A watchdog trying to protect his rancher owner was no match for a glowing UFO, fiercely charging the UFO as it hovered near them. The dog initially survived the encounter but died two days later. His master was burned on one arm.
The incident was one of a number of UFO sightings that occurred in northwestern Uruguay in early 1977, a time when several UFO waves and numerous sightings were reported around the world. In Uruguay, entire cities were blacked out as UFOs hovered over high-tension power lines.
rancher was Angel Maria Tonna, then fifty-two, who owned three thousand acres
of rolling farmland with more than seven hundred head of cattle and numerous
sheep. The ranch is located fifteen kilometers south of Salto, then a city
of forty thousand inhabitants on the Uruguay River.
Tonna and fifteen others – his wife, their two sons, nineteen and twenty-two, and daughter, fifteen, and his eleven farmhands – saw UFOs about a dozen times in February and March that year. The most serious incident occurred about four o'clock the morning of February 18 as Tonna and his foreman, Juan Manuel Fernandez, were herding about eighty cows into a barn to be milked.
"When I get up in the morning I usually turn the generator on, so I turned the generator on that morning and there were about twenty lights on around the barn and other buildings," Tonna said. "I was bringing the cows in to be milked and suddenly, about ten minutes after four, all the lights went off.
“A bright light appeared on the far end of the barn from me and I could see the barn's shadow. I thought it was a short circuit. I keep hay in that end of the barn for the cows and I thought the barn was burning. I jumped over the fence and ran toward the barn.
“Topo was with me. He’s a watchdog and he always used to walk with me wherever I went around the farm in the mornings.
"Then I heard a noise and the next thing I saw was a ‘fire’ disc, like two plates facing each other, on the other side of the barn. I stood there not knowing what to do. My foreman told me the cows were running away. The cows were going crazy, running everywhere, and all the dogs started barking.
“The object began to move. It broke the branches of a tree near the barn and moved across the barnyard to my right and then hovered over some trees about a hundred meters south of the barn. It moved across the barnyard with a rocking motion."
Tonna held one hand out with fingers spread horizontally and tipped it from side to side. The object sat about twenty meters above the trees for a moment, then moved to Tonna's right and went another seventy-five meters or so. At that point, it moved down closer to the ground and halted directly above a concrete bath that cows are forced to walk through to disinfect them.
By this time Tonna and Topo, a three-year-old black and brown police dog weighing more than sixty pounds, had run back to the side of the barnyard where they’d started, and climbed back over the fence again. They walked a few feet toward the UFO, which was now glowing bright orange.
A few seconds later it made another right turn and drifted slowly toward them before finally coming to a stop about six meters above the ground and next to a water tank.
"It was shining with a very bright light and lit up the whole barnyard," Tonna said. "Topo ran toward the object to attack it but suddenly he stopped on a little mound, sat down and began howling."
Topo was within five meters of the object and sat looking up at it. "The object was about twenty meters from me," Tonna said. "I saw six beams of light on it in the shape of small wings, like lightning, three on each side. When the object turned toward me it felt like electric shocks went all over my body and a very intensive heat hit me. I put my arm up over my face to protect my eyes.
"I was scared. For some reason I couldn’t move. I felt attracted to the light. I don't know if I couldn't move or didn't want to."
After several minutes the object began moving away, turning from bright orange to red.
"When it moved away it increased its speed as it was turning red and when it got to the forest (about one kilometer to the south) it disappeared. After the object left, the generator started working again but it wasn't producing electricity because the wires were burned out."
The incident lasted about ten minutes. Tonna's nineteen-year-old son Túlio, then a university student in Salto, had watched the incident from the house. A few farmhands had awakened to start their workday but saw only a bright light in the area.
"Topo didn't eat anything after that," Tonna said. "He walked around as he normally would but he wouldn't eat or drink anything. He stayed in the house all day, which wasn't normal. It was like with a sad feeling."
On the morning of the third day after the UFO incident, Topo's body was found on the very same mound where he had sat howling at the UFO. Tonna said a veterinarian who teaches at the North University in Salto performed an autopsy at the ranch. Túlio Tonna said he and three other second-year veterinary students assisted him.
Túlio would not identify the veterinarian and said the professor refused to discuss the case. The country was then under a military dictatorship and people were afraid of losing their jobs if they offended the government. However, Túlio said the veterinarian allowed him to make a copy of the autopsy report. It said in part:
"The hair along the animal's spine was sticky but completely hard. The fat under the skin was found on the outside. The fat is normally solid, so to get to the outside it had to be melted and come through the pores. Once it was outside it solidified again. The animal was exposed to a very high temperature that can't be reached naturally by the dog.
"All the blood vessels had been bleeding very much and all the capillaries were broken. The rupture of the blood vessels was caused by an increase in temperature that couldn't be natural. The liver, normally dark and red, was completely yellow, caused by a high fever.
“All the blood vessels were yellow too. With all the blood vessels broken, the animal started bleeding inside and lost so much blood that 48 hours later the amount of blood he had circulated was insufficient and he died of a heart attack.
