April 21st 2004 was an important day for Jaime Maussán, the white-haired and white-bearded host of the Mexican television show Tercer Milenio. He had gotten the scoop of his career. Since 1970 Maussán had distinguished himself as one of the leading journalists in Mexico, having worked for many newspapers and broadcasting outlets primarily as an investigative reporter focusing on science and environmental issues. In the early 1990s Maussán’s interests turned toward UFOs on a show he co-hosted called Y usted que opina? This show was the first step on a long path that would eventually lead him to become known as a top expert in Mexico on unidentified flying objects, or OVNIs, in Spanish. As one of the principal ufologists in the country, it was logical for Jaime Maussán to have such an important meeting on that day in April of 2004. It was then when he met with General Gerardo Clemente Vega García, Mexico’s Minister of Defense who was appointed to the position by Mexican President Vicente Fox in the year 2000. It was an important day for General Vega, too. The career army officer had served Mexico well as a military attaché abroad in such countries as Poland, West Germany and the Soviet Union. In his very long and distinguished career in service for Mexico the general had never had such a strange task fall in his lap. In the meeting with Maussán, the Defense Minister asked the journalist if he could get his help in analyzing a strange batch of video footage and audio clips. General Vega wanted Señor Maussán’s help in investigating the incident behind this footage: On March 5th 2004, just weeks before their meeting, a Mexican Air Force anti-drug trafficking surveillance flight over the coast of the Mexican state of Campeche had a strange encounter with 11 orbs of light that flew around the aircraft. Maussán was honored and a bit astounded that the Mexican government would come to him for help with their investigation. He realized at the time that his meeting with the general was somewhat historic. In all his years of research, Maussán had never known of a case in which a national government of any country went beyond the mere acknowledgement of the existence of UFOs and asked for civilian help in trying to understand the phenomenon. Maussán had a great scoop, and a great burden, and on May 11th 2004 he took part in a press conference announcing to the world the news and the details of the historic partnership.
So, what exactly happened that night over the Gulf of Mexico?
The date was March 5th 2004. The time was between 5:00 and 5:30 pm. The location where the objects begin to appear is marked at 18 degrees, 26 minutes and 60 seconds north latitude, and 90 degrees, 43 minutes and 69 seconds west longitude. The Merlin C26A Bimotor airplane, part of the Mexican Air Force’s 501 Aerial Squadron, was flying at 10,500 feet, near Ciudad del Carmen off the coast of the Mexican state of Campeche in the Gulf of Mexico. The plane was staffed by a captain and two lieutenants, who were responsible for operating the radar and infrared systems onboard the plane. The range of the radar was approximately 50 miles. The range for the infrared system was between -40°C and 1,500°C. Visibility was at 96% and weather conditions were calm, with no storms nearby or in the forecast for the evening. The airplane was only used for surveillance and detection. It was not commissioned for combat or intercept maneuvers. The purpose for flights like these was to identify suspicious and possibly drug-related aircraft, report the activity to the ground base and then Air Force planes would be scrambled to intercept whatever unauthorized plane was in the area.
At 5:00 the first object appeared on the plane’s radar and was confirmed with infrared but was not visible with the naked eye. The captain of the plane radioed the ground to tell the base that they had identified a possible suspect and to maintain interceptor planes at alert status while they flew closer to investigate. As the Air Force plane got closer to the object, the object accelerated. The incident was being recorded by the radar and the infrared device, and the plane was in constant communication with the ground providing detailed descriptions of what they were experiencing. The captain of the plane was perplexed because they still were not able to establish visual contact. The object briefly disappeared from their detection devices when it was joined by another. The pilot maneuvered the plane in a circular direction to get a better view of the two orb-like lights when something unexpected occurred: the two objects they had been tracking were joined by even more objects. Out of nowhere, 9 more flying balls of light appeared, the same size and sharing the same characteristics of the first two, and seemed to fly in formation. What was even stranger than 9 objects appearing so suddenly was their apparent invisibility to the naked eye. As with the first two, these 9 new objects were only visible on radar and through the infrared detection equipment. The pilot of the plane radioed the base to ask for further instructions. In the meantime he cut out all the lights to his aircraft to try to see if that would make visual contact easier but they still could not see the objects without the instruments. By that time the 11 objects had maneuvered around the aircraft. At around the time interceptor planes were to be scrambled on the ground, the objects flew away, disappearing off the radar and infrared sensors.
When the crew landed the debriefing began. All instrument recordings were turned over to the Mexican Department of Defense and the Campeche case got the attention of the highest levels of military and government in Mexico. After weeks of examining the in-flight recordings, multiple interviews with the flight crew and analysis of the weather-related data from that evening, the Minister of Defense, General Vega, made the decision to seek outside help. Going to television ufologist Jaime Maussán was a giant leap in the UFO field because, as stated before, it was one of the first times in history when a sovereign government of a country not only acknowledged the existence of UFOs, but solicited help from the private sector to aid in an investigation. On Sunday, May 9th 2004, on his show, which was then called, Los Grandes Misterios del Tercer Milenio, or in English, “The Big Mysteries of the Third Millennium,” Jaime Maussán announced his collaboration with the Mexican military in this case. He also announced that further details would be shared with the public at a press conference to be held on May 11th 2004 at the Sevilla Palace Hotel in Mexico City.
The Campeche incident generated a lot of attention both inside Mexico and abroad, and as with many UFO sightings this case found itself on the receiving end of harsh criticism almost immediately. Many theories arose to try to explain what exactly happened over the Gulf of Mexico in March of 2004. Debunkers were then answered by counter-debunkers who shot holes in supposed air-tight “rational” explanations. The most famous round of debunking came from Americans. Ben McGee, resident skeptic on the National Geographic Channel’s show Chasing UFOs, elaborated on a theory proposed by previous researchers and alleged that what the Mexican Air Force personnel had experienced had a more terrestrial explanation. McGee believed that what their instruments were seeing were really fires from the tops of oil rigs on platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and he was determined to prove it. For the National Geographic show, McGee took a plane and similar equipment the Mexicans used and demonstrated how the pilot and the crew had mistaken the distant fires for UFOs, even claiming that the swirling of the clouds that night gave the impression that these stationary fires were moving and that they were higher than what would have expected. What was shown on Chasing UFOs and in subsequent lectures by McGee seemed like an open-and-shut case and a thorough analysis which satisfied many people in the skeptic circles. More critical eyes saw flaws in what Ben McGee was saying. How would oil rig fires show up on radar? The experienced flight crew, who had logged thousands of hours in the air, had reported movement of the objects. Wouldn’t they know the difference between something stationary and something moving outside the plane? Why were oil fires, which would seemingly be visible at night from a plane, not visible to the flight crew with the naked eye? One investigator noted that the oil rigs were 100 miles away from the plane and would not have shown up on any of their instruments anyway because they were way out of range. And what of other sightings? If these bright objects were really the oil rigs, wouldn’t other pilots in the area have reported similar experiences? No such stories exist. In spite of the debunking and the debunking of the debunkers, the Mexican military working with the country’s top ufologist, Jaime Maussán, could not come up with an explanation for what happened in the skies off the cost of Campeche in March of 2004 and this was after months of research and the solicitation of help of dozens of experts. So, it seems we are back to square one. Perhaps we are just left with a mystery and no one will ever know who or what was behind those lights in the sky, that is, unless they return…
REFERENCES (This is not a formal bibliography
“Mexico Pilots Release UFO Film,” BBC News, 17 May 2004
“Famous UFO Video Debunked by TV Host,” Open Minds web site, 2 October 2014
“Exclusive: Mexican DOD Acknowledges UFOs in Mexico” by Santiago Yturría, on Rense.com, 14 May 2004
The Tercer Milenio web site