This article was published in the daily newspaper Le Journal de l'Ile, of La Réunion Island.
My file on the Tananarive 1954 case is here.
On the top of the french version of my 1954 flap files you can listen (in French) to Edmond Campagnac talk on TV in front of Jean-Jacques Vélasco, Pierre Lagrange and other about a case he found in the Army files when he was GEPA's director.
UFOs fly above Tananarive
50 years later, it is still a mystery
It will be fifty years away tomorrow, that an event out of the ordinary has allegedly happened in Tananarive. The birthday certainly will not be the subject of any commemoration in the Malagasy capital, and due: many of the witnesses of the time are not alive anymore. The reported facts (1) thereafter never were confirmed officially and still cause a general hilarity, or a categorical denial, one or the other.
It is a rather exceptional case of collective observation of an unidentified flying object. The Journal de l'Ile managed to contact, by telephone, one of the most credible witnesses of this display, aged 87 and installed today in the metropolis. His name is Edmond Campagnac and he remembers August 16, 1954, perfectly.
"A very big football of metallic appearance"
Polytechnician, chief of the engineering departments of Air France in Madagascar at the time of the event, he was close to the principal artery of the city, the Avenue de la Libération, at the end of the afternoon.
"It occurred whereas it was still daylight, at the exit of the offices. Tens of thousands of people saw it, at little more than 250 meters high, he says. It had the shape of a very large football of metallic aspect."
Various testimonys indeed spoke about this object, as of an "electric green ball" moving towards the ground before disappearing behind the Palate of the Queen. But the "thing" reappears one minute later, makes a round of the hills of Tana, then flies over the avenue of the Libération at a lower altitude, in front of the crowd. Edmond Campagnac, who reiterated his account many times (in particular in the TV show Les Dossiers de l'Ecran), then notices that the electric green color comes from a kind of plasma in the shape of lens, of 40 meters length, followed by this machine which resembles a metallic rugby ball. The whole is completely silent.
This overflight would have been accompanied by anomalies also reported by various witnesses.
The person in charge of the observatory carries out the investigation
Electric lightings died out then relit and the dogs howled madly. When the object flew over the cattle pen - intended for the market, in the course of the day -, the animals had a reaction of panic, in particular the zebus. The machine then set out again towards the West. Two to three minutes later, an identical shaped was noticed 150 kilometers further, above a farm school, causing a panic even more considerable in the enclosures.
"There had indeed been a report by the person in charge of the astronomical observatory, Father Coze, after an investigation", specifies Edmond Campagnac. The personnel of Air France of course was questioned, just like stockbreeders and farmers witnesses.
"We realized that certain Madagascans had already observed this kind of phenomenon. We, the Westerners, we lower the head too much", explains this former engineer who grew in the Far East. There has not been any photography of this event: "Among the Europeans, everyone was coming out of workplaces, we thus did not have a camera in the shoulder-belt at this time there." According to him, the person in charge of the observatory then transmitted testimonys to the Air Force. Since, these documents were never the object of any the communication on behalf of the military or political authorities. For which reason? Edmond Campagnac answers by quoting Paul Valéry: "politics is the art to prevent people from interfering with the things they should interfere with."
It should be said that the context of the Cold War did not make things simple. A climate of generalized suspicion would have led certain witnesses to declare that it could have been a Soviet prototype! The fact remains that the very high number of witnesses can only surprise.
What credence can we give to the testimony of Edmond Campagnac? Who is he really? Scientist by education, he states to have been a prisoner during the war in Germany. He says he had been liberated by the Russians.
After having completed his formation at Polytechnique, Mr. Campagnac is engaged by one of the former persons in charge of Air-mail, Didier Daurat. He is sent to Madagascar as technical director. He deals in particular with the local staff training and the maintenance of the planes. Air France counts on him to train its flight commanders (he is a pilot himself).
The difficulty to locate witnesses
He will then be affected in Saigon during four years. During the Fifties, testimonys on the UFOS are numerous. The polytechnician is confronted to that: "Already, at the end of the war, pilots had spoken to me about that," he remembers. But when he explains that he has seen another one for himself in Asia, the doubt as for his credibility can only persist.
"We were on the aircraft with Americans. The passengers suddenly saw a sort of cylinder of about fifty meters length, which seemed suspended above the forest. The conditions were bad, but photographs were taken. Although the plexiglass of the port-holes is not perfect transparent, we well saw what it was." One encounter of the third kind, that's ok, but two...
The engineer will however not stop there. Convinced of the reality of what it saw in Tananarive and in Asia, he takes part in the activities of the Group of Study of the Aerospace Phenomena (GEPA), which he will chair until 1975, taking the succession of General Chassin. This officer - who was a commander and coordinator of the air defense of the allied forces in central Europe at NATO (from 1956 to 1958) - had in particular made himself known for his militancy in favour of French Algeria.
Edmond Campagnac states that the government - the Minister for Research more precisely - had authorized him to access the files of the gendarmerie, which collected verbal testimonys of this type.
"What I discovered there confirmed my impression", he says simply. Members of GEPA, let us specify it, were persuaded of the reality of the UFOS and wished to prove it. The scientific credibility of this organization - nonofficial - thus remains quite relative.
The event of Tananarive is said to have been taken all the same very seriously by General de Gaulle, who wished to create a research unit independent of the Americans, on this question. The idea would take a real shape a few years later within the National Center of Space Studies.
One of the last persons in charge of these services of the CNES gives today his support to Edmond Campagnac (to read hereafter). Which gives a new credibility to testimonys relating to this August 16, 1954.
To make up our minds, we put the question with the possible witnesses of this strange meeting (they are not very numerous any more) which lived in Tana at the time. The six people questioned in La Réunion, by the means of their close relations, have all answered by bursting to laughters or by affirming that the facts are completely unfounded. All lived in Tana at the time of the facts, one of them even worked as announcer for one of the medias of the time. Other testimonys or refutations could be still found on the spot, but for the moment, the mystery remains.