On the 26th December, 1980, a US security patrol at RAF Woodbridge saw strange lights descending into the nearby Rendlesham Forest. Though the servicemen initially assumed that these lights belonged to a downed aircraft, when investigating the site on the ground, they saw a strange, glowing, metallic object with coloured lights. More sightings of lights were reported over the following two nights by dozens of USAF personnel. The Rendlesham Forest Incident has since become the most famous UFO event to have happened in Britain, and is amongst the best-known UFO events worldwide.
Lt. Col. Charles I. Halt, the deputy base commander, reported in a 1981 memorandum (which you can view here) headead “Unexplained Lights”, that what had initially been assumed to be an aircraft was in fact a glowing metallic object, which Sgt. Jim Penniston claimed was warm to the touch.
As he and other USAF personnel approached the craft, it apparently moved through the trees, causing “the animals on a nearby farm” to go “into a frenzy.” Three depressions were left in the ground, in which radiation was detected the following day. Penniston, who later claimed he had encountered a “craft of unknown origin”, noted its features, including what its surface felt like, and the many symbols on its body.
The report he had made shortly after the incident, however, had not mentioned any physical encounters with the craft.
On the 27th and 28th of December, flashing lights were reported again from the east. Star-like lights were also seen in the sky to the north and south.
Researcher James Easton collated the original eyewitness statements, which describe several sightings comprising of red blinking lights and a large yellow glowing light emitting above the trees, and strange noises which include those of crazed farm animals, and something “like a woman screaming.”
‘The witnesses were unnerved by their experience and believed that they had witnessed something…"out of the realm of explanation"’
Easton’s documents are now available in the public domain; see them here.
The sightings occurred over Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk. The forest consists of 5.8 square miles of coniferous plantations, with broadleaved belts, heathland and wetland.
The main events of the incident took place in the forest, which was in the vicinity of RAF Bentwaters and RAF Woodbridge; the former base was located just to the north of the forest, and the latter extended into the forest from the west, and was joined to the forest on its northern and eastern perimeters.
In the Great Storm of 1987, which battered Suffolk with winds equivalent to a category 3 hurricane, much of Rendlesham forest was destroyed. A mass programme of replanting was carried out by the Forestry Commission subsequently, meaning that the Forest looks quite different today.
Some of the locations involved in the incident, however, can still be identified, and a marked UFO Trail is available for walkers to follow, passing key locations, including the small clearing where the craft supposedly landed.
Sceptics insist that Orford Ness Lighthouse was the source of the flashing light seen by the airmen. This was also suspected by the policemen who investigated the incident at the time.
Local forester, Vince Thurkettle, who was interviewed by science writer Ian Ridpath for a 1983 BBC Breakfast Time news programme, attributed the supposed landing markings to rabbit diggings covered in pine needles. This conclusion was also drawn by the policemen.
The shrill noises have been explained as muntjac deer, which inhabit the forest.
The radiation that was measured in the depressions and on surrounding trees is considered crucial evidence for the incident. But experts from the UKs National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) claim that the equipment used was not intended to measure background radiation, making the readings from the low end of the measurements scale meaningless.
The investigative science writer, Steuart Campbell, believes the initial light seen by the servicemen, which was mistaken for a falling aircraft, was actually a fireball, hundreds of miles away over the North Sea. He believes the object subsequently seen by Halt and his men was in fact the lightvessel Shipwash, and that the spacecraft in the sky was simply a bright planet.
Other explanations claim that the entire incident was a hoax, or that a downed Soviet spy satellite was actually seen by the men of the USAF.
The incident was never investigated as a security matter by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), who claimed that it never posed a threat to national security. It has been claimed, however, that a substantial MoD file did exist on the subject, which has led to accusations of a cover-up.
The file was released in 2001, but it mainly contained internal correspondence, and responses to inquiries from the public.
Today, visitors to Rendlesham Forest can walk the UFO trail. Simply follow the silver arrows and enjoy walking by the areas where sightings of the UFO claim to have been made.
By Liz Ewing
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