm wide and with some parts more deeply sunk into the ground than others. It had a diameter of 3 meters and a variety of mushrooms began to grow inside it. At first the grass was burned but another type of grass soon sprang up to replace it. In spite of the assortment of data offered by the journalistic account, there were even more important elements missing -- some which Angel María Tonna and his people decided not to tell the reporter from El Pueblo.
The Mummified Dogs
It wasn't easy for me to find out more about La Aurora. I ased a few people on the street about the subject, even though 20 years had gone by, the memory fo the event was still fresh in the minds of many citizens. Some said it had all been a hoax, a lie, and others beleived that it was real and were even aware of the appearance of "unidentifieds" in the region for a few years now. Even luckier ones had also witnessed the transit of "flying saucers" over the county, such as twenty-year old Andrea Carpanesi. "What I am going to tell you took place in early 1997 at around 23:30 hours in front of the house in which I live. I was with my friend Cecilia, and looking northward an intense light appeared. The entire neighborhood was looking at it. It was almost orange in color, making a pendular movement. It lasted five minutes. Seeing such things is commonplace around here," Andrea said.
"Could you find out if it was a satellite or an aircraft?" I inquired.
"I called the weather bureau and I was told that no satellites were flying overhead, nor weather balloons or aircraft. They couldn't tell me what it was, iether. But I can tell you something else that's very interesting..."
"Go ahead," I encouraged her.
"Around 1993 I studied at the Universidad de Salto. The word spread that the School of Veterinary Medicine had two very strange dogs. With one of my friends, we sneaked into one of the labs, since it was forbidden to see these animals. I remember it all perfectly because it scared me. We saw a dead dog that had been propped up "alive". It was intact and even looked alive. It was black in color and medium-sized. Some students said that for unknown reasons, both this and another dog which I couldn't see did not decompose or didn't do so with the normal speed associated with death. Furthermore, they added that they had been found at the La Aurora ranch. Nothing further was ever said about the subejct," explained Campanesi.
That very same day I headed to the School of Veterinary Medicine. Everything I heard upon asking about dead dogs at La Aurora was a "we don't know" and an almost unbearable silence accompanied by not very friendly glances...
The next step in assembling this puzzle was to find journalist Carlos Ardaix, one of the first to appear after the incidents of February 1977. This man, with a Basque-French surname, welcomed me into his home and told me about his contact with Angel Tonna: "At that time hosted a radio show with a considerable following. It was when Angel Maria Tonna phoned me adn said: "If you want to know the truth atbout La Aurora and why the city's lights went out, come over." I went with two or three people from the radio sation. When we arrived Tonna was still rather upset. He told me that at 0400 hours they had seen a light behind the shed and thought that it was on fire. The horses, the dogs...all of the animals were frightened. Tonna walked to some 50 meters of where the apparatus was. It approached slowly and Angel fell to the ground, covering his face with his arm to avoid the powerful light. Later the object vanished at high speed," the newspaperman explained.
There was talk of burned or severed wires...
"When I reached the ranch the steel wires were still cut and the cables of the electrical facility. The engine's piston broke down, a very expensive breeding bull died slowly...I understand that an autopsy was performed on it at the School of Medicine and no cause of death was established. The same happened to several sheep, whose wool was singed black and left like rough wifer. A very fierce dog that Tonna kept died little by little. Tonna had a skin eruption on the arm that he used to shield his face from the light.
You did not doubt Tonna's information?
No, he seemed very sincere. In any event, as a journalist, I tried to find other witnesses. One of the farmhands had already seen something similar near the site. I visited other farms near La Aurora, sicne i thought a local may have seen the UFO. I asked a foreman and he told me hadn't seen anything at night. As we walked out, a farmhand chopping wood told me: "We all saw what happened at night, but we were forbidden to speak of it." After that we transmitted Tonna's recording over the air. There was a chain reaction. Many people started visiting the site, like those Americans who wanted to take him back to the U.S. for testing.
Do you recall who these men were?
No. It was said at the time that they were from NASA, but I'm not sure. I think there was an American journalist [among them]. At the time the Salto Grande dam was being built and there were Japanese engineers staying at the farm. One physician--Dr. Menoni--discovered through some photographs that there was considerable radiation in the trees at La Aurora. The Japanese confirmed it on their measurment devices.
What about the burns on Tonna's arm?
It was a burn that would reoccur sporadically. The electocardiogram machine would't work when the electrodes would be placed on him. That's what two doctors I know told me. After two years the burns began to fade. It was something truly strange that could've had something to do with radiation.
