On an August afternoon in 1954 in Tananarive, Madagascar, several hundred eyewitnesses claimed to have seen a UAP. It remains one of the most intriguing cases to have occurred in southern Africa.
The fifth-largest island in the world, Madagascar is renowned for its unique flora and fauna. Although the island country boasts plenty of natural resources, it remains one of the world’s most impoverished nations. Prior to 1958, the country was under French occupation and was known as the Colony of Madagascar and Dependencies (French: Colonie de Madagascar et dépendances). Its capital, Antananarivo, was previously named Tananarive, the name of the location at the time of the UAP incident in 1954.¹
On the afternoon of August 16, 1954, personnel at the Air France office observed what was described as a large green sphere moving quickly through the sky. Several observers thought the object had been a meteorite as they watched it move behind a hill in the distance, and anticipated hearing a loud crash upon impact. However, no sound was heard at any time, even as the object passed through the sky above them.
After approximately one minute, the object reappeared from behind the hill, flying on a course that brought it directly over the perplexed observers at the Air France office. From this vantage point, the object appeared to be metallic and resembled a “rugby ball preceded by a clearly detached green lens-shaped portion” which produced a trail of sparks as it passed over them. The object was estimated to be forty meters in length. Some observers compared it to the size of a Douglas DC-4 aircraft.
Observers of the object said the odd, lens-shaped frontal portion appeared to separate from the main body, moving ahead while also producing sparks. The Air France employees said the object flew at an estimated height of no more than 100 meters, based on comparisons with the height of a nearby hilltop. As the object passed over Tananarive, the observers said electrical lighting in various shops and residential homes suddenly blinked out.
In addition to electrical disturbances, animals also appeared disturbed by the object. The object reportedly moved toward the west and passed over a nearby park where zebu cattle herds were ranging, causing “a violent fright reaction among them.”²
Appearance of the Second Object
Within two to three minutes of the first object’s passing over Tananarive, a second object described as identical to the first appeared, first observed approximately 150 kilometers away over a nearby farm. The second object also disturbed the cattle in the area, prompting farmers to call for help fearing that the animals may drown as they fled into nearby marshes.
Upon its sudden appearance, some witnesses questioned whether the second object observed had in fact been the reappearance of the initial UAP. However, the witnesses estimated that for a single object to have traversed the distance between the location where the initial observation ended, and its reappearance over the farm school, would likely have required a speed of close to 3000 km per hour.³
Following the UAP sighting event, a scientific commission was gathered at the direction of General Pierre Fleurquin, Commander-in-Chief of the air in French East Africa in Madagascar at the time of the incident.
Despite knowledge of Fleurquin’s commission, decades later it was determined that “no trace of this investigation could be found in the Air Force archives,” although bulletin no. 6 of the French Aerospace Phenomena Study Group (Groupe d'Etudes des Phenomenes Aerospatiaux, or GEPA) featured an account of the incident.⁴
Later Witness Recollections
Five decades after the events of 1954, in 2004 the French language newspaper Journal de l'Ile de La Réunion tracked down and interviewed one of the witnesses, 87-year-old Edmond Campagnac.
Described by the publication as “one of the most credible witnesses,” Campagnac was a polytechnician who had been chief of the engineering department of Air France in Madagascar at the time. On the afternoon in question, he had been near the Avenue de la Libération, and had a vivid recollection of events.
Campagnac described the object as resembling a “very big football of metallic appearance,” stating that the events occurred in broad daylight, and were observed by “tens of thousands of people” as the object moved silently overhead, no more than 250 meters above the city.
According to Campagnac, a report was filed by Father Coze, the head of the astronomical observatory in Tananarive. Air France witnesses were questioned, after which the report was sent to the French Air Force. However, Campagnac told Journal de l'Ile that little was said of the report thereafter.
Charles de Gaulle and French Government UAP Investigations
According to Journal de l'Ile, some witnesses reportedly believed the objects had been prototype Soviet Union aircraft. As such, the Tananarive UAP incident came to the attention of then-General Charles de Gaulle, who expressed interest in establishing a research unit to investigate.⁵
Years later, Jean-Luc Bruneau, former inspector general at the Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique (CEA) claimed that he had been approached by Alain Peyrefitte, then the French government's scientific research minister, with a proposal regarding the formation of an official research effort to study UAP. Bruneau said the initiative, officially approved in 1967, had been encouraged by members of the military staff of de Gaulle (who by then was French president) and his ongoing concerns over the 1954 Tananarive incident.
According to Bruneau’s recollections, “De Gaulle approved the idea of France having its own study group independent from the Americans at the time when the Condon commission was created.” However, before the project could get underway, civil unrest erupted in France for a period of seven weeks resulting in widespread public demonstrations, and eventually a complete shutdown of the French economy. Once the May ‘68 crisis subsided, the idea of a French government UFO study group was sidelined again until the formation of GEIPAN in 1977, known today as the Groupe d'Études et d'Informations sur les Phénomènes Aérospatiaux Non-identifiés (unidentified aerospace phenomenon research and information group), or GEIPAN.⁶
French researchers Jean Jacques Vélasco and Patrick Gross have noted several aspects of the Tananarive UAP sighting that make it unique, ranging from electrical disturbances and animal behavior to the notable number of witnesses.
Vélasco argued that, despite the prevalence of sightings being logged in the United States at the time, it seemed unlikely that witnesses like Edmond Campagnac were exposed to US UFO news or science fiction of the era.
“Mr. Campagnac might have read about UFOs in Science-Fiction literature,” Vélasco noted of the witness, “but it is rather doubtful that the Malgaches peasants were all under the influence of US Science Fiction pulps.”⁷
Despite Cold War-era speculation around Soviet aircraft prototypes and other top-secret aviation technologies, no formal explanation for the strange objects witnessed by hundreds of residents in Tananarive, Madagascar has ever surfaced, and the sighting remains unresolved.