Sunday, August 25, 1974 was a typical sizzling hot summer day in West Texas, and as daylight faded, the residents of the sleepy border town of Presidio began to settle down for the evening, little realizing that one of the most extraordinary UFO events in history was about to light up the skies just thirty miles northwest of their town. On this very night, a fast-moving Saturn-shaped disk that lit up radar screens all along the Texas-Mexico border slammed into a small airplane in the skies over Coyame, Mexico, raining debris down on a portion of the Chihuahuan Desert known as El Llano.
With a 1974 population of about 2,500 souls, Presidio was an often-overlooked international border crossing located in the rugged, mountainous area of Texas known as the Big Bend, where the Rio Grande River makes a long sweeping curve and darts between deep canyon walls amidst a lunar-like landscape. Located in an area of the Southwest that has long been known for its mysterious desolation, Presidio is recognized by archeologists as the oldest continuously cultivated region in the United States, with evidence of farming having occurred there as early as 1500 B.C. Situated at the point where the Rio Grande and Conchos Rivers meet, Presidio was home to a Spanish penal colony and military garrison in the middle 1700s.
In January 2007, when the authors traveled to Presidio to investigate the 1974 crash retrieval, we were struck by a deep sense of isolation. Presidio is 254 miles from the nearest city of significant size – El Paso, Texas. Surrounded by rugged mountain ranges, Presidio stands in the shadows of the ominous Chinati Mountains to the north, which for over a century have been the site of a mysterious luminous “ball lightning” phenomenon known as the Marfa Lights. On almost any given clear night in this region, glowing, spinning orbs of multicolored light appear and disappear in the sky against the backdrop of the Chinatis shortly after dusk. Local folks have been witnessing this eerie sight since 1883, long before automobiles and aircraft could be blamed for their appearance. The phenomenon is so well-known in the Southwest and attracts so many visitors that the Texas Department of Highways has erected a special roadside viewing area, complete with telescopes and bathrooms, about nine miles east of the nearby town of Marfa, Texas.
The Marfa Lights is only one of a number of strange atmospheric phenomena that frequently appear in the area around Presidio, Texas, on both sides of the Rio Grande River. During our visit in January 2007, Mexican residents who live and work just across the international bridge from Presidio spoke of flaming streaks of light in the night sky, whirlwinds that spring out from underground, glowing objects that suddenly turn night into day, and other bizarre goings-on deep in the Chihuahuan Desert. It seems fitting that in this region of mystery and foreboding, the remarkable UFO crash retrieval of 1974 occurred.
On that hot summer evening of August 25, 1974, the incident in question began shortly after 10 p.m. local time, over 600 miles east of Presidio, near the Texas seaport town of Corpus Christi, where military radar detected that an unidentified aircraft had suddenly dropped out of earth orbit and was vectoring toward the Texas coast on an intercept course. Fearing a Soviet intercontinental missile strike, an air defense alert was sounded and fighter jets were prepped for take-off and intercept.
Traveling at a speed of 2,500 miles per hour at an altitude of 75,000 feet, the UFO was first spotted over the Gulf of Mexico about 200 miles east of Corpus. After going through a series of maneuvers suggesting intelligent control, the object quickly turned south along the Texas coast, avoiding entry over land, and seemed headed toward the southernmost tip of Texas, near the city of Brownsville. As the disk continued to hug the Texas coast heading south, it exhibited controlled descent, calculated turns, speed reductions, and other clear indications that this was neither a meteor nor an out-of-control missile.
The object had descended from 75,000 feet to about 45,000 feet by the time it crossed over land into Northern Mexico, about 40 miles south of Brownsville. Its speed was down to 2,000 miles per hour and was still slowing very gradually. The streaking UFO traced a path along some of the more desolate and sparsely populated areas of northern Mexico, seemingly avoiding both the Texas border and the larger Mexican population centers such as Monterrey, Nuevo Leon. Curving along and south of the Rio Grande River, the bogey flew over one of Northeast Mexico’s most mysterious regions, the Zona del Silencio (Zone of Silence), where strange, unknown forces are said to frequently interfere with radio and navigational controls. It was into this bizarre area that an out-of-control U.S. military ICBM missile crashed on July 11, 1970, irradiating some of the soil there and creating political tension between the U.S. and Mexico.