"When we took the skin off the dog, we didn't see any marks. He didn't have any bruises or anything… nor was the hair burned. The conclusion was that something very hot had caused this."
The underside of Angel Tonna’s right arm began hurting the morning after the UFO incident. He had turned that side toward the UFO when he put his arm up to protect his eyes. Several days later Dr. Bruning Herrara, a Salto physician and a friend, stopped at the Tonna ranch for a personal visit.
"When I first went to Mr. Tonna's house I didn't know anything about the incident," Dr. Herrara told us later in a phone interview. "I talked to him and he said he wasn't feeling very well and we started talking about the incident. What I saw on Mr. Tonna's arm was an irritation. His arm was completely red.
“My first conclusion was that the skin irritation was due to radiation caused by an extremely bright light. I didn't find any other irritation on any other part of his body.
"I recommended that Mr. Tonna have a special examination to see if he had been exposed to radiation but he refused to do it. I don't know why. I didn't want to prescribe any kind of medicine for Mr. Tonna because I first wanted to know if he had been exposed to any kind of radiation... I didn't see him after that."
Tonna would have had to go to Montevideo, more than three hundred kilometers away, for the examination and didn't want to take the time. He doctored himself with home remedies.
During that period of time, Tonna and his farmhands found at least a dozen dark green circles in pastures some distance from the house and farm buildings. Most measured about ten meters across, while several were nearly sixty meters across.
Showing us one ten-meter circle about three kilometers from the house, Tonna commented: "When we found it the grass was burned, completely dead. Some time later we found mushrooms growing on the outer edge and then the grass grew dark green."
He also found three circular impressions forming a triangle in the center of the ring, the impressions being about three meters apart. He also pointed out that the small rocks in the area were darker on the top than on the sides and bottoms, and appeared to have been burned.
In addition to the circles, two tall, healthy trees in a stand of eucalyptus trees planted ten years earlier as a wind break were found uprooted and pushed to the ground one morning. "A worker found the trees,” Tonna said as he showed us the two fallen trees. “I couldn't believe it because there wasn’t any storm or any strong winds or anything that night."
Curiously, both trees were in the outside row on the east side of the grove, which was about a thousand meters long and sixty meters wide. Each tree was the eighth tree from the end, one from the north end and one from the south end, and each had been pushed in toward the center of the grove. Each was leaning at about a forty-five-degree angle against other trees inside the grove.
sightings were reported in Salto and the city of Paysandu, about a hundred
kilometers to the south. There were more than twenty sightings in Tonna's
neighborhood alone. Mario Rodriguez, then an electronics engineer and a UFO
investigator from Montevideo, interviewed about twenty other witnesses in
the Salto area, but learned there had been many more witnesses, hundreds if
not thousands .
.Blackouts occurred simultaneously in the cities of Salto, Paysandu and Young, and UFOs were seen over high-tension towers during the blackouts.
On Mario’s first visit to Salto on February 27, Police Officer Hector Lopez drove him around the area to talk to people who had reported seeing UFOs. Lopez was then in charge of the police station at Parada Dayman, several kilometers from the Tonna home, and was one several policemen who saw a brilliant UFO the night of February 22.
Lopez said he was sitting outside the police station that evening when he saw what he first thought was a flash of lightning. But the light continued, getting brighter and brighter. "It was so bright it lit up the area like daylight," Lopez said. "The light was so bright I could have seen a pin on the ground."
He called the other policemen to come outside. Several climbed to the roof of the station but could see little more than what the men on the ground were seeing. Lopez then phoned police in Salto and Paysandu and learned they were experiencing a blackout at the same time, as was the small town of Young, southeast of Paysandu.
short time later the object seemed to fall apart, Lopez said. The next day
he and several other officers on horseback searched the power lines for several
miles in both directions.
Lopez said the Paysandu police had also seen the light and had filed a report on it.
I first learned about the UFO wave and the Tonna case two months later, in April, when I first met Mario Rodriguez at an international UFO conference in Acapulco, Mexico. He told me about the many sightings in Uruguay. In July, after working for five days on a story in Torreon and Guadalajara, Mexico, I flew directly to Montevideo.
Mario came to my hotel, the Victoria Plaza, the evening I arrived and we made arrangements as I finished dinner. The next day Mario and an interpreter, Juan Manuel, and I flew the three hundred kilometers or so to Salto on a small commuter plane flown by military pilots, the airline then being under control of the military.
This was my first trip to South America and my introduction to some of the customs of that continent. We arrived in Salto in late afternoon and I was hungry. I was astonished to find the restaurants closed. It was about six o'clock and I couldn’t believe we were too late to eat. We weren’t. I was as equally astonished to learn that many Uruguayans eat dinner late in the evening, and that most restaurants didn’t open before eight.
(Two years later I was to see an entire family with small children eating dinner in a restaurant around midnight in the small city of Malargue in western Argentina. By then, I was no longer surprised.)
The winter weather in Uruguay was cold and damp and, on Mario’s advice, I bought a pair of rubber boots in Salto for the visit to Tonna’s ranch. They came in very handy the next day when we waded through the deep mud and manure in Tonna’s barnyard as he told us his story and pointed out where things happened. One man who had joined us from Salto wasn’t as fortunate and lost his shoes in the muddy mess.
