Summary: Of all the officers in all the armed forces of the world, perhaps none has a more unusual job than Peruvian air force Cmdr. Julio Chamorro: to investigate -- and perhaps prove -- the existence of UFOs.
LIMA - Of all the officers in all the armed forces of the world, perhaps none has a more unusual job than Peruvian air force Cmdr. Julio Chamorro: to investigate -- and perhaps prove -- the existence of UFOs.
As head of the Office to Investigate Aerial Phenomena, Chamorro directs a seven-member team in charge of studying what he calls ``anomalies that could cause problems with aviation.''
Ostensibly, the office investigates planes that veer off course and hang gliders that steer too close to military bases, but that's not the crux of the work. Of the hundreds of calls received each month by the office, Chamorro says at least half are to report UFO sightings.
And Chamorro believes many are credible.
''There are several mysteries that we believe are highly important and which merit our full attention,'' Chamorro said. ``If we can arrive at definitive conclusions, our work will be highly beneficial to Peru and all of humanity. Just think about the technological advances if we can definitely prove the existence of spacecrafts.''
Chamorro estimates that 60 percent of Peru's population has seen an unexplainable event in the sky. Most of the calls he receives can be explained, but he says about a dozen each month are credible sightings with no easy explanation.
There is, for example, the video taken in Chulucanas, Piura, at the end of 2001. Chamorro says it shows a huge ship sitting in the sky for nearly two hours. ''The ship made no noise and did not move. You can see the shape, which includes even windows,'' Chamorro said.
Chulucanas has a long history of UFO sightings, he added.
Chamorro's office was officially organized two years ago, but the Peruvian government's interest in UFOs goes back decades, and there is archaeological evidence that ancient cultures were also hooked on other-worldly phenomena.
Miles-long geometric designs in the desert of Nazca, south of Lima, or a winged god in the north are evidence for Chamorro that past cultures not only mastered science and math, but had an inkling that space might hold more than the sun and moon.
In Chilca, 40 miles south of Lima on the Pacific coast, Mayor Numa Rueda is hoping to capitalize on the town's fame as one of the hottest spots for UFO sightings.
''There is big money in sightings,'' Rueda said. ``We can become the next Roswell [N.M.].''
Looking to the heavens may be Chilca's best bet for dealing with the very worldly problems of economic decay and poverty. The town's annual budget is $100,000, and Rueda says most of Chilca's 18,000 residents are impoverished and depend on a three-month beach season to make ends meet.
A LINK TO ROSWELL
Chilca's mayor would like Bill Owen, his counterpart in Roswell -- home to the International UFO Museum, New Mexico's most-visited tourist attraction -- to come to Peru and set up a sister-city relationship.
''Roswell has a museum, and there's even a TV show,'' Rueda said wistfully. ``If we were to link up, we could develop a UFO tourist circuit.''
Like many people in Chilca, Rueda says he has seen unidentified objects in the skies above his town.
In February 1998, Rueda says, he was chatting with his brother one night outside their house when a large, boomerang-shaped object appeared over a ridge that juts into the sea just beyond Chilca.
He says the UFO moved slowly and made no noise. Six similarly shaped smaller objects were nearby.
''The mother ship and the six other vehicles hovered for a few minutes and then headed out to sea,'' Rueda said. ``I had always heard about UFOs, but this was my first sighting. For me it was undeniable proof that there is life outside our planet.''
Chilca also has its own tiny piece of ancient UFO history. In the town's one-room museum, Rueda keeps a minuscule swath of Incan textile wrapped in brown paper for safekeeping. The textile depicts an oddly shaped nonhuman figure with antennas.
Rueda says the figure is similar to the extraterrestrial being supposedly found in Roswell in 1947 and which forms the core of UFO attractions that put the town on the map.
''This proves that we are not the first people to sight UFOs here. The ancient Peruvians who inhabited Chilca also had sights and possibly contact,'' he said.
Chamorro says sightings form part of Peru's culture, and even the government has gotten in the act on and off over the years.
In 1955, Carlos Paz founded Peru's Institute for Inter-Planetary Relations to study UFOs. Paz is a mythical figure in the international UFO community and assumed the role of quasi-diplomat from Peru to civilizations beyond the solar system. Although he died in 1999, his daughter, Rose Marie, continues at the helm.
''We are not like the philosophical groups. We are scientific. We demand hard evidence of UFO sightings,'' she said.
So far, the visitors have not been considerate enough to leave genuine scientific evidence behind. But that doesn't matter to those who believe.
''The big difference between Peru and the United States is that in the United States, people freak out if they see a UFO. They want to join a cult or commit suicide,'' Chamorro said.
In Peru, he said, if people see a UFO they kick back and drink a beer. Even better, Chamorro says, they hope the ship lands and pays for the beer.