After flying over the Zone of Silence, the 1974 UFO entered the Mexican state of Chihuahua, characterized by tall, rugged mountains and vast stretches of desert, and then something completely unprecedented happened in the skies over the general area of Coyame, Mexico, not more than 30 miles from Presidio, Texas. Zigzagging around mountain peaks that tower above 5,000 feet, the UFO continued gradually descending and slowing down, although its speed was still near 2,000 miles per hour at the time that it encountered another aircraft headed toward it on a collision course. Somewhere over a vast desert plain known as El Llano, just a stone’s throw away from the Texas border, a mid-air collision occurred between the streaking silver disk and a small aircraft flying from El Paso, Texas to Mexico City. The explosion and subsequent fireball shook the earth for miles around.
When the authors visited El Llano in January 2007, an elderly resident of the area, Pedro Venegas Leyva, told us that, although he does know the exact date, he recalls that sometime around the 1974 time frame, a fiery nighttime explosion rattled the windows of his small farmhouse and gave him a fright that he remembers to this day. The incident so impressed him that, later in life, he made it a practice to make extensive notes of the strange objects he saw in the skies over El Llano. He shared with us his notes about more recent UFO sightings.
Following the mid-air crash of the UFO and the small plane over El Llano in August 1974, the debris from the crash rained down on the desert plain below, and efforts were soon underway by the governments of both Mexico and the United States to recover the remains of what many later believed was an extraterrestrial airship. Because of the extreme isolation of the crash site, Mexican authorities waited until after dawn the next day to launch a rescue effort to recover what they believed to be merely the crash of a small civilian airplane. Their assessment of what had occurred would undergo a radical change in a very short period of time.
Mexican spotter planes first located the wreckage of the small aircraft on the desert floor below, even as U.S. military electronic surveillance personnel listened in on the rescue activities from across the Texas border. The Americans heard the Mexican spotter plans say that the small plane had been almost totally destroyed. A few moments later, however, the routine recovery of a downed aircraft became something of an entirely different nature. Amidst the crackling static of the radios, the Mexicans were heard saying that they had found a second crash site nearby and that this second craft, which was nearly intact, was a shiny, silvery disk unlike anything the Mexicans had ever seen.
During our January 2007 visit to this area, we came across a military checkpoint on Mexican Highway 16 between Ojinaga and Coyame. Dressed in green fatigues and wielding automatic rifles and machine guns, the Mexican soldiers surrounded our vehicles and interrogated us about the purpose of our visit. We learned that these soldiers came from many distant parts of Mexico, mainly from Oaxaca and other southern states, and that most of them came from backgrounds of poverty and little education. It seems likely that these characteristics were also true of the soldiers that were sent in August 1974 to recover the two crashed objects.
Soldiers in trucks and jeeps were dispatched from Ojinaga, located across the international bridge from Presidio, and the convoy headed north to the area of El Llano. It was here that the Mexican soldiers made a discovery that has led many UFO researchers to believe that this crash retrieval deserves as much (or more) attention as the 1947 UFO crash near Roswell, New Mexico.
The Mexicans found an object described as being sixteen feet, five inches in diameter, and equally convex on both upper and lower surfaces. There was an outer “rim” around the central circumference of the disk. The height of the object was slightly less than five feet. They saw no visible portholes, doors, or markings. In addition, no lights of any kind were apparent. There was also no obvious mechanism for propulsion. The external surface of the disk was like silvery polished steel.
The outer rim of the disk showed damage in two places. One damage point was an irregular hole about 12 inches in diameter with material from the metallic surface of the disk “indented” around the jagged hole. None of the witnesses reported seeing anything inside this hole. This puncture damage was believed by the witnesses to have resulted from the mid-air collision between the flying disk and the small civilian aircraft. The other damage point was a two-foot-wide “dent.” The witnesses believed the dent to have been caused by the disk’s fall to earth after its collision with the plane.