We spent the better part of a day interviewing Angel Tonna and his son Túlio and walking around the ranch, inspecting the curious circles and the two trees that appeared to have been pushed down in the Eucalyptus grove. The following day we sought out other witnesses in Salto and towns in Tonna’s neighborhood.
We talked to a couple who saw a UFO the same night that Officer Lopez and the other policemen did. They were Elida Gimenez, fifty-six, who was in charge of the telephone exchange at Parada Dayman, and her husband, Angel Gimenez, sixty-two. The phone exchange office was near the police station.
"At ten ten in the evening I heard a loud noise," Mrs. Gimenez said. "I went outside and saw a UFO over a high-tension tower. It was shining a very brilliant light and it lit up an area about three kilometers around. This tower is on Mr. Tonna's farm about three kilometers from here. It lit up the school and the police station too. All the radios went dead. The police saw it too.
"My husband climbed a pole and he was looking there and he heard a strange, funny noise, like when you touch two wires together. The light had some blue in it, but after a while it started changing to orange and then bright red. The size of the object seemed to decrease and after that it disappeared.
“We thought it was a short circuit in one of the towers and I called the electric power company and they said there was a blackout in Salto."
A UFO organization in Salto investigated the series of sightings and one of its members, Alberto Ghizzoni, then forty-two, told me:
"Many of the people of the city have seen the phenomenon. There have been many blackouts. On the night of March 24 and 25, a blackout lasted for half an hour. When it started, everybody went out of their houses and they saw a disc-shaped object going from south to north. It remained in the air and got higher and higher until it looked like a star with a reddish color.
“The UFO stopped over the northwestern part of the city. After a while it disappeared without moving, just faded out. The moment it disappeared, the lights began coming on again. The power and light company never gave any explanations. We interviewed an employee we know and he told us he was ordered to say that there was failure in the plant, but he was absolutely sure there was nothing wrong there."
Instead of flying back to Montevideo, we reserved seats on an overnight bus that allowed us to sleep on the way there, passing through Paysandu and many small towns en route.
Angel Tonna’s health deteriorated later that year but eventually he recovered. The case attracted international attention, and in the next year or two reporters and UFO investigators from as far away as Russia visited the Tonna ranch.
About three years later UFO investigators in nearby Rosário, Argentina told me they had had heard that a cult-like group had grown up around Tonna, shielding him from outsiders and making it difficult to see him anymore. However, I was never able to confirm this.
A MISTAKE . . .
A variation of this report was published in the April 1978 issue of the MUFON UFO Journal under Mario Rodriguez’s byline even though I wrote it. Because I was working for the National Enquirer – which did not use the story for reasons that I no longer remember – I could not use my own name.
I believed the story should be told and MUFON director Walt Andrus was happy to have it for the Journal. Since Mario had been so helpful to me, I put his name on it – without asking him, unfortunately. I thought he would be pleased since he had been MUFON’s representative in Uruguay for about a year. Instead, he was very upset when he learned about it.
As I said earlier, at that time Uruguay was under a military dictatorship. It was in many ways a very poor country and nearly everybody needed two jobs to earn a living. Mario, even though he had a degree in electronic engineering, supported his family by repairing television sets.
Virtually everyone who worked for the government was afraid to talk about UFOs, or almost any other matter, for fear of losing his or her job. This included the Salto power company employees and the veterinary professor, none of whom would talk to us.
Mario himself, even though he didn’t work for the government, was worried about what might happen to him if the government learned about the MUFON UFO Journal article. Fortunately, nothing did happen to him because of it, but a year or so later he and his family moved to Miami, Florida, where they now live. Uruguay has long since returned to civilian rule.
. . AND A DISSENT
. . . AND A DISSENT
Willy Smith, author of the UNICAT catalog of UFO cases, strongly disagrees
with me about what happened in this case. He
says no autopsy was ever done on the dog.
Dr. Willy Smith, author of the UNICAT catalog of UFO cases, strongly disagrees with me about what happened in this case.
He says no autopsy was ever done on the dog.
a native of Uruguay who has spent most of his adult life in the United States
as a physics professor, never visited the Tonna ranch or personally investigated
the case. However, he formed
Willy, a native of Uruguay who has spent most of his adult life in the United States as a physics professor, never visited the Tonna ranch or personally investigated the case. However, he formedhis conclusions based on information given to him by researchers in Montevideo not associated with Mario Rodriguez.
Mario impressed me as an intelligent, thorough and competent investigator not given to exaggeration. He remains convinced that the case is a valid one. I put my faith in Mario and my own interviews with the Tonnas and other witnesses.
Willy and I agreed to disagree. I first met him in the early 1980s when he lived in Longwood, Florida near Orlando and Dr. J. Allen Hynek, with whom I had worked for more than eight years, was visiting him. Dr. Hynek died in 1986 (for more on Hynek, click here).
I have visited Willy at least half a dozen times in Longwood and after he moved to Miami.