Rendlesham Forest incident
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In late December 1980, there were reports of sightings of unexplained lights near Rendlesham Forest, Suffolk, England, and claimed landings of an unidentified flying object (UFO). The incident is sometimes called the most famous UFO event to have happened in Britain "Britain's Roswell", and like the Roswell UFO incident, the government's statement that there is no evidence of a UFO has been incorporated into conspiracy theories about a government coverup.
At that time, RAF Woodbridge was being used by the U.S. Air Force and over a two- or three-day period, dozens of USAF personnel were involved. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) stated the event posed no threat to national security, and that it therefore never was investigated as a security matter. Later evidence indicated that there was a substantial MoD file on the subject, which led to claims of a cover-up; some interpreted this as part of a larger pattern of information suppression concerning the true nature of unidentified flying objects, by both the United States and British governments. One person to take this view was Deputy Base Commander Colonel Charles Halt. Another was former NATO head and UK Chief of the Defence Staff Lord Peter Hill-Norton, who stated whatever happened at this USAF base was necessarily of national security interest. However, when the file was released in 2001 it turned out to consist mostly of internal correspondence and responses to inquiries from the public. The lack of any in-depth investigation in the publicly released documents is consistent with the MoD's earlier statement that they never took the case seriously. Included in the released files is an explanation given by defence minister Lord Trefgarne as to why the MoD did not investigate further. The sightings have been explained as misinterpretation of a series of nocturnal lights – a fireball, the Orford Ness lighthouse and bright stars.
Rendlesham Forest is owned by the Forestry Commission and consists of about 5.8 square miles (15 km2) of coniferous plantations, interspersed with broadleaved belts, heathland and wetland areas. It is located in the county of Suffolk, about 8 miles (13 km) east of the town of Ipswich.
The incident occurred in the vicinity of two former military bases - RAF Bentwaters, which is just to the north of the forest, and RAF Woodbridge which extends into the forest from the west and is bounded by the forest on its northern and eastern edges. At the time, both were being used by the United States Air Force and were under the command of wing commander Colonel Gordon E. Williams. The base commander was Colonel Ted Conrad, and his deputy was Lieutenant Colonel Charles I. Halt.
The main events of the incident, including the supposed landing or landings, took place in the forest, which starts at the east end of the base runway or about 0.3 miles (0.5 km) to the east of the East Gate of RAF Woodbridge. The forest extends east about 1 mile (1.6 km) beyond East Gate, ending at a farmer's field, where additional events allegedly took place.
Orford Ness lighthouse, which sceptics identify as the flashing light seen off to the coast by the airmen, is along the same line of sight about 5 miles (8.0 km) further east of the forest's edge.
On 26 December 1980 shortly after 4 a.m. local police were called to the scene and reported that the only lights they could see were those from the Orford Ness lighthouse, some miles away on the coast.
After daybreak on the morning of 26 December, servicemen returned to a small clearing near the eastern edge of the forest and found three small impressions in a triangular pattern, as well as burn marks and broken branches on nearby trees. Plaster casts of the imprints were taken and have been shown in television documentaries. At 10.30 a.m. the local police were called out again, this time to see the impressions on the ground, which they thought could have been made by an animal.
Primary and secondary sources
The Halt memo
Dr David Clarke investigated a memo about the incident by deputy base commander, Lt. Col. Charles I. Halt, and the reaction to it at the Ministry of Defence. His interviews with the personnel involved confirmed the cursory nature of the investigation made by the MoD, and failed to find any evidence for any other reports on the incident made by the USAF or UK apart from the Halt memo.[unreliable source?]
The Halt Affidavit
In 2010 base commander Colonel Ted Conrad provided a statement about the incident to Clarke. Conrad stated that "We saw nothing that resembled Lieutenant Colonel Halt's descriptions either in the sky or on the ground" and that "We had people in position to validate Halt's narrative, but none of them could." In an interview, Conrad, criticised Halt for the claims in his affidavit, saying "he should be ashamed and embarrassed by his allegation that his country and Britain both conspired to deceive their citizens over this issue. He knows better.” Conrad also disputed the testimony of Sergeant Jim Penniston, who claimed to have touched an alien spacecraft; he said that he interviewed Penniston at the time and he had not mentioned any such occurrence. Conrad also suggested that the entire incident might have been a hoax.