In January 2007, the authors traveled to this remote Chihuahuan desert area, bent on further unraveling the tantalizing mystery of the UFO crash in 1974. In an effort to shed as much light as possible on the events surround the crash, we took along with us a wide range of digital video and audio recording equipment, as well as handheld computers and other gear. The equipment proved extremely useful, as we carefully documented our exploration of areas that we had previously pinpointed on general maps of the region.
Of great assistance to us were a number of Coyame-area residents. Before arriving in the area, we prepared for our field investigation by carefully reviewing information we received from several individuals, including Mexican UFO investigator Gilberto Rivera, Coyame ranch owner Jorge González, and Coyame resident Javier Baeza. We prepared a list of individuals that we wished to interview and places of interest we desired to visit. Of greatest interest to us was exploration of the area known as El Llano, located north-northeast of Coyame. Both González and Rivera were convinced that the 1974 crash likely occurred in the El Llano area.
Prior to our journey, we painstakingly studied the anonymous report that first broke the story about the Coyame crash retrieval. The document, which in 1992 was leaked to UFO researchers in the U.S. and Great Britain, was apparently composed by someone within the U.S. intelligence community who either personally knew about the Coyame case or who had run across top-secret documents about the case. By closely dissecting this document, commonly known as the Deneb Report, we arrived in Coyame armed with important information about the 1974 event.
Our guide and driver for the Coyame field investigation was Martin Sanchez Orozco, owner of a company in Chihuahua City called Safari Aventura (www.safariaventura.com.mx), which specializes in outdoor adventure tourism such as hiking, biking, and canoeing. Although he was hired chiefly to handle the logistics of transporting us to where we needed to go, Sanchez soon proved his mettle as a field investigator, going way beyond the call of duty and making several important contributions to our investigation.
Also invaluable to our expedition was Coyame’s former sheriff, Filemon Cervantes, who lives a short distance away from the town’s central plaza and its small public library. The ex-lawman connected us with several key local residents who helped us with our investigation, including the town’s librarian. Cervantes also gave our guide, Martin Sanchez, detailed information on how to navigate the dirt roads that connect Coyame with the many isolated ranches that stretch out for hundreds of miles across the harsh desert. More importantly, he told us exactly how to get to the area known as El Llano, using our own maps to give us a step-by-step narrative of how to traverse the very difficult desert roads that so often twist, turn, split into several different roads, and sometimes seem to disappear entirely, washed away by the rain and wind.
On August 26, 1974, the day after the UFO crash near Coyame, Mexican troops recovered the crashed disk, winching it up onto the bed of a large military truck. They also retrieved fragments of the crashed civilian aircraft, although there was not much left of it. As the Mexican recovery effort wound down, U.S. authorities continued their electronic eavesdropping and were attempting to negotiate with high levels of the Mexican government to “assist” with the recovery. Mexico stated that assistance was not required, and that the operation was nothing more than simple airplane crash retrieval. However, U.S. intelligence gathered by satellite and jet flyovers suggested otherwise.
A short time later, the Mexican military convoy was traversing the dirt roads of the Chihuahuan Desert, headed either back to the army base at Ojinaga or perhaps to a Mexican air force base in Chihuahua City, located about 100 miles to the west. Suddenly, the convoy came to a complete stop in the middle of the desert, and U.S. spy imagery showed bodies of Mexican soldiers sprawled haphazardly alongside their jeeps and trucks. Something unknown, perhaps a chemical or biological contamination, had caused all the soldiers to fall unconscious or possibly even die.
With the threat of an unknown plague breaking out within 30 miles of the United States border, U.S. intelligence officials mounted a lightning mission from the Fort Hood Army Base in nearby El Paso, Texas, in an effort to discover what happened to the Mexican convoy and, if feasible, to retrieve the crashed UFO. The U.S. team, its aircraft, and its equipment had already been prepped and were standing ready to launch at the time that the order was given.
