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Page last updated at 19:49 GMT, Saturday, 18 December 2010
Rendlesham Forest UFO mystery still leaves questions
By Andrew Woodger
BBC Suffolk

Mark Murphy and Terry Hunt
Mark Murphy and newspaper editor Terry Hunt with a model of a capsule

Thirty years after claims that UFOs had been spotted in Rendlesham Forest, experts and enthusiasts still can't agree on what happened.

Mysterious craft and lights around the airbases of Woodbridge and Bentwaters in Suffolk were reported around 26/27 December 1980.

BBC Suffolk's Mark Murphy presented a special 30th anniversary radio show from the forest in December 2010.

Mr Murphy promoted his favourite theory, but questions remained.


Aliens from outer space, beings from another dimension, testing of secret military projects, a helicopter carrying something, light from Orford Ness lighthouse, pranks by airmen - just some of the theories of what happened when the bases were being used by the US Air Force during the Cold War.

The first reports relate to sightings of strange phenomena on 26 December. The second reports relate to lights on 27 December.

Nick Pope used to run the British government's UFO Project and he undertook a review of the incident in 1994.

He said: "The military is an inherently secretive organisation and if anything happens such as these theories about secret classified aircraft or drones, there certainly would have been scope to cover something up and that would have been the default position."

RAF Bentwaters base, 1985
RAF Bentwaters when it was a United States Air Force base

The Halt tape

After the reports of second sightings, deputy base commander Lieutenant Colonel Charles Halt said he went out into the forest in the early hours of 28 December with other airmen to investigate a possible crash landing site.

He said he recorded his thoughts on tape as he walked around and recordings were made public in 1984.

On it the men describe seeing strange lights and you can read a full transcript at the Ian Ridpath astronomy and UFO skepticism website.

Mr Pope said: "You can hear the fear and tension in their voices. It's a group of highly trained military personnel and if a helicopter was flying over they'd have heard it.

"But, I could have the highest security clearance on the base, but if I didn't 'need to know' about something, I wouldn't be told about it."

Vince Thurkettle, who worked in the forest in 1980, said: "I do believe that tape is genuine. They do mention every light they see and they are staring straight into the beam of Orford Ness lighthouse.

"The interval of the light sightings is exactly the same as the pulse of the lighthouse.

"They were looking at the lighthouse - no doubt about it. It's whether they were looking at anything else that's the question."

Another theory is that people saw a Soviet rocket which broke up and created burning debris which was visible over Sussex, Kent, Essex and Suffolk.

Colonel Halt was invited onto the radio programme, but didn't appear.

John Burroughs and Jim Penniston, two US security men who were working at the base and claim to have seen a craft on the first night, are giving a talk alongside Nick Pope and others at Woodbridge Community Hall on Tuesday, 28 December, 2010.

UFO watchers gather at night in Rendlesham Forest in 2010

Weapons storage

There were also reports of mystery craft shining lights at the weapons storage facility at RAF Bentwaters.

Nuclear weapons are believed to have been in the facility, although the US government never confirms nor denies where nuclear weapons were or are based.

Captain Robert Salas was at Malmstrom air force base in Montana in 1967. He said there was an incident when their 10 nuclear missiles were affected by a "glowing red object" in the sky.

"Within seconds of that my missiles were disabled," said Captain Salas, who discussed the incidents with Colonel Halt at a conference in 2010.

"It seems to me that these objects are pointing out that we have nuclear weapons and they're trying to warn us against nuclear war."

Brenda Butler from Leiston, who has a book about UFOs coming out, first heard about the mystery in the weeks following the 1980 incident.

She said: "Colonel Halt came over to see me about three or four weeks ago and he said the truth will never be released, so it must have been something really, really serious.

"UFOs have been around this forest for hundreds of years and nobody's ever tried to cover it up before.

"I think they come through a portal from another dimension very close to ours."

Apollo capsule
Apollo test capsule at Patrick air force base in Florida, USA

Chopper theory

Mark Murphy's favourite theory is that a dummy Apollo capsule was being carried through the forest by a helicopter.

Some claim that the 67th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron based at RAF Woodbridge had a specific job of picking up spy satellites.

Graham Haynes, manager of the Bentwaters Cold War Museum (BCWM), said: "Apollo is the most plausible explanation. It's about the same size as a lot of descriptions of the UFO.

"They'd usually go out into the Deben or just off the coast at Bawdsey, drop the module into the sea and practise recovering astronauts from the module."

However, there remains the grey area of whether, and why, a helicopter might be carrying the module around on Christmas day, but to some it is the most plausible theory.

The US government has not commented on whether a helicopter flight took place.

Some think airmen sent it up as a joke to add some 'evidence' of a craft to the sightings of strange lights.

Errol Frost, from BCWM, said: "The 67th, being hoaxers and technical jokers, thought they could make a UFO case.

"Being Christmas, everyone's merry, and that's where it started."

Mr Haynes said: "The first row of landing lights at Woodbridge were damaged that day.

"It's possible the capsule hit those lights, it started to sway under the helicopter and the pilot, thinking he was in trouble, decided to jettison the capsule."

The capsule would then have been recovered from the forest a day later.

This theory is used to support the discovery of three marks on the ground in the forest which some claim tally with the tripod feet on the capsule.

Others claim the marks on the ground were consistent with the sort of marks made by rabbits.

Yet another theory was broadcast by BBC Inside Out. In their report USAF security policeman Kevin Conde claimed he had been driving around in a police car with his lights flashing.

Nick Pope said: "There is a culture of practical jokes in the military, but I think we'll still be debating this 40 years on."

You can listen again to the Rendlesham Revealed special two-hour broadcast on the BBC iPlayer until 24 December 2010.

An hour of highlights from the show will be broadcast on Monday, 27 December, 2010 at 7pm which you can listen to on the BBC iPlayer until 3, January 2011.

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