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Hints of a government coverup, compelling eyewitness accounts from airforce officials, a spacecraft purportedly hovering through trees and landing; the Rendlesham Forest UFO incident has it all when it comes to instances of the unexplained.
Here's a look at some of the standout witness statements, and what experts have said about the 1980 incident which has been dubbed "Britain's Roswell".
Do you believe the Rendlesham Forest UFO Incident is a real case of extraterrestrials landing on Earth? Have a read and let us know what you think.
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1. The first of several sightings occurred in the early hours of December 26, 1980
It is now almost 40 years since the UFO incident at Rendlesham forest. Understandably, the facts are murky as contradictory accounts have emerged in the years since the incident took place.
It all started on December 26, 1980, when U.S. military personnel spotted strange lights above Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk, United Kingdom.
2. The sightings took place near RAF Bentwaters and RAF Woodbridge in Rendlesham Forest
RAF Bentwaters was an airbase used by the United States Air Force (USAF) during the Cold War until 1993.
Sections of the U.S. Air Force were stationed at the airbase when the incident occurred, including eyewitnesses that, to this day, claim they saw an extraterrestrial craft in the forest in the month of December 1980.
3. It is one of the few officially documented UFO sightings where witnesses claim to have seen a craft land
Nick Pope, who was a Ministry of Defence employee from 1985 to 2006, and who wrote a book titled 'Encounter in Rendlesham Forest: The Inside Story of the World's Best Documented UFO Incident', described the incident with the following words:
“This was not some vague ‘lights in the sky’ sighting – the UFO actually landed.”
4. U.S. Air Force officer John Burroughs described agitated animals and red and blue lights near a farmhouse
One of the men asked to investigate the strange blue, red, orange, and white lights coming from the forest was, John Burroughs. In a witness statement, published in 1981, he said:
"The woods lit up and you could hear the farm animals making a lot of noises... You could see the lights down by a farmer’s house [on the forest's edge]... We climbed over the fence and started walking toward the red and blue lights and they just disappeared."
5. Officer Jim Penniston's witness account describes a craft made from "smooth, opaque, black glass"
USAF officer Jim Penniston, who was with Burroughs during the incident, described seeing a craft covered in hieroglyphic-like characters. He said the following:
“I estimated it to be about three meters tall and about three meters wide at the base. No landing gear was apparent, but it seemed like she was on fixed legs. I moved a little closer... I walked around the craft, and finally, I walked right up to the craft. I noticed the fabric of the shell was more like a smooth, opaque, black glass.”
6. Indentations on the ground and high radiation levels were recorded the next day
The morning after the incident witnessed by Burroughs and Penniston, indentations on the forest floor were spotted, as well as damage to the trees in the area where the lights had been seen.
Radiation levels recorded at the site of the indentations were also reported to be unusually high.
7. Colonel Halt recorded a running commentary during the second UFO sighting at Rendlesham Forest
On December 27 1980, two nights after the first reported incident, United States Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Charles Halt was ready. Known as a pragmatic character, Halt set out to disprove the wild theories doing the rounds at the RAF bases. When more lights were spotted, he took his tape recorder and joined a military patrol group.
The resulting audiotape has since been declassified by the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence. It is now public domain, and can be listened to here:
During the recording, in which he mentions objects and lights in the sky, as well as a red orb floating near the ground, Colonel Halt says:
“It looks like an eye winking at you... Here he comes from the South, he's coming towards us now... Now we're observing what appears to be a beam coming down to the ground. This is unreal."
The recording is considered today to be one of the most valuable pieces of evidence from the Rendlesham Forest incident.
8. Burroughs and Penniston, the first two witnesses, suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
In the Encounter in Rendlesham Forest book, Penniston wrote: “I left the forest a different man… I was in awe of the technology and yes, a knowing that it was not an aircraft which could have been manufactured in 1980 or even now.”
Both Penniston and Burroughs have since suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, The Telegraph reported in 2015. In recent years, Penniston has claimed that the craft telepathically transmitted binary code into his brain.
9. Numerous eyewitness statements emerged following the incident
Burroughs, Penniston, and Col. Halt have been the most vocal in saying they believe what they saw was extraterrestrial in origin, but they are not the only eyewitnesses.
Sgt. Adrian Bustinza, a security police commander who investigated the incident at the time, said: “When I arrived [at the scene], it was going in and out through the trees and at one stage it was hovering.”
10. Some eyewitnesses claim not to have seen any UFO
Another witness, Ed Cabansag, described seeing, "a glowing near the beacon light, but as we got closer we found it to be a lit-up farmhouse. We got to a vantage point where we could determine that what we were chasing was only a beacon light off in the distance."
The Ministry of Defence has claimed that the lights came from the nearby Orfordness lighthouse — more on this in section 16. It also stated that the event posed no threat to national security, and was, therefore, never investigated as a security matter.
11. In 1983, a U.K. newspaper ran a front-page story which stated, "UFO LANDS IN SUFFOLK, And that's OFFICIAL"
In the following years, as accounts about the Rendlesham Forest incident were released, the press started to respond to the growing public interest around the events
In 1983, the News of the World ran a front-page story which proclaimed: "UFO LANDS IN SUFFOLK, And that's OFFICIAL."
12. Statements from radar operators have recently corroborated Colonel Halt's claims
As recently as 2015, the then-75-year-old Col. Halt announced that he had obtained written statements from radar operators at RAF Bentwaters and nearby Wattisham airfield that an unknown object was, in fact, tracked at the time of the incident.
As per the BBC, Halt claimed they had not wanted to come forward until after they had retired from their military roles.
"I have confirmation that (Bentwaters radar operators)... saw the object go across their 60 mile (96km) scope in two or three seconds, thousands of miles an hour, he came back across their scope again, stopped near the water tower, they watched it and observed it go into the forest where we were," said Col. Halt.
13. Today, there is a 'UFO Trail' set out for forest trekkers
In 2005, due to the public interest in the UFO incident, the Forestry Commission used Lottery proceeds to create a trail in Rendlesham Forest. They called it the "UFO Trail".
In 2014, the Forestry Service commissioned an artist to create a sculpture, that was placed at the end of the trail, based on drawings made by eyewitnesses of the UFO.
14. In 2015, a dog walker posted a fresh video of UFO footage from Rendlesham Forest
There have been more incidents of unexplained lights and UFOs in the United Kingdom and Rendlesham Forest since 1980.
Only five years ago, a dog walker posted the above video of bright moving unidentified lights in the sky above Rendlesham Forest, filmed alongside an RAF helicopter.
15. There is a story about incredibly futuristic technology secretly installed at RAF Bentwaters
Daniel Simpson, director of The Rendlesham UFO Incident, a fictionalized account of the story filmed on location in Rendlesham Forest, told The Telegraph the following story:
"I recently heard a very interesting story of a guy that went up to the Bentwaters airbase and, because it’s privately owned, some of those buildings are rented out to people. A company up there wanted to have their internet sorted out and this guy dug down and – he was a telecom guy – he came back and he was sheet white. He couldn’t believe it.
"He said he’d just come across these cables, two-foot down, and they were cables delivering such a powerful internet connection – but they were cables from 1980... They were from 1980 and yet they were so in advance of what we’ve even got now. I’m told that all the time what we get [technologically] is much behind what they [the military] actually know."
16. Recent claims suggest the Rendlesham Forest incident was a 'revenge' hoax by the SAS
In December 2018, Dr. David Clarke, a British UFO researcher, reported a claim that the incident was set up by the SAS as a revenge plot on the USAF. According to the story, in August 1980, the SAS parachuted into RAF Woodbridge to test security at the site.
The USAF detected and captured the SAS troops, who were subsequently interrogated, beaten up, and reportedly even called "unidentified aliens." As a form of revenge, the SAS devised their own prank version of an alien event.
"....as December approached, lights and colored flares were rigged in the woods. Black helium balloons were also coupled to remote-controlled kites to carry suspended materials into the sky, activated by radio-controls," The Telegraph explains in an article about the purported hoax.
17. One original proponent now believes it was an Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) that was seen at the site
Jenny Randles was one of the first journalists to report on the incident. She also co-authored the first book on the case in 1984, Sky Crash: A Cosmic Conspiracy.
In 2010, Randles suggested that a UAP, an Unidentified Aerial Phenomena of unknown origin, might be responsible for what eyewitnesses experienced.
"Whilst some puzzles remain, we can probably say that no unearthly craft were seen in Rendlesham Forest," she explained. "We can also argue with confidence that the main focus of the events was a series of misperceptions of everyday things encountered in less than everyday circumstances."
18. Some UFO skeptics believe the sightings were caused by a meteor and atmospheric distortions
As science writer and UFO skeptic Ian Ridpath explains, on the night of the incident, the British Astronomical Association Meteor Section reported that "an exceptionally brilliant meteor, termed a fireball by astronomers, was seen over southern England. It is shown that this fireball is most likely what they saw and that nothing landed in Rendlesham Forest."
Some skeptics have also suggested the lights seen in the sky may have been bright stars distorted by atmospheric and optical effects, a common source of UFO reports.
19. Others have suggested the sightings may have been caused by the nearby Orfordness lighthouse
According to the witness statements from 26 December, the flashing light seen from the forest lay in the same direction as the nearby Orfordness Lighthouse. Timings on Halt's audiotape also suggest that the light he saw flashed every five seconds — the same flash rate as the lighthouse.
As Daniel Simpson countered to The Telegraph, “the lighthouse theory is rubbish. Lighthouses don’t fly down into forests, split up into five different lights and zap off into space at Mach-3. They don’t move through the trees and get mistaken by up to 20 witnesses from the United States Air Force.”
20. There have been suggestions of a government cover-up
Colonel Halt, who recorded the audiotape commentary during the second incident, has gone on record saying that he believes what he saw was of extraterrestrial origin and that the incident was covered up by the U.K. and U.S. governments.
The Ministry of Defence, meanwhile, is adamant that the Rendlesham Forest incident was of no threat to national security, and therefore, hadn't merited a full investigation.
21. Details continue to emerge as "Britain's Roswell" earns iconic status
Academic David Clarke argues that Rendlesham Forest, which now has an iconic status amongst UFO enthusiasts, is passing into legend. And it's not about to be put to rest — new witnesses have emerged as recently as 2016 and 2019, one of which describes a glowing "reddish ball", and a new documentary called Capel Green is in the works.
With a lack of any satisfying conclusive evidence on either side, skeptics and proponents will continue to debate the matter, and compare it to the Roswell UFO incident in 1947. What do you believe?