Did an extra-terrestrial craft land in a Suffolk forest during the winter of 1980? The maker of a new film, The Rendlesham UFO Incident, believes so.
Dubbed “Britain’s Roswell”, the Rendlesham Forest incident, which took place over a series of nights in December 1980, continues to fascinate UFO enthusiasts and conspiracy theorists. It is easy to understand why. Consider the following three statements, for example:
1) “This was not some vague ‘lights in the sky’ sighting – the UFO actually landed.” – Nick Pope, a Ministry of Defence employee from 1985 to 2006.
2) “When I arrived [at the scene], it was going in and out through the trees and at one stage it was hovering.” – Sgt. Adrian Bustinza, a security police commander who investigated the incident at the time.
3) “Okay, we’re looking at the thing; we’re probably about two to three hundred yards away. It looks like an eye winking at you… And the flash is so bright to the starscope that it almost burns your eye.” – Taken from the Halt tape, recorded on December 27 1980 by United States Air Force lieutenant colonel Charles Halt.
Only last month, a dog walker uploaded fresh footage of unidentified lights in the sky above Rendlesham Forest, while a new film on the subject, produced by long-time Suffolk resident and Rendlesham Forest incident expert Daniel Simpson, has recently been released. There is even an official UFO trail for walkers to follow through Rendlesham Forest. But what actually happened? And, 35 years after the event, are we any closer to unravelling the mystery?
As the years have passed, the facts have become increasingly hazy, as statements change and new witnesses come forward. But what we do know for sure is that, in the early hours of December 26 1980, US military personnel (sections of the US Air Force were temporarily stationed at RAF bases in Woodbridge and Bentwaters) spotted strange lights above Rendlesham Forest.
One of these men, John Burroughs, accompanied by his supervisor and one other individual, went to investigate the blue, red, orange and white lights. In his subsequent witness statement, published in 1981, Burroughs explains: “As we went down the east-gate road and the road that leads into the forest, the lights were moving back and they appeared to stop in a bunch of trees… Also, the woods lit up and you could hear the farm animals making a lot of noises, and there was a lot of movement in the woods. All three of us hit the ground and whatever it was started moving back towards the open field… We got up to a fence that separated the trees from the open field. You could see the lights down by a farmer’s house. We climbed over the fence and started walking toward the red and blue lights and they just disappeared.”
Jim Penniston, who accompanied Burroughs into Rendlesham Forest on December 26, claims to have encountered a craft, covered in hieroglyphic-like characters. “I estimated it to be about three metres tall and about three metres wide at the base,” Penniston later explained. “No landing gear was apparent, but it seemed like she was on fixed legs. I moved a little closer. I had already taken all 36 pictures on my roll of film. 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.”
Burroughs does not recall this. Indentations on the forest floor, as well as damage to the trees in the area where the lights had been spotted, were found the following morning, however. Radiation levels recorded at the site of the indentations were also unusually high.
In the book Encounter in Rendlesham Forest, which was published last year, Penniston writes: “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.
Two nights later, a different set of military personnel experienced a similar series of events. On this occasion, when the lights were spotted, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Halt was prepared. A pragmatic character, Halt intended to disprove the wild rumours swirling around RAF bases Woodbridge and Bentwaters. Arming himself with a recording device, he set out to investigate. The subsequent audio tape is now considered one of the most valuable pieces of evidence in the Rendlesham Forest incident.
The transcript of the tape runs to some 18 minutes but includes statements from Halt such as: “I see it too… it’s back again… it’s coming this way… there’s no doubt about it… this is weird… it looks like an eye winking at you… it almost burns your eyes… he’s coming toward us now… now we’re observing what appears to be a beam coming down to the ground… one object still hovering over Woodbridge base… beaming down”. Halt has since given interviews in which he claims that these occurrences were picked up by British radar. “I didn’t know this until recently,” he told AOL News. “Because people have come forward after they’ve retired. There were two radar confirmations.”
The following night, December 28, one final group of men claim to have encountered something out of the ordinary in Rendlesham Forest. Larry Warren, an 18-year-old soldier who was not even at either RAF base on the night of the first incident, was sent out on patrol with Sgt Adrian Bustinza and a number of other military personnel. Sometime after 11pm, the men departed their trucks and headed towards the field where lights had been seen on the previous two nights.
There, Warren claims to have seen “disaster preparedness officers out here with geiger counters, going in an almost half-clockwise motion around this thing on the ground.” A small red light was then seen approaching from the direction of the coast. “It moved in a downward arc, so fast. [It] stopped and hovered about 20 feet off the ground,” said Warren. “It was the size of a basketball, [an] American basketball. [It was] self-illuminated, not quite red, yet that’s the closest I can describe it.”
Things were about to get even stranger, though. This red light suddenly exploded and a craft appeared on the forest floor. According to Warren, it had “no windows, no markings, no flag or country of origin. Nothing. You could hardly look at it head on, and if you looked at it through the side of your peripheral vision you’d get a shape of it… and there it was, clear as a bell.”
At this stage, Warren and Bustinza were asked to retreat by a senior man. From a distance, they then claim to have witnessed Wing Commander Gordon Williams approach the craft and encounter some alien being with “what looked like eyes, facial features, bright clothing and some other device.” Warren is clear that a “silent stand-off”, rather than any communication, took place.
At around 4.30am, Warren returned to his base but Bustinza claims to have seen the craft depart. “When it took off, it was, like, hovering. It went up and, like, took off at about a forty-five-degree angle, and if you would have blinked, you would have missed it… And we got a cold draft of air that lasted about a good ten seconds. You know, like when you get a good blow of dust or wind. No noise though; I do remember that.”
It is understood that almost half of all UFO correspondence directed at the Ministry of Defence relates to the Rendlesham Forest incident. Despite claims of a cover-up, the MoD’s stance has never wavered. It states: “No evidence was found of any threat to the defence of the United Kingdom, and no further investigations were carried out. No further information has come to light which alters our view that the sightings of these lights was of no defence significance.”
Daniel Simpson takes a different view, however. The director of The Rendlesham UFO Incident, a fictionalised account of the story set in the modern day and filmed on location in Rendlesham Forest, is convinced that either there has been a military cover-up or that something extra-terrestrial occurred in December 1980. And moreover, he believes he has uncovered further evidence to prove it. While filming in Rendlesham Forest – “It does have a very strong atmosphere of something strange” – he asked the Forestry Commission to investigate a series of hatches, which Simpson describes as “mysterious”.
“I got the Forestry Commission to tow one of those hatches off with a four wheel drive and there’s a ladder going down,” he explains, as we discuss his film. “Now, they will tell you that those are drainage systems for the airfield but it’s a very elaborate drainage system.”
Simpson believes that “the twin bases [RAF Woodbridge and Bentwaters] are connected by tunnels underneath, which isn’t that far out a thing to suggest, because a lot of these bases do have an underground facility, especially as it’s a nuclear facility. You don’t keep nuclear weapons on ground level, they have to drop down.”
He continues: “I recently heard a very interesting story of a guy that went up to the Bentwaters air base 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. I haven’t ever told anyone that story. They [the cables] 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.”
So what, I wonder, is the truth? Simpson appears conflicted about whether this is a military cover-up at a nuclear facility or something even more alarming. “I honestly believe something very strange went on there and I believe that somewhere is the evidence to prove it but that’s hidden away. I think it’s an extra-terrestrial encounter. I do.”
I put a series of theories to Simpson, which I hope might explain away the idea that extra-terrestrial life landed in a forest in Suffolk 35 years ago. But he bats them all away. Could the lights have come from nearby Orford Ness lighthouse, for example? “The lighthouse theory is rubbish,” he scoffs. “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.”