`Meteorite Man' Flies Home -- Brush With 37-Ton Beauty Started The Sparks Flying

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - An Arizona businessman charged with trying to steal a 37-ton meteorite from a small Argentine town left for home yesterday after a judge ordered a 90-day postponement of his trial.

``I've got my passport, and I'm out of here,'' Robert Haag, 33, of Tucson, said in a telephone interview a few hours before departure.

``I'm supposed to come back in 90 days,'' said Haag, also known as the Meteorite Man. ``I'd like to come back and clear myself, but I just don't know. Right now all I want to do is get back to my business'' of selling meteorites.

Haag, Tucson photographer Jeffrey Smith, 31, and Miguel Fernandez, an Argentine, were arrested Jan. 21 near the town of Gancedo, in Chaco Province.

The three defendants were charged in the neighboring town of Charata with the theft of the meteorite, roughly the size of a small automobile, that police said was in the back of a tractor-trailer the men were driving.

The area is rich in meteorites, and several years ago provincial lawmakers made all meteorites provincial property and forbade their unauthorized sale.

The meteorite, found in the 1960s, reputedly is one of the world's four largest.

Charges against Smith were dropped and he returned to Tucson. Fernandez, unable to post $8,600 bond, remains in custody in Charata.

Haag was released on $20,000 bond but was forbidden to leave Argentina. However, the judge postponed the trial and returned Haag's passport Wednesday after Haag said he needed to go home to take care of business.

Haag claimed he planned to buy the meteorite in a deal arranged by Fernandez with the owner of the land on which the object had been found.

But he expressed no regrets yesterday over the outcome of the expedition.

``This has been a super adventure,'' he said. ``I met a lot of people in the Chaco, and at the end all kinds of them were trying to sell me meteorites.''

Haag, known to mineral enthusiasts as the Meteorite Man, said he had planned to sell the meteorite he is accused of trying to steal. ``I could have gotten a million dollars for it,'' he said.

``But I'm through dealing with meteorites in Argentina,'' Haag added. ``The last thing I want to do is to try to get anything out of here.''