Perhaps the most impressive UFO story told during the recent Brazilian World UFO Forum was that of Haraldo Westendorf, who made news headlines a year ago when he allegedly flew his private plane within a few dozen meters of an enormous unidentified flying object.
Westendorf is 40 years old, a father of three children and a successful businessman. He is also an avid private pilot rated for acrobatic flying. The following account is based directly on his one-hour presentation at the Brazilian UFO conference, which included several detailed illustrations.
Westendorf says he took off in his single-engine Piper Apache from the city of Pelotas near the southernmost tip of Brazil on the morning of November 5, 1996. It was to be a routine recreational flight of the kind he takes for fun whenever time allows.
On this occasion, he had been in the air only about 12 minutes and was flying at an altitude of 5,000 feet over a large lake some five miles southeast of Pelotas when he saw ahead of him an enormous aerial object. The time was about 10:30 a.m.
He radioed the Pelotas tower to learn if they could see the object from the ground. They confirmed that the object was visible to them and asked him for a close-range report. Westendorf then decided to fly as close as he could.
Westendorf emphasizes that he did not believe in UFOs and says this accounts for his initial willingness to fly close to the object. He didn't know he might be in danger.
When he got close to the object, he realized that in his twenty years of piloting experience he had never seen or heard of anything like it. Since he had done stunt training in the United States and had also flown in France, he had become acquainted with some very advanced and exotic aircraft. But he knew that this was not an airplane.
Westendorf showed several detailed color drawings of the object, with his own plane drawn to scale alongside it. He describes the object as a faceted cone, flat on the bottom with a rounded point on top. On each of the eight or ten sloping side panels were three large bulges, like triangle-shaped bay windows on the side of a house -- but they did not look like windows. The entire surface was brown in color. The structure was about 70 meters (225 feet) high and about 100 meters (325 feet) in diameter, big enough to fill nearly an entire soccer field if landed. His own plane, less than 6 meters wide, was tiny by comparison.
Westendorf says he spent about 12 to 14 minutes in close proximity to the object, trying to see as much as he could. Although the Pelotas air tower does not have radar, he believes the airport radar at Curitiba (nearly 450 nautical miles northeast of his position) tracked the whole encounter. However, officials at Curitiba deny this (see below).
The object was spinning around slowly and moving southeast toward the nearby seacoast at a speed of about 60 nautical miles per hour. Westendorf managed to fly entirely around the base of the object three times. At one point, he says, his wingtip came within about 40 meters of the object.
After his third lap around the object, Westendorf noticed that the rounded top seemed to disappear, leaving what looked like an open hole at the top. Then he saw, emerging from inside the object, a classic flying saucer. It rose sideways, its long axis vertical until it cleared the top of the larger object, then tipped down to assume its normal orientation and departed at tremendous speed. Westendorf said that this saucer was about 10 meters in diameter, or nearly twice as wide as his own plane, and he thinks it flew away at more than Mach 10. The saucer showed no indication of noticing Westendorf's presence nearby.
As soon as the saucer disappeared, Westendorf decided to try to fly over the top of the object. Brazilian media later reported that he wanted to fly his plane into the interior of the object, but he says he never even considered that. He only hoped for a peek through the opening.
To get more altitude, he flew his plane several hundred meters away from the object, turned around and began a steep climb. He noticed that the object was now rotating much faster. Then he saw brilliant beams of red light shoot from the top of the object toward the sky. He quickly abandoned his plan to fly over the top.
Then, to his amazement, the object rose straight up at tremendous speed. For the first time, Westendorf was scared, because he believed the object's rapid acceleration might produce a shock wave of turbulence that could overwhelm his own plane. As a trained pilot, he knew that air traffic controllers recommend staying at least three minutes behind a large aircraft to avoid such turbulence. He estimated that the unidentified object probably weighed at least three times as much as a 747 jumbo jet, so its shock wave should be huge -- and he was only a few hundred meters away.
He quickly began emergency procedures in case his plane went into a spin or a stall. But to his surprise, he did not encounter any turbulence.
At that point the Pelotas air traffic controller told Westendorf to contact the government-controlled Curitiba air defense system radar center. Doing so, he asked if the Curitiba radar tower could see what was happening to him on their radar. They said they didn't see anything. He then called a second time, identifying himself by the transponder number of his own aircraft and again asking if they could see anything unusual. Again they denied seeing anything. He called a total of four times. Finally the Curitiba tower told him that they showed no traffic at all within two hundred nautical miles of his position. At this point, Westendorf became convinced they were lying, because there are two large cities with airports -- Santa Maria and Porto Alegre -- closer than 200 miles from his position. He believes there had to be at least some normal air traffic near those cities.
Meanwhile, people in the Pelotas tower had watched the entire encounter. Even sunbathers on the beach at Pelotas were able to see it.
At that time there was a thick layer of nimbo-stratus clouds above Westendorf's position, and the object had apparently entered that cloud cover. He decided to fly above the clouds if possible to see if he could relocate the object. He emerged from the clouds at about 10,000 feet, but he never saw the object again.
Westendorf happened to have a cell phone with him in the plane, and at that moment his young son called him on the phone. Westendorf asked to talk to his wife. He told her that he had just had a close encounter with a UFO. He says he was now trembling and stuttering when he talked. But his wife didn't believe him and said he sounded crazy.
He then decided to return to Pelotas airport. But when he landed, he discovered that press and TV people were already on hand, waiting for him. This happened because three of his friends, all private pilots like himself, happened to be monitoring his radio transmissions on their own radios at home. When they heard he was flying around a UFO, they alerted the press.
The press mobbed him the minute he got out of his plane. But Westendorf told everyone that he would not say anything until he talked with the people in the Pelotas control tower.
Speaking with the head air traffic controller and two others on duty at that time, he asked them if they would back up his story to the press. He said that if they refused to back him up, he would deny the whole thing. So the head traffic controller called his boss, an Air Force colonel in the city of Porto Alegre, to ask permission to talk about the UFO. The colonel told the traffic controller to decide for himself -- so the controller told Westendorf that he and his assistants would back up the story. All of them agreed to have their pictures and stories printed in one of Brazil's leading news magazines, and from that point on the case became a national sensation. Westendorf himself was featured on the cover of that magazine (he carries a copy with him to prove it).
Despite his prolonged and close proximity to the huge UFO -- an object that surely fits the idea of a "mothership" -- Westendorf says that neither he nor his aircraft showed any signs of ill effect either during or after the encounter. His aircraft instruments and systems functioned properly throughout, and apart from becoming highly agitated during the latter part of the event, he did not experience any physical, mental or emotional difficulties.
This case seems to qualify as the closest daylight aircraft encounter with a UFO ever reported. The multiple professional witnesses, including three ground-based air traffic controllers, numerous other eyewitnesses and at least three civilians who heard Westendorf's running radio commentary of the event, lend very large credence to the story. The reported size and behavior of the object positively rule out any known human aircraft, and the observation of a classic flying saucer emerging from the larger craft supports the often-mentioned but rarely corroborated existence of a true "mothership."
While the multiple visual witnesses are impressive, the denial of radar observation at Curitiba airport is ambiguous. Westendorf seems sure the Curitiba officials were lying. But there are reported cases of UFOs clearly visible to eyewitnesses but seemingly invisible to radar. Was this the case here? Certainly the Brazilian military cannot have failed to study this case, which became an instant sensation in the press. If in fact their radar did not detect the object, this must have been cause for concern. On the other hand, if their radar did confirm the object, one can only imagine the impact it must have had upon Brazil's government and military leaders.