The Americans flew south along the Rio Grande River toward Presidio in four helicopters, three Hueys and a large Sea Stallion. The aircraft cut across the river into Mexico just north of Presidio and were quickly at the location where the Mexican military convoy had stalled. Outfitted in bio protection suits, the U.S. soldiers explored the area, discovering that all the Mexicans were dead. The Sea Stallion cargo helicopter hovered overhead as soldiers attached the crashed UFO to its tow cable. As the helicopter moved away from the area with its unearthly cargo dangling below, the soldiers who remained behind gathered together all of the Mexican military vehicles, gear, and bodies and blew up the remaining evidence with high explosives.
“It’s an amazing story,” Coyame resident Soly Bryant told us. “When my husband first told me about it, I couldn’t believe that something like this had happened right here in Coyame!”
Soledad “Soly” Bryant, a native of Coyame, is married to John Bryant of Hobbs, New Mexico. John, an oilfield worker in New Mexico, spends most of his time in Hobbs, where the couple’s two children attend school. He visits his wife in Coyame whenever his schedule allows and also brings the kids when school holidays permit. It’s about a 350-mile trip each way between Hobbs and Coyame, but the family seems to have adjusted.
Both Soly and John, a former U.S. Marine, are very interested in the 1974 Coyame UFO case. According to Soly, she first heard about the case when her husband ran across a copy of the Deneb Report on the Internet in New Mexico and faxed a copy of it to her in Coyame. Coincidentally, very shortly after receiving the report from her husband, Soly was contacted by a reporter for the History Channel and was interviewed about the case in 2005.
John and Soly took us to two very remarkable and mysterious sites near Coyame that may be directly or indirectly linked to the 1974 crash retrieval. The first location was the crash site of a small aircraft in the desert a few miles outside of town. After searching for about an hour, we found a field of debris that included aluminum airplane parts from the rudder assembly and other sections. Although local residents believe that this debris field could be from the crash of a drug smuggling plane in the late 1980s, its exact origin has not yet been determined.
The Bryants also took us to another location in the desert near Coyame, where we found a roughly circular pattern of scorched earth at the center of which was a mysterious deep hole. The entire scorched area was littered with metal fragments possibly from vehicles or aircraft. Local residents theorize that this may be an abandoned water well that was later used as a place to dump auto parts, but nobody knows for sure. During our investigation, we found pieces of metal at this site that were similar in nature to the metal we found at the crashed airplane debris field.
This strange hole in the ground certainly warrants further investigation. In the future, it could be excavated to explore what other types of metal debris might be down inside the hole. Excavation would also contribute to an understanding of the hole’s origins and purpose. After taking numerous photographs and taking many measurements, we reluctantly left the area of this find and moved on to explore other areas.
While in Coyame, we talked many area residents who have witnessed strange objects streaking across the sky at night, followed by explosions. A group of Mexican soldiers, manning a drug checkpoint just east of Coyame, pointed up into the sky over the mountain ranges to the north as they described strange objects that blazed across the night sky, illuminating the mountains below before apparently slamming into the earth miles away from them.
There seemed little doubt that, for whatever reason, the Coyame area is home to a great deal of paranormal activity. Contributing to a strong feeling of eeriness are the surrounding desert landscape, the sense of isolation, and the realization that, once the 1974 UFO event is proven beyond doubt, this seemingly insignificant Mexican desert town will take a prominent place in the annals of human history.
As the scenic border town of Presidio, Texas, prepared for its first annual UFO festival in October 2012, inspired by a reported 1974 UFO crash about 40 miles northwest of town, two long-time area residents came forward with a remarkable tale of seeing a “glowing fireball” in the sky at the same time as the UFO incident. 82-year-old Johnnie Chambers, a legendary school teacher in Ruidosa and Candelaria, remembers seeing the strange fireball,
“It was just a big explosion in the sky – mostly round. I can see it in my mind, but it’s hard to describe. I would say the width of it was about four or five miles and of course, it was up pretty high in the sky.” Chambers’ son, John, who was ten years old at the time of the sighting, remembers that he and his mom were driving back to Ruidosa from Chinati Hot Springs when “all of a sudden a big old glow, fireball-looking thing, appeared over the mountain over there. We stopped and watched it for a while. It was quite a fireball.”
