When we think of people experiencing UFO-related phenomena we tend to think of the USA and especially Roswell. A common rebuttal from skeptics is why aren’t aliens as interested in the rest of the world as they are in the USA.
Certainly given the frequency of the sightings in the States compared to everywhere else it sometimes feels that these alien encounters tell us more about the average American than the average extraterrestrial. But occasionally something happened and it turns out aliens might just be interested in the rest of us, too.
The Rendlesham Forest incident is often described as Britain’s Roswell. It is the most famous claimed UFO event to have happened in the UK and among the most well-known UFO events worldwide. So what was the Rendlesham Incident and how easily can it be explained away?
26th December 1980: Strange Lights in the Sky
The Rendlesham Incident began in the early hours of Boxing Day morning, 1980. The incident occurred in and around Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk, in southern England. Within Rendlesham Forest at the time was an old WW2 military airfield, RAF Woodbridge, which was occupied at the time by the USAF (United States Air Force).
Around 3 am that morning a security team attached to the USAF was patrolling the base’s east gate when they witnessed strange lights descending into the nearby forest. Worried that the source of the lights may be a downed aircraft the team raced to investigate.
As soon as the team entered Rendlesham Forest they heard the livestock of a nearby farm going “into a frenzy”. They approached the site where they expected to find the downed aircraft and found instead a “glowing object with colored lights”. Before the team could get a good look the object flew off toward the coast.
The local police arrived at 4 am and found nothing amiss. They reported the only lights they could see were coming from Orford Ness lighthouse, a fair distance away. Unperturbed by the skeptical locals, the team returned to the spot at daybreak.
They found a small clearing towards the eastern edge of the forest. On the ground, they found three small impressions in the shape of a triangle. They also found scorch marks on the ground and broken branches in the trees.
The local police were called out once again at 10.30 am. They were still unimpressed. Where the American serviceman saw a possible landing site, the police saw the probable handiwork of a woodland critter.
The Investigation Continues
The USAF was determined to find an answer. Two days later the base’s deputed base commander, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Halt, visited the clearing with several of his men. In the early hours of the morning, the commander and his men took radiation readings of the triangular depressions and the surrounding area.
At the depressions, they recorded 0.07 milliroentgens per hour, and in other areas of the clearing 0.03 and 0.03 milliroentgens per hour. What does this mean? Not much as it turns out. These are well within the typical range for background radiation, if anything the readings were a little lower than normal.
Before Halt and his team could wrap up their investigation there was another incident, however. Halt reported seeing a flashing light across a nearby field to the East and the farm animals began making alarming sounds again.
Soon after, according to a Halt, he witnessed three star-like lights in the sky. Two were to the north and one to the south. The brightest of these supposedly hovered in place for 2-3 hours, beaming down a beam of light from time to time.
Halt recorded everything he and his men had seen and two weeks later sent a memo (known as the Halt Memo) to the UK’s MoD (Ministry of Defence). The MoD sat on it for a while and except for some rumors, the Rendlesham Incident remained buried for several years.
The strange occurrences didn’t stop there. It seems that someone, from some government agency perhaps, had taken notice of Halt and his men’s reports. Soon after the events of the 26th and 28th of December a local forestry worker, Vince Thurkettle was visited by two smartly dressed men.
These men politely, but firmly, quizzed Mr. Thurkettle with over 20 questions. They wanted to know if he had been out and about at the time of the incident and if he had seen anything. They told him that strange lights had been seen in the forest and they were investigating. When a confused Thurkettle couldn’t provide them with any information, they left.
Conspiracy theorists are convinced these visitors were the “men in black”, a shadowy government agency supposedly responsible for investigating UFOs. Thurkettle however, disagrees. He’s pretty sure they were simply local journalists sniffing around after hearing an interesting rumor.
So What Really Happened?
If we listen to the skeptics, not much. After his strange visit, Thurkettle took it upon himself to visit the clearing the Americans found. He admits to being incredibly disappointed.
He says there was nothing of interest there. The marks on the ground? Probably made by animals. The broken branches and scorch marks? The work of one of his friends and colleagues who had been working in the area not long before the incident.
Most damningly? Thurkettle is convinced the strange lights the Americans saw came from the lighthouse a few miles away. Thurkettle has lived in the area since his childhood and has recounted several times how he had been caught in the beam of the lighthouse while inland numerous times. For Thurkettle it was much ado about nothing.
Others are less convinced there’s nothing here. Not all lights can be so easily dismissed as the work of a lighthouse. Particularly the lights that hovered and descended. Lighthouse beams don’t do that.
It’s also important to point out that the men reporting the incident weren’t just your average joes. They were highly trained, and experienced, military men. The idea that these men simply mistook a lighthouse beam for a hovering UFO stretches the realms of plausibility.
Astrologers have explained this away by describing the lights as a phenomenon called “bright stars”. On the other hand, John Burroughs, one of the men there that night is convinced the lights were the result of a secret weapons research project. He has written a book on how the lights were the result of an attempt at “harnessing the forest energy field”. Which sounds about as outlandish as aliens to be fair.
A Tight-Lipped Government
Perhaps the biggest thing supporting the idea that something strange was going on that night is the fact the government tried to keep the incident quiet for so long. It has taken multiple freedom of information requests to reach the point we are at today. Much is still being hidden.
1980 was the height of the cold war and many people believe the Rendlesham Incident had nothing to do with aliens. Perhaps instead, there’s another cover-up going on. Maybe it wasn’t aliens in England the American and British governments were trying to cover up, but Soviets. At the time aliens would probably be the less worrying option.
Top Image: The lights seen in Rendlesham Forest that night lead many to conclude a UFO had landed there. Source: Veronika / Adobe Stock.