Latvian meteor-crater hoax backfires

Associated Press / October 28, 2009

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RIGA, Latvia - A Swedish mobile phone operator acknowledged yesterday that it was behind an elaborate meteorite hoax in Latvia and pledged to reimburse the Baltic nation for all costs spent by police, rescue, and military workers in the incident.

Vita Sirica, a spokeswoman for the Latvian branch of Tele2, said the stunt was coordinated with a PR firm “to draw attention away from Latvia’s economic crisis and toward something else more interesting.’’

In response, Latvia said yesterday that it would cut its contracts with the company.

“The Interior Ministry doesn’t want to do business with a firm that promotes itself at our expense,’’ Interior Minister Linda Murniece told the LNT news channel.

The incident made headlines around the world Monday after rescue authorities said a fiery object had created a large crater in a meadow near the Estonian border.

Scientists rushed to the scene to investigate, while rescue, police, and military units cordoned off the area and tested for radioactivity.

Geologist Uldis Nulle said the 27-foot-wide, 9-foot-deep hole initially appeared to have been caused by a meteorite. But after a closer analysis, he and other experts said the hole was too tidy and had to have been made by humans.

State Police, a branch of the Interior Ministry, said they were still calculating the costs incurred from the hoax.

Sirica said nine people dug the hole and burned chemicals at the bottom to create the illusion of a meteorite crash.