Their testimony is especially interesting to UFO researchers Noe Torres and Ruben Uriarte, whose 2007 book Mexico’s Roswell describes an alleged 1974 mid-air collision between an airplane and a UFO in precisely the same area where the Chambers saw the fireball. It is also claimed that on the day following the mid-air crash, a U.S. helicopter convoy arrived at the crash site and carried the UFO away, pausing briefly to set off a massive explosion that destroyed all remaining evidence at the scene.
Afterward, the helicopters moved back across the border into Texas, crossing over just north of Candelaria. According to John Chambers, several Candelaria-area residents said they saw U. S. military helicopters flying back across the Rio Grande from Mexico a day or two after Chambers saw the glowing fireball.
The Chambers were driving west on Hot Springs Road, facing toward Mexico, when the strange blazing orb suddenly erupted in the sky over the Mexican mountain range that fronts the Rio Grande River. “It was just ‘boom,’ and it was there,” Mrs. Chambers remembers. She pulled her car over, and she and her son got out and watched the fireball. John Chambers recalls that their vantage point was ““about halfway from Chinati Hot Springs back to Ruidosa. About halfway back – it’d be about four miles from Ruidosa, approximately.”
Describing the object, he says, “It was fist-sized [from his viewpoint], like if you hold your fist out away from you – maybe even a little bigger. It was quite a fireball. It was darker in the middle and radiated out from there. It was between orange and reddish. It wasn’t really, really fire-red – blazing red – but it had a little orange in it, but right in the center, it was red. It seems like the center was a little brighter. It was bright red around the center and kind of orange around the edges.”
He adds that the object never moved as they watched it and didn’t seem to decrease in intensity. “It was stationary. I can’t remember how long it glowed. I don’t remember if we stayed and watched it until it stopped glowing or if we drove on to Ruidosa. It didn’t move up or down.”
“It stayed up there for a while,” he said. “We thought it was a fire. We had seen fires many times before on the other side of the mountain, and you’d see a glow at night – but not like that. It was different kind of glow. It was different from just a fire glow or anything like that. It was like the sun going down on the other side of the mountain is the way my mom and I remember it. It was kind of like the sun going down, but the sun had already gone down – so it was almost like the sun coming back up.”
Regarding how high up in the sky it was, John Chambers said, “There are high mountains over there. It was up above the mountains. Maybe at about 10 o’clock high. Of course, if we had been farther back toward Hot Springs, it wouldn’t have been as high – I mean we were dropping down in elevation as we were coming back to Ruidosa.”
“It seemed to be on the other side of the mountain, and it [the fire] came up over the top of the mountain,” Mrs. Chambers remembers. “We thought it might be a plane crash. We previously had a military plane crash up at the ranch [10 miles north of Candelaria]. A military plane crashed up there on the mountainside. I didn’t happen to see it, but we had some hunters out there at the time that did see it. That’s what it looked like to me – a huge explosion. I thought a plane had crashed into the mountain.”
John Chambers added, “We figured that it was a plane crash. But it would have to be a big plane to make that big of a fireball.”
The sighting began at around sundown and continued for perhaps up to half an hour. “It wasn’t quite dark yet. It was getting dark, but it wasn’t dark,” Mrs. Chambers said. After watching the fireball for several minutes from their stopped car, the Chambers continued driving down the mountain toward Ruidosa, but they drove slowly in order to continue watching the fascinating sight. Mrs. Chambers recalls, “We watched it all the way down the mountain – I imagine at least 5 or maybe 10 minutes more. We didn’t keep driving at regular speed. We slowed down and kept watching it.”
At some point, as they neared Ruidosa, the fireball suddenly disappeared. John Chambers said, “By the time we drove about four miles to the house, I don’t remember any more glow. Of course, were dropping way down, you know, down there by the river. Of course, with those steep roads, you wouldn’t be able to see it at all times, especially when you get down low and you’re heading away from it [as the road winds]. As I remember, when we got back to the house, we turned and looked back in that direction, and it was gone or it might have been a little glow.”