So..what about the blackouts?
No one has been able to explain why there were so many blackouts in 1977. On the night on which the events played out in La Aurora there was a half-hour long blackout. In following days there were others, always whenever UFOs appeared.
Could there have been somtehing more behind the events? Human manipulation perhaps?
Never! I can tell you that the breeding bull he had died, and it was worth a fortune. That wasn't a joke. The pedigree horse didn't die...he was a stud and was rendered sterile.
Is it true that the ranch became a place of pilgrimage?
Yes, but Angel Tonna, in recent years, is sick of receiving callers and has chosen not to let anyone in and to refuse interviews. I understand, because he wants to work normally, look after his animals and his property. So many people came from all over the world came, like American ufologists James Hurtak and Bob Pratt, Pedro Romaniuk from Argentina. Tonna showed me a letter in which Antonio Ribera claimed to be interested in visiting La Aurora but he couldn't come. The most controversial was a visit by Neil Armstrong, the first man on the Moon. No one knows why he visited...
And to these pilgrimages still go on?
Sometimes entire buses of people come seeking cures. Yes, they think the place was blessed by a supernatural force. It was decided to build a crypt to Padre Pío there and don't ask me why. The people who find the warning sign advising them to stay away from La Aurora cross the road where they find the chapel of teh prioest that makes miracles, healings...
Radioactivity on the Farm
On the following day I tried contacting Tonna and his relatives using the phone numbers featured in the localk directory. After some frustrated events, I managed to speak to one of his sons, the veterinarian, and he told me that his father no longer spoke of Angel Tonna. The matter was closed for him.
My only alternative was to open other fronts. One of these was to locate doctor Juan María Menoni, the same one who took photographs in the area which showed traces of radiation. "I'm not a ufologist," he said, "but I became interested in the case at the time. When I visited the site, I found that part of the fence had been melted. The generator and the motor had burned out. I took a sample of tree bark that had been burned by the UFO. A photographer friend suggested that I place the piece of bark over a strip of 35mm film. When we developed the film some strange spots appeared on the film.
Without a word, Menoni went to his office and returned with some photo enlargements which showed the result of the vegetable matter's exposure. "It's curious. It seemed to be charged with radiation, but where was the radiation coming from? It must've been from the mysterious flying saucer."
A few days later, in Buenos Aires, I had an interview with famous parapsychologist and ufologist Antonio Las Heras, who had visited La Aurora in 1978 to look into the case. "What happened there drew my attention. I saw the trees, the toppled eucalyptuses, almost uprooted, as though a giant hand had played with them. I saw the branches ripped off by a UFO's effects. In fact, they looked like someone had smashed them, making them tumble over and over. I found calcined rock with vitreous formation on the sandstone. For vitrification to occur, the tempuratures must be in excess of a thousand degrees [Centigrade]. I saw giant mushrooms measuring a meter and a half in diameter, standing inside the strange marks left by the UFOs. Only radiation could have mutated those living organisms."
Las Heras told me that Tonna had been accompanied by a police dog that fateful night. "The animal died three days later. They said that it had no blood, as though it had been absorbed through its flesh, which had developed an inconsistent appearance, like flesh that has been boiled. The dog's skin was burned in seeral pales and its tail hairs were bristled like wire. No one was able to offer a diagnosis for what occurred," he said, shaking his head.
"What happened to the bull?" I asked, trying to avoid showing surprise at his words.
"It was a show animal of great value and it died with the very same symptoms as the dog, but after a week. The horse--a stallion--was left sterile. The sheep deaths were also mysterious: they had a sort of band around their bodies which passed through their withers. IT was really a burned patch, as though a branding iron had been applied, according to Tonna."
That made me react, associating the facts with the enigmatic manifestationsof the infamous Chupacabras, but much later, in the mid-Nineties. A large amount of farm animals turned up dead in several Latin American countries, generally bled dry, attacked by an unknown creature or force.
Uruguayan ufologist Jorge Monsalve, whom I couldn't locate, also interviewed Tonna around the time. In his book Encuentros Cercanos con OVNIS (Montevideo, 1995), Monsalve explains how he arrived in time to see the Normandy bull, imported from France, still alive. Tonna asked the man to touch the animal's horns: "That being said, I extended my hand and [the horn] practically crumbled in my fingers. A sad and disagreeable experience."
(Translation (c) 2003, Scott Corrales, Institute of Hispanic Ufology)