A 1983 OMNI article says "Colonel Ted Conrad the base commander... recalls five Air Force policemen spotted lights from what they thought was a small plane descending into the forest. Two of the men tracked the object on foot and came upon a large tripod-mounted craft. It had no windows but was studded with brilliant red and blue lights. Each time the men came within 50 yards of the ship, Conrad relates, it levitated six feet in the air and backed away. They followed it for almost an hour through the woods and across a field until it took off at 'phonomenal speed.' Acting on the reports made by his men, Colonel Conrad began a brief investigation of the incident in the morning. He went into the forest and located a triangular pattern ostensibly made by the tripod legs. ...he did interview two of the eyewitnesses and concludes, 'Those lads saw something, but I don't know what it was'."
Suffolk Police log
A letter in the police file notes that one of the PCs returned to the site in daylight in case he had missed something. "There was nothing to be seen and he remains unconvinced that the occurrence was genuine. The immediate area was swept by powerful light beams from a landing beacon at RAF Bentwaters and the Orfordness lighthouse. I know from personal experience that at night, in certain weather and cloud conditions, these beams were very pronounced and certainly caused strange visual effects."
Jim Penniston and John Burroughs went to investigate the craft together. In an interview with Larry King on 9 November 2007, Jim Penniston claimed that he did a 45 minutes full investigation of the craft on the ground, touched the craft and took photos of the craft. John Burroughs apparently contradicts this in a separate interview in Robert Stack's Unsolved Mysteries. He states that after suddenly encountering the craft on the ground, "We all hit the ground, and it went up into the trees". The interviews with Jim Penniston and John Burroughs have subsequently been made available on Youtube.
Steuart Campbell proposes an alternative explanation. He agrees with the standard explanation that the incident began with the sighting of a fireball (bolide) which was interpreted by guards at the base as an aircraft falling in flames in the nearby forest. In fact it would have been hundreds of miles away over the North Sea. Campbell argues that the object subsequently seen by Halt and his men on their nocturnal expedition was the lightvessel Shipwash and that the supposed "spacecraft" were actually bright planets, such as Venus. Campbell is critical of the USAF's abilities with their equipment.
Another theory is that the incident was a hoax. The BBC reported that a former US security policeman, Kevin Conde, claimed responsibility for creating strange lights in the forest by driving around in a police vehicle whose lights he had modified.
Researchers and commentators
Lieutenant Colonel (later Colonel) Charles I Halt, the former Deputy Base Commander of USAF Bentwaters and Woodbridge, who was a major witness to these events, is also a firm believer and contributor to books and documentaries. As stated in his recent affidavit above, Halt believes he witnessed an extraterrestrial event that was then covered up. Halt was also a speaker at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on 27 September 2010, one of half a dozen former US Air Force officers testifying on the subject of "U.S. Nuclear Weapons Have Been Compromised by Unidentified Aerial Objects."
Some of the locations associated with the supposed incident are still identifiable and the Forestry Commission have marked a trail (the UFO Trail) for walkers, which includes the principal locations such as the small clearing where the object allegedly landed.
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- Lakenheath-Bentwaters incident
- UFO conspiracy theory
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- UFO sightings in United Kingdom
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- OMNI Magazine, March 1983, "UFO Update", p. 115
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- "The Rendlesham Forest Incidents 1/3". Hyper.net. Retrieved on 2011-08-16.
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- "Throwing light on Rendlesham", Magonia, December 1985 and Ch. 10 ('The Air Force hunts a UFO') of his book "The UFO Mystery Solved", 1994, ISBN 0-9521512-0-0
- BBC (2003-06-30). "UFO lights were 'a prank'". BBC News. Retrieved 2007-04-17.
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- "UFO enthusiasts gather in forest". BBC News. 2005-12-27. Retrieved 2007-04-17.
- 2005 Nick Pope Interview at 28:25 minutes and 32:15 minutes he talks about Rendlesham.
- Skeptoid podcast debunks the Rendlesham incident.