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Canary Islands Mass UFO Sighting, 1976

UFO sightings observed by many witnesses are typically the best, most noteworthy cases, as the multiple witnesses’ testimony provides corroborating evidence. Although most sightings are not mass sightings, there are several high-quality cases involving many credible witnesses, and some of these mass sightings paint the best picture showing the mysterious reality of UFOs. One such sighting occurred in 1976 in the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago located just off the northwest coast of Africa.

The Canary Islands (Credit: Oona Räisänen/Wikimedia Commons)
The Canary Islands (Credit: Oona Räisänen/Wikimedia Commons)

In the mid-1990s, philanthropist Laurance Rockefeller financed a report that provided an overview of major UFO events and the evidence surrounding the UFO phenomenon. This report was intended to educate government officials about UFOs, and as such, it was sent to the White House and members of the U.S. Congress. The report, titled “Unidentified Flying Objects Briefing Document: The Best Available Evidence,” was drafted by Don Berliner, an aviation journalist and long-time ufologist. UFO journalist Antonio Huneeus and Marie Galbraith, the wife of investment banker Evan Galbraith (who was the U.S. ambassador to France during the Reagan administration, the Republican candidate for New York governor in 1994, and the chairman of William Buckley’s political magazine, National Review) also participated in the creation of this document. One of the incredible cases presented in the document is the mass UFO sighting that took place in the Canary Islands.

Laurance Rockefeller
Laurance Rockefeller

A copy of the original Rockefeller report posted by OpenMinds.tv can be found here.

According to newspaper headlines, thousands of residents of the Canary Islands observed an unidentified luminous phenomenon on the night of June 22, 1976. The event was reported by witnesses on at least three different islands. The Spanish Air Force thoroughly investigated the incident. Although the files associated with this investigation were declassified in 1994, they had already been leaked back in 1976. For whatever reason, the classified air force reports were given to journalist Juan José Benítez in October 1976 by an air force general. Benítez included these in his book, UFOs: Official Documents of the Spanish Government.

Records indicate that the commanding general of the Spanish Air Force’s Canary Islands Air Zone assigned an investigative adjutant to the case on June 25, 1976. Depositions were taken of at least fourteen witnesses. The air force divided these witnesses into four categories, ranking them from most credible to least credible. People found to be mentally challenged, illiterate, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol were put into the very unreliable category, while people like astronomers, pilots, and aeronautical engineers were placed in the most credible category. The sighting reports, like the witnesses, were grouped into four levels to evaluate the quality and quantity of evidence for each.

The witness depositions and a review of the evidence allowed the investigative adjutant to piece together what transpired on June 22, 1976. Based on his report, the first UFO sighting of the night occurred at 9:27 p.m. The unidentified object was observed by the entire crew of the Spanish Navy vessel, the Atrevida, which at the time, was located near the coast of Fuerteventura. According to the Atrevida’s captain, he and his crew observed “an intense yellowish-blue light” moving from the island’s shore towards the ship. They initially assumed the object was an aircraft with active landing lights, but the UFO stopped and hovered in the sky. The captain further described that the light “went out and a luminous beam from it began to rotate. It remained like this for approximately two minutes. Then an intense great halo of yellowish and bluish light developed, and remained in the same position for 40 minutes, even though the original phenomenon was no longer visible.”

The Spanish navy vessel Atrevida. (Credit: José Juan Medina Cobacho/Wikimedia Commons)
The Spanish navy vessel Atrevida. (Credit: José Juan Medina Cobacho/Wikimedia Commons)

The captain explained that, minutes after this “halo” of light appeared, he observed the following:

[T]he light split into two parts, the smaller part being beneath, in the center of the luminous halo, where a blue cloud appeared and the part from which the bluish nucleus had come, vanished. The upper part began to climb in a spiral, rapid and irregular, and finally vanished. None of these movements affected the initial circular halo in any way, which remained just the same the whole time, its glow lighting up parts of the land and the ocean, from which we could deduce that the phenomenon was not very far away from us, but was close.

The ship’s first officer echoed the captain’s statements. And the officers also confirmed that the ship’s surface radar detected nothing at the time of the sighting.

The depositions of the naval officers were considered to be some of the most-credible testimony regarding the UFO sighting. The deposition of a physician, however, was among the more strange accounts collected during the investigation. Dr. Francisco Padrón León was in a taxi on his way to see a patient in the town of Las Rosas on Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands. He explained that, when he had almost arrived at his destination, the taxi’s lights hit a luminous sphere hovering motionless just off the ground. He described that the sphere was electric blue in color and constructed of a “transparent and crystalline-like material.” He estimated that the UFO had a radius of approximately one hundred feet. Inside the sphere, Dr. Padrón saw a platform that looked like it was made of metal, and what appeared to be three control consoles. He also claimed to have seen two tall humanoid figures inside the sphere, whom he estimated were between eight and a half feet and ten feet tall. They wore brilliant red outfits and some type of head gear.

When the taxi arrived at the patient’s home, Dr. Padrón continued watching the sphere. He described it as follows:

I [then] observed that some kind of bluish smoke was coming out from a semi-transparent central tube in the sphere, covering the periphery of the sphere’s interior without leaking outside at any moment. Then the sphere began to grow and grow until it became huge like a 20-story house, but the platform and the crew remained the same size; it rose slowly and majestically and it seems I heard a very tenuous whistling.

The doctor raced into the patient’s house to inform the residents about the mysterious sphere. Everyone came outside to see the object that had ascended high in the sky. The UFO quickly accelerated, shooting away at an incredible speed. The doctor described that it “dissolved into a bluish spindle-shape with red underneath.” Similar to the description provided by the navy officers, Dr. Padrón said “a brilliant white halo was formed close to the object, which bit by bit was forming another very brilliant blue halo.”

A sketch of the sphere and its occupants as described by Dr. Francisco Padrón León. (Credit: Spanish Air Force/Antonio Huneeus)
A sketch of the sphere and its occupants as described by Dr. Francisco Padrón León. (Credit: Spanish Air Force/Antonio Huneeus)

Although bizarre, the doctor’s testimony was corroborated by the taxi driver, as well as by witnesses at the patient’s house. But the investigative adjutant reportedly still debated whether he should accept the doctor’s deposition. It was his belief that the witnesses of the humanoid figures in the sphere, “facing the presence of an unusual phenomenon in the sky, narrated what their ‘minds’ made them see, mutually influencing each other.” He goes on to say in the records that he “doesn’t have the slightest doubt about their seriousness and sincerity. They told what they unquestionably ‘believed’ to have seen.”

Notably, there are other reports from the 1970s of sphere-like objects containing occupants. In 1970, a boy in East Aurora, New York reportedly witnessed a silent yellowish sphere moving slowly through the sky. According to his report, he clearly saw two occupants at the craft’s control panel. In 1973, a witness in Manchester, New Hampshire reported seeing an orange and gold globe that was “not totally opaque but had a peculiar translucent quality about it.” She claims that she saw a humanoid figure standing at the controls of this UFO. In 1978, a witness in San Antonio, Texas reported seeing a strange, “globular,” amber-colored object with a transparent section through which the witness claims to have seen two “creatures.”

In addition to the witness depositions, the Spanish Air Force’s file related to this case contains more than one hundred pages of questionnaires, illustrations, and other documents. The file also includes a color photograph of the UFO that was taken by a tourist. According to the lab where this photo was developed, “no trickery or modification of any kind was added.”

Photograph of the phenomenon over the Canary Islands on June 22, 1976. (Credit: Spanish Air Force/Antonio Huneeus)
Photograph of the phenomenon over the Canary Islands on June 22, 1976. (Credit: Spanish Air Force/Antonio Huneeus)

Following the investigation, and after reviewing all the available information, the investigative adjutant concluded that there was no aerial traffic or military exercises at the time of the incident that could account for the phenomenon, and that what witnesses observed on June 22, 1976 was, indeed, an “Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon.”

Similar phenomena were witnessed in the Canary Islands around the same time period. One of these other sightings occurred in November 1976 and was witnessed by the commanding general of the Spanish Air Force’s Canary Islands Air Zone while he was aboard a transport aircraft. Interestingly, a large halo also accompanied this sighting. Personnel at an air base on the island of Gran Canaria and the crew of a Spanish navy ship also witnessed this phenomenon.

The investigative adjutant assigned to the November 1976 sighting in the Canary Islands concluded that, after looking at all of the similar cases around the islands from that time period, “we should have to think seriously of the necessity of considering the possibility of accepting the hypothesis that a craft of unknown origin, propelled by an equally unknown energy, is moving freely over the skies in the Canaries.”

This article originally appeared in Open Minds Magazine Issue 26 June/July 2014.

