Rendlesham Forest, December 1980
In late December, 1980 members of the United States Air Force stationed near the Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk, England had a series of encounters with an unidentified craft or crafts. The incidents were officially reported so, unlike some stories of UFO encounters, there is little doubt that something happened to attract the attention of the Air Force security patrols. Several witnesses have come forward to tell their stories, including the deputy base commander Lt. Colonel Charles Halt. Some point to inconsistencies between witness accounts to discount the case and attribute the mysterious lights seen by the Air Force personnel as a nearby lighthouse. However, Lt. Colonel Halt’s report of the sighting state that depressions were found in the forest where a mysterious object was seen on the ground and that there was abnormal radiation in the the area concentrating on the three depressions which suggests that something was in the forest.
RAF Bentwaters and Woodbridge
At the time of the Rendlesham Forest incident the United States Air Force was leasing and operating RAF Bentwaters and RAF Woodbridge, the two bases near the forest. The two bases were basically treated by the US Air Force as a single unit, sharing a single commander and the aircraft squadrons assigned to the area. RAF Woodbridge is located on the west side of the Rendlesham Forest and basically surrounded by the forest on all but its western side. RAF Bentwaters is located to the northeast of Woodbridge. It is not bordered by the forest, although the base is quite near the woods. The Orford Ness Lighthouse, the source of the lights according to many skeptics, is located to the east of RAF Woodbridge and to the southeast of RAF Bentwaters with forest between the lighthouse and both bases. RAF Woodbridge, now officially MoD Woodbridge, is used currently as an army base by the British military. RAF Bentwaters is no longer a military installation. It now houses the Bentwaters Cold War Museum and its hangars and runways are often used as car test tracks by television programs.
Lights in the Forest
There are several versions of the late December 1980 events that occurred in and around the Rendlesham Forest. This leads to a disagreement about the actual beginning of the incident. It would appear that some Air Force security people may have seen and/or reported anomalous lights in the skies and forest as early as Christmas Eve. At approximately 9 PM (local time) on December 25, 1980 a Soviet satellite falling back to Earth was visible over England and this is sometimes offered as an explanation for some of the Rendlesham sightings. On the morning of December 26, 1980, however, events picked up considerably and this is often the date attributed the incident which then continued until the morning of December 28.
On the night of December 25, 1980 strange lights were reported that appeared to be descending into the forest. US Air Force security personnel responded to investigate early in the morning of December 26, fearing that the lights may have been a downed aircraft. The local police force also investigated, but the only light seen by their officer was the nearby lighthouse. Their brief report, however, mentions that other reports were made of aerial phenomena that night (which may have been the satellite). The Air Force responders, however, spotted lights moving through the forest. Several colors of lights were reported by the men including red, blue and yellow. Due to radio interference it was determined that a relay system was necessary to guarantee that transmissions would reach their command post. One man remained in their vehicle in order to receive transmissions from the personnel in the forest and repeat their reports to the base.
Staff Sergeant Jim Penniston was one of the security personnel sent into the forest to investigate. Penniston, now retired from the Air Force, reports that he and another airman actually came upon a landed, triangular craft although initial, official reports do not seem to include these details. The statement of the man acting as the radio relay does, however, confirm that Penniston reported being close enough to the object to determine it was “mechanical.”
On the night of the 27th, reports were again received that there was on object in the forest. Due to the early incident, these reports were escalated along the chain of command to the deputy base commander, Lt. Colonel Charles Halt (now retired). He personally responded to the scene, bringing along a small tape recorder. Although many security personnel were on-site, Lt. Col. Halt ordered them to stay out on the road and not enter the forest as he saw the presence of so many security forces as a “public relations nightmare.” Only Halt and four other men entered the woods in search of the lights. The tape he made is available to researchers and in it he describes spotting a pulsing or flashing red light with a “yellow tinge.” Some have noted that the frequency of the flashes described in the tape seems to match the frequency of the nearby Orford Ness Lighthouse although Lt. Col. Halt has stated that this light was separate from the lighthouse. His tape also indicates that the light is moving and at one point he and another witness mention that debris seems to be falling from the main object. At least one debunker, Ian Ridpath, explains the fact that Halt reports a red light when the lighthouse was not red by theorizing he is colorblind. Eventually Halt reports the light split into five, white objects which quickly disappeared. The Air Force personnel continued to search for residue or debris which may have fell from the light and observed various colored lights in the sky, many making turns at impossible angles. One of these lights also appeared to project a beam of light from it as well.
Rendlesham Incident Aftermath
The events of December, 1980 were reported to both the United States and English military commands. Statements were taken from many of the Air Force personnel involved. Several documents are available, including a short summary written by Lt. Col. Halt for British military officials (the so-called Halt Memo). The story of the events at RAF Bentwaters would not receive public attention until Larry Warren, one of the US Air Force servicemen stationed at the base, leaked the story to a British newspaper. Although he initially used an alias, Warren eventually came forward and co-authored a book on his experiences. He alleges, as do other witnesses, that the military used strong arm tactics to both investigate the incident and force witnesses not to tell their stories. He also reports that beings were sighted although his stories have even been controversial among other witnesses.
The story gained notoriety in the United States after being featured on an episode of Unsolved Mysteries. It has been featured in several UFO documentaries, including a special produced by the SyFy Channel. In recent years the British Ministry of Defense has released their documents on the incident. although they do not seem to indicate a great deal of official interest in the reports. Penniston, Halt and Warren all continue to talk about their experiences in the Rendlesham Forest, as do some other witnesses. Skeptics have pointed out that stories have changed in the past three decades although this may be attributed to witnesses deciding to ignore warnings not to tell the full story of events. Some witnesses, such as Penniston, have undergone the controversial process of hypnosis to help retrieve memories.
For Further Information:
Peter Robbins and Larry Warren, Left at Eastgate: A First-Hand Account of the Rendlesham Forest UFO Incident, Its Cover Up and Investigation
Lt. Colonel Halt’s memo, tape and other documents: