It remains one of the country’s most famous UFO cases and sparked a wave of “UFO tourism” to Varginha, where many residents to this day insist the Brazilian military captured two alien beings and threatened locals to keep quiet.
More than a quarter-century later, interest in the case has been renewed after the release of a documentary, Moment of Contact, which sees filmmaker James Fox return to the small town in the southwest state of Minas Gerais to interview eyewitnesses, experts, and officials.
“Governments tend to cover up everything they can’t explain to their population,” retired Brazilian Air Force General Jose Carlos Pereira tells Fox in the documentary.
In January 1996, locals in Varginha reported seeing a strange, cigar-shaped object, about the size of a school bus, slowly fall from the sky and crash in a field.
Carlos de Souza witnessed the alleged crash and spoke to researcher Claudeir Covo on camera in 1996.
“It was floating and slowly losing altitude,” he said at the time.
“It looked like a washing machine struggling, fighting to keep its altitude … The side of it was completely torn and it had white smoke coming out. It wasn’t black smoke like from a fire. At the time I thought it was like an aircraft in trouble, an aeroplane, so I decided to follow it.”
Twenty-six years later, Mr. De Souza and the filmmakers returned to the crash location, just up a hill from a small white farmhouse — where he broke down in tears.
“When I arrived at the site on this very spot, I observed a lot of debris, pieces,” he said.
“And when I got out of the car I immediately smelled ammonia, like rotten eggs. A very strong smell, so strong that I had to cover my nose with the shirt I was wearing. My eyes got watery.”
Mr. De Souza said he straight away realized it was “something very different from what I was expecting”. “First, due to the smell — that smell made no sense,” he said.
“And I saw a piece, it looked like it was aluminum. I took a sheet. I took a small piece, it was very light. Crumpled it, but when I released it, it went back to its original shape.”
Within minutes, however, Mr. De Souza said military trucks arrived from the nearby ESA Army Base — 30km from Varginha — and ordered him to leave, threatening him with their guns.
Soon after, Varginha residents were stunned as a large military presence descended on the town, cordoning off several blocks and preventing anyone from entering.
A group of girls, ranging in age from 14 to 21, made headlines after claiming they had stumbled across a “strange creature” in broad daylight, at around 3.30 pm on January 20, 1996.
The being, which was huddled next to a wall by a clump of weeds in a vacant, grass-covered lot, was described as about four feet (120cm) tall, with brown, oily skin, V-shaped feet, a large head, and huge red eyes.
For its part, the Brazilian military said in 2010 that an official inquiry had concluded that the girls had actually encountered a homeless, a mentally unstable man nicknamed “Mudinho”, covered in mud.
Liliane Silva, Valquiria Silva, and Katia Xavier, now adults, returned to the location with Fox to recount their experience.
“We were walking down along here, I was in front and they were a little further back,” Liliane said.
“Passing by here the graffiti caught my attention. I looked and I saw the creature. I looked into its eyes and saw that it was frightened. Just as I was frightened, the creature was also frightened. I saw that it was scared of us, so it was an exchange of fears, its and ours.”
Ms. Xavier said it had “red eyes, oily skin, I couldn’t see an open mouth”.
“Smiling, no — not happy, sad,” she said. “Shrunken back. A sad expression. And it didn’t have hair.”
Valquiria added, “It was a creature, there in the corner, cowering and afraid. Afraid of us just as we were afraid of it. This being that’s unknown to us.”
Liliane said when she first saw the creature it was just eight feet away.
“When I said, ‘Guys, look at that!’ Then it turned around,” she said. “I saw the eyes and took off running.”
She said in the moment she made eye contact, she “sensed it was distressed”.
“Sweating a lot — it was very hot [that day],” she said. “It gave the impression that it was suffering from the heat, hot sun … its skin.”
Liliane insisted “what we saw wasn’t human”.
“It wasn’t an animal either,” she said. “Nowadays I do think it was a being from another planet.”
Valquiria agreed “it wasn’t a man, it wasn’t an animal”.
“Now what it was, I can’t say,” she said. “I can’t describe it.”
Around three hours after the alleged encounter, the story goes, two military police officers were driving along a road just around the corner from the vacant lot when the creature ran in front of their car.
One of the officers, Marco Chereze, captured the creature with his “bare hands” and took it to a local hospital, Brazilian UFO Magazine editor A.J. Gevaerd told Fox.
“After he captured the creature he was smelly — he had this strange feeling of something greasy or sticky over his body that came from the creature,” he said.
“He developed this infection that wouldn’t go away, and for two or three weeks it was getting worse and worse and worse … and that infection killed him.”
The centerpiece of the film is an interview with an anonymous whistleblower, dubbed “Military X”, who claims to have been involved in transporting the body of a creature from Humanitas Hospital in Varginha to ESA Army Base.
“I saw a box, a stainless steel table with a box,” he said.
“There were doctors, people carrying clipboards, analyzing. It looked like they all seemed scared of it. And when I looked I saw something different — a different creature, with the skin very oily, a lot of oil, like silicone. Seeing that I got scared.”
Military X told Fox that one soldier present had a film camera and that there was “for sure” video in possession of the government.
“What caught my attention was the foot,” he said.
“It was like this — practically two fingers. What led me to believe that it wasn’t a human being was the foot.”
The filmmakers also spoke with a former Brazilian Air Force traffic controller, who claimed the US Air Force landed “unannounced” in Campinas and dispatched two helicopters to Varginha, where they “collected something” and took it away.
“What was collected is not known, but something was rescued,” he said.
The documentary ends with a message stating the filmmakers “continue to pursue video and photographic evidence, which our investigations conclude exists in Brazil”.
“According to local military and civilian witnesses, the bodies and crash debris were appropriated by agents from the United States of America.”
It comes at a time of renewed attention on the UFO subject by the US government.