Jason McClellan

Jason McClellan is a UFO journalist and the producer/co-host of the web series Spacing Out! He is also the web content manager and staff writer for OpenMinds.tv, and a co-organizer and technical producer of the International UFO Congress. As a founding member of Open Minds, Jason served as a writer and editor for the now defunct Open Minds magazine. He has appeared on Syfy, NatGeo, and, most recently, he co-starred on H2's Hangar 1: The UFO Files. ------ Follow Jason on Twitter @acecentric and subscribe to Jason's updates on Facebook.

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  1. Jason’s back! We all thought you had been abducted!

    Anyway, back in 1973, I witnessed the first of several UAP sightings. I was riding my bike around around our house when I heard a quick yet strange “whistling” sound coming from the Southern sky. I looked up just in time to see a round object streak and zig zag across the sky which disappeared to the North. Although it zoomed by silently, This thing must have been going thousands of miles per hour as it only took what seemed like 2-3 seconds to go from horizon to horizon. This object would be the size of dime if held at arms length. I was 9 years old at the time and thought I just saw an Apollo capsule coming down from a moon mission! I was so excited at the time that I ran into the house to tell my family and they all scoffed at my suggestion that I saw an Apollo capsule.

    Several weeks later I saw what appeared to be the Sun setting down near our house which bordered a golf course that was seperated from our property by a large field of Oak and tall grass. I had been watching TV in our family room which had sliding doors facing West. Our TV was facing east so everything behind me was reflected in the TV screen and sliding door behind it. I saw the reflection in the sliding door behind me which looked like the Sun or a great big fireball slowly descend to ground level in the field that seperated our property from the golf course. I remember running to the kitchen Windows to see what had landed but there was nothing there. I got scared and didn’t go outside. There was nobody around which was weird because the golf course was usually busy. I remember looking around and calling for my family but my brother who was upstairs at the time, yelled that nobody was home and to go back watching TV. Which I did.

  2. The authors of the original study are preparing a response and I’d like to give them priority, they earned it. These are classic, solid reports and explanations for them seem counter-intuitive a priori, but careful gathering of similar-looking reports from around the world, matched with documented aerial activities, can provide some insights into just how FAR a witness can ‘fill in’ apparitions with cued-op memories from his own life experiences. Going IN, I would not have found such ‘explanations’ made sense, until enough documented cases can be found [thanks to diligent records keeping by UFO investigators all over the globe] that convincingly demonstrate it CAN happen because it HAS happened elsewhere. One only has to point to the November 7, 2015 Trident launch off California to see the wild range of witness misperceptions [but no occupants!] possible from such once-in-a-lifetime sky spectacles.

  3. I summarize the prosaic explanation in the sec5ond half of this report ==

    Here are the supporting links.

    V.J. Ballester Olmos & R. Campo, International UFO Reporter, Vol 29:4, 2005, cover and pp 3-9 and 26.

    R. Campo, http://perso.wanadoo.es/jjreina/divulgacion/100tifica/articulos/iad/iad.htm

    M. Borraz, http://www.ikaros.org.es/galdar.pdf

    V.J. Ballester Olmos & R. Campo, Revista de Aeronáutica y Astronáutica, March 2001, pp. 200-207,https://www.academia.edu/16027101/Identificados_Los_OVNIS_de_Canarias_fueron_misiles_Poseidon

    R. Campo, https://es.scribd.com/doc/225659885/La-verdad-sobre-el-caso-22-6-76-Islas-Canarias

    R. Campo, http://naukas.com/2016/06/22/dos-gigantes-rojos-cabalgando-un-misil/

  4. I think this is the link (or similar) describing the prosaic explanation. It does seem like this was an active period for testing SLBM, and if that area was ‘fair game’ for doing a test, it does make sense. Too bad they can’t tighten up the dates, why a test launch in the 70’s would be still classified is hard to fathom.


  5. A brief reply to the article on this case

    Thanks to Vicente-Juan Ballester Olmos for the translation


    The Canary Islands Mass UFO Sighting of June 22, 1976 Was a US Navy Poseidon Missile

    Ricardo Campo (Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain)

    Contrary to the view of the author of the article in Open Minds on the case 06.22.76, at the Canary Islands (http://www.openminds.tv/canary-islands-mass-ufo-sighting-1976), UFO cases observed by numerous witnesses are often the most easily explainable, particularly due to natural causes, such as large meteors, or technological, as reentry of space debris and … missile launches from ground bases on land or from submerged submarines. The latter possibility was the cause that explains the phenomenon observed from the Canary Islands on 22 June 1976. The Canary Islands archipelago is located off in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coasts of Africa, in front of southern Morocco (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canary_Islands).

    This UFO event has been overvalued given the fact that Laurance Rockefeller included this case in the proceedings of a UFO conference he funded in his Pocantico residence (http://www.ufoevidence.org/documents/doc934.htm) What demonstrates once more that even “experts” are ill-informed when dealing with incidents they have not investigated first-hand.

    The phenomenon was observed from all the seven Canary Islands, as was expected, considering it was the sighting of a ballistic launching which gases expanded in the upper atmosphere and were illuminated by sunlight, even when the sun was below the horizon at that time (22:30 local).
    There were 14 witnesses aboard the Spanish Navy corvette Atrevida, out of the thousands possible observers. The fact that they were military, including the testimony of the ship’s captain, do not add value to this event. Why? Because none of them were actually aware of what was going on at the time. We knew the solution many years after when the US Navy files were declassified and it was known that submarine-based Poseidon missile launches had been taking place from the US Eastern Test Range on dates and times matching UFO sightings from Canary Islands as well as from Madeira Islands, both in the Atlantic Ocean: 22 November 1974, 19 November 1976, 24 March 1977 and 5 March 1979, in addition to the 22 June 1976 weapon test.

    Departing from the numerous existing eyewitness reports, just an eccentric testimony was reported by a local physician named Francisco Julio Padrón León. His story is considered of low credibility. He was riding a taxi cab to attend a sick woman at Gáldar. In the Gran Canary Island. He saw the same phenomenon many others saw but he described it severely different. He suffered an episode of pareidolia, a psychological phenomenon by which a certain stimulus is misperceived in the form of a familiar or imagined but unreal, inexistent pattern. A huge, distant ball of lighted gases located hundreds of kilometers away was interpreted as the shape of a sphere with giant beings inside at a close distance and at ground level!

    All witnesses observed the phenomenon in the west, including doctor Padrón. It is proved beyond any reasonable doubt that he was watching the same as the rest of the hundreds of witnesses who described the sighting subjectively but much more accurately than this single person. Incidentally, the son of the patient who was visiting Padrón, who was in the back of the same taxi, only saw a great light, nothing close at all.

    The only known photograph of the occurrence (by the way, the image reproduced in the article by Jason McClellan is upside down) was taken from the south of Gran Canaria island, in a tourist area called Maspalomas, by an unknown tourist. It is a visual proof of a moment in the evolution of the phenomenon, more objective than any eyewitness report. The wide, white bands that crosses the central sphere is a camera le ns reflection, one that was not actually observed.
    Photograph of the June 22, 1976 phenomenon, observed throughout all the Canary Islands and from some ships close to their coasts. (V.J. Ballester Olmos files, courtesy of the Spanish Air Force)

    Spanish UFO researcher, telecommunication engineer Manuel Borraz already explained this event back in 1992. In his paper “Los gigantes de Gáldar y los avistamientos canaries” (The Giants of Gáldar and the Canary Islands Sightings), he write that in order to fully understand the phenomenon it is necessary to view it from a sufficiently broad perspective: “We cannot treat the Gáldar event in isolation. We must refer to a wider context: the numerous observations that took place in the Canary Islands the same day around the same time.” That is, how is it possible that an alleged sphere of 30 meters in diameter with two beings inside of about three meters, dressed in tight red suits, was seen in the town of Gáldar, about 15 or 20 meters away and very close to the ground, when at the same exact time many people in the Islands were watching a spectacular phenomenon in the night sky with the appearance of a huge lighted sphere with reddish color inside? Everything indicates that doctor Padrón’s mind played him a trick, by distorting what thousands of Islands’ inhabitants had also the opportunity to observe, a phenomenon that was taking place more than 700 kilometers west of the archipelago.
    The military investigator later on appointed to conduct an inquiry, Major Antonio Munaiz Ferro-Sastre, concluded it was an “unidentified air phenomenon” because he lacked the needed information which would disclose its real nature. Thanks to Harvard University professor Jonathan McDowell, years later it was known that it was provoked by the firing of a Poseidon class missile launched from a submerged platform (submarine) in the Atlantic.


    V.J. Ballester Olmos & R. Campo, International UFO Reporter, Vol 29:4, 2005, cover and pp 3-9 and 26.

    M. Borraz, http://www.ikaros.org.es/galdar.pdf

    V.J. Ballester Olmos & R. Campo, Revista de Aeronáutica y Astronáutica, March 2001, pp. 200-207, https://www.academia.edu/16027101/Identificados_Los_OVNIS_de_Canarias_fueron_misiles_Poseidon

    R. Campo, http://naukas.com/2016/06/22/dos-gigantes-rojos-cabalgando-un-misil/

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