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Rendlesham Forest

Britain's most famous UFO sighting is the Rendlesham Forest incident - referred to in America as the Bentwaters incident. It took place in December 1980 over a series of at least two nights. Most witnesses were United States Air Force personnel based at the twin bases of RAF Bentwaters and RAF Woodbridge, in Suffolk. Witnesses included the Deputy Base Commander, Lt Col Charles Halt.

Nick Pope undertook a cold case review of the Rendlesham Forest incident in 1994, while working on the MoD's UFO project. He has written about the case extensively in the media and discussed it on numerous TV shows.

In the early hours of 26 December 1980, military personnel at the twin bases saw strange lights in the forest. Thinking an aircraft might have crashed, they went out to investigate. What they found was a small triangular-shaped craft that had landed in a clearing in Rendlesham Forest. Nearby farm animals were going into a frenzy. One of the security police officers, Jim Penniston, got close enough to touch the side of the object. He and another of the airmen present, John Burroughs, attached sketches of the craft to their official USAF witness statements. One of these sketches details strange symbols Penniston saw on the craft’s hull, which he likened to Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Jim Penniston's official USAF sketch of the UFO
Jim Penniston's official USAF sketch of the symbols

Two nights later, the UFO returned. The Deputy Base Commander, Lt Col Charles Halt, was informed and together with a small group of men went out into the forest to investigate. As they progressed, radio communications were subjected to interference and powerful mobile generators (called light-alls) that Halt had brought to illuminate the forest began to cut out. Despite his initial plan to “debunk” the UFO sighting, Halt and his team then encountered the UFO, which at one point fired beams of light down at his party and at the Woodbridge facility. "Here I am, a senior official who routinely denies this sort of thing and diligently works to debunk them, and I'm involved in the middle of something I can't explain", he subsequently commented.

Charles Halt documented his encounter by recording his observations on a hand-held cassette recorder. The 17 minutes of tape are widely available on the internet. Halt reported the various incidents to the MoD in a memorandum dated 13th January 1981. Despite the innocuous title “Unexplained Lights”, the document described the UFO as being “metallic in appearance and triangular in shape ... hovering or on legs”. In what may have been either a typographical error or a slip of the memory, Halt gave incorrect dates for both sightings, recording each as having taken place a day later than was, in fact, the case.

The MoD’s investigation included an inconclusive search for radar evidence that might have corroborated what was seen, but the error in the dates meant the wrong tapes were checked. Of far more interest was an assessment of radiation readings that had been taken from the landing site with a Geiger counter. The readings had peaked in three holes in the ground which formed the shape of an equilateral triangle, which had been found at the spot where the craft landed. The Defence Intelligence Staff stated that the readings seemed “significantly higher than the average background”. Their report suggested that the radiation level was around seven times what would have been expected for the area concerned. This was confirmed to Nick Pope in 1994 by the Defence Radiological Protection Service.

Nick Pope undertook a cold case review of the Rendlesham Forest incident in 1994. His conclusions were that the original investigation had been fatally flawed by procedural errors, delay, confusion over jurisdiction and poor information-sharing between the MoD and the USAF. Nick Pope reached no definitive conclusion on what took place and the case remains unexplained to this day.

The MoD's case file on the Rendlesham Forest incident was released in 2001 under the Code of Practice for Access to Government Information (the forerunner of the Freedom of Information Act). This followed requests by a number of people, including the late Georgina Bruni, author of the most comprehensive book on the Rendlesham Forest incident, You Can't Tell The People. The key papers from the MoD file can be viewed in the Documents section of this website.

Nick Pope has acted as consultant and contributor on several TV documentaries on the Rendlesham Forest incident and has written feature articles on it for several national newspapers and magazines.