Mrs. Chambers also does not remember exactly when the object disappeared from their view. “It stayed for a few minutes and then just disappeared,” she said.
Although neither witness remembers the exact year or date of the sighting, Mrs. Chambers believes that it could have been 1974. “I taught in a one-room school house in Ruidosa from 1972 to 1975, and it seems that it happened a year or two before the school moved to Candelaria.”
“The story about the helicopters is especially intriguing,” Torres said. “John Chambers says that they never saw any military helicopters in the area prior to this event – so this really stuck in the minds of the local people who saw them. Also, it was very strange that the helicopters would be coming back across the border from Mexico. Also unusual is the fact that the sighting of the helicopters occurred right after the strange fireball in the sky.”
“We’re not certain yet how what Mrs. Chambers and her son saw is related to the Mexico’s Roswell case, but we have a strong suspicion that it is related,” said Noe Torres, who co-authored the book Mexico’s Roswell. “We don’t know if the fireball they saw might have been the result of the initial mid-air collision between the airplane and the UFO. Or, it could have been the bomb that was reportedly detonated to hide the evidence at the UFO crash site.”
The Chambers had put the incident completely out of their minds until recently when Charles Angell, a friend of John Chambers, talked to him about the Mexico’s Roswell book in a chance meeting during which Angell told him about the upcoming UFO festival in Presidio. As Angell briefly described the book to him, John Chambers suddenly exclaimed, “I remember seeing that!” He told Angell that, although he had never heard about the UFO part of the story, he did recall seeing a large fireball in the sky. Angell then arranged for Torres to interview both Chambers and his mom by phone, at which time they disclosed the facts of their sighting.
During the interview, John Chambers made another startling revelation to Torres – that within a day after he saw the strange glow in the sky, several area residents observed a group of military helicopters moving back into the U.S. from the Mexican side, including one large, twin-rotor helicopter. “It was several, maybe three or four,” he said. This observation also fits in with the “Mexico’s Roswell” scenario, in which military helicopters, after recovering the UFO in Mexico, brought it back across the Rio Grande River into Texas.
John Chambers adds, “People up at Candelaria said they saw them. In those days, there just wasn’t a whole lot of flying going on. It wasn’t like now with the B-1, military, and all that, you know, come through here. Back then, you didn’t see a while lot of that. They said they saw these helicopters – I don’t think they were real close to the town, because some of those people lived on ranches away from the town. They did see our military helicopters coming back out of Mexico. It was somewhere in that same time-frame [as the sighting of the fireball], like maybe the next day, or it could have been that same day.”
When asked if the helicopters might have been part of a routine military exercise, he replied, “They [the military] didn’t fly down here much until the late 70s or early 80s. That’s when they put this radar down here at Valentine. They put that in there and were trying to see if they could fly low enough to where they wouldn’t be picked up by the radar.”
Mrs. Chambers admits that her son probably heard a lot more from local residents about these mysterious events than she did, because he used to spend a lot of time visiting with friends in the small town of Ruidosa. She said, “John used to go around town after school and eat at different peoples’ homes and visit with them. He was the teacher’s son – so he was pretty much pampered. So he had a chance to talk to different people about what we saw. I didn’t have time to visit with the others about it.” That is why she doesn’t dispute her son’s remembrance that other Ruidosa residents also saw the glowing fireball and that they also saw the military helicopters coming back into Texas from across the border.
The latest developments in this fascinating case are included in the book, The Coyame Incident: UFO Crash Near Presidio, Texas by Noe Torres and Ruben Uriarte, published in October 2013 by RoswellBooks.com. In reviewing the book, veteran UFO researcher Kevin Randle said, “Torres and Uriarte are to be commended for their attempt to learn more about this incident …. The real importance of their book is the descriptions of their research. Here we see how they have approached the case, how they investigated it, and what they have found. If for no other reason, this is why the book should be in every UFO researcher’s library. There is something to be learned about research methods here.” The 156-page paperback retails for $12.95 and is sold by major online book retailers, including Amazon.com. It is also available on the authors’ web site, http://RoswellBooks.com.
In the video below, the authors give a presentation about the case at a national UFO conference in 2007: