Rendlesham Forest is an area in England where multiple UFO sightings were reported to have occurred over a two or three day period. It is often referred to as “Britain’s Roswell” due to the popularity of the event and the fact that it is so well known. Dozens of USAF personnel were among the eyewitnesses for the events and they event is amongst the most well-known UFO events the world over.
The main events surrounding the Rendlesham Forest area are based on the sighting of strange lights descending into the forest in 1980. The servicemen who saw it first initially suspected that it was a downed aircraft as the region was home to military installments at the time. However, upon entering the forest to search for the craft, the servicemen claim to have seen strange lights moving through the trees along with a bright light from and unidentified object. Sgt. Jim Penniston even claimed to have encountered the craft and made detailed notes of its features. In his report, Penniston said that the craft had triangular landing gear that left three impressions in the ground that were visible the next day and that the craft left after the brief encounter. Under hypnosis treatment in 1994 Penniston claimed that the passengers of the craft were people from our own future rather than extraterrestrials. However, none of that information was present in his initial report. The tale of interacting with the craft and the sketches that he created held no dates and they aren’t present in the official “Statement of Witness”. A few days later there was a return to the site with radiation detectors to obtain readings. On that day Lt. Col. Charles I. Halt, the deputy base commander, investigated the sighting personally and recorded that he saw flashing light from the east and later star-like lights in the sky to the north and south. The brightest of the star-like lights seemed to be beaming down a stream of light from time to time.
A few key controversies provide arguments for both believers and skeptics that this event was UFO related. One of the most telling pieces of evidence of something occurring that night came from the fact that the Ministry of Defense (MoD) released a statement shortly after the event stating that the event posed no threat to national security and would not be further investigated as a security matter. However, later evidence surfaced that showed that the MoD had several files relating to the incident. Along with this piece of information, there are several eyewitnesses that claim to have seen something that would classify as a UFO that night. Lt. Col. Halt submitted a memo to the MoD that is known as the Halt memo, detailing the event that is publicly available. Scottish researcher James Easton was able to obtain the original witness statements from immediately after the event. He released the information and now these testimonies are in the public domain. While Penniston is the only one that positively associated a mechanical object as the source of the lights, several other servicemen and police provided statements confirming that they saw the lights at the same time. Another striking piece of evidence comes in the form of a tape. In 1984 researchers discovered a tape with a recording that documents Halt and his patrol investigating the UFO sighting in Rendlesham Forest. The tape has been transcribed by researcher Ian Ridpath and includes much of the background conversations and names said during the original investigation.
Skeptics rely on other bits of information in their attempt to discredit the event. After the release of documentation that the MoD held on the event, skeptics were able to point out that of the released information, the documentation seemed only to pertain to public inquiries about the event. This revelation went along with the original statement that the MoD made ensuring that there would be no in depth investigation performed in relation to the Rendlesham event. Other information also provides leverage for skeptics in arguments surrounding the event.
The Orford Ness lighthouse lies in the direction that the supposed strange lights were coming from. In all of the detailed reports, witnesses seem to only claim to see a single source of light from that direction that became scattered through the trees before leaving. Skeptics of a UFO explanation have argued that, at the very least, witnesses should have seen two light sources from that direction; light from the UFO along with the light that was coming from the lighthouse. Though the lighthouse lies some 5 miles away, it was the second brightest lighthouse in England at that time, sporting a very high intensity. The light would have easily been seen from a distance. Skeptics listening to the tape have noted that the time between the reported sighting of the light and the light returning matched the revolution speed of the lighthouse. Ian Ridpath is one of the largest skeptics of the event, relying on his research of the event to discredit any UFO explanation of the event. He uses the prior information, along with the fact that a large meteor, nearly as bright as the moon, was seen over Southern England at exactly the time of the initial Rendlesham reports.
Along with the evidence that skeptics use to argue against the UFO explanation, there are a few other causes of skepticism. Both of the key eyewitness testimonies, Halt’s and Penniston’s, changed slightly when they were asked at different times about the event. The exact dates were misreported in Halt’s statement given two weeks after the event, though that could have simply been an error of memory. The alleged landing marks that Penniston claimed to be from the space craft were described as some to be old “rabbit diggings” covered with pine needles. Scientists have also proposed that the sighting of the star-like lights in the sky could have been due to fireballs called bolides, which are especially bright meteors.
Despite the evidence presented by skeptics, many still believe the event was UFO related. Halt issued a notarized and signed affidavit in 2010 stating that he still believed the event was UFO related and his evidence has been discredited in an attempt to cover up the event by both the US and the UK. He even discredits the information about the lighthouse being a possible explanation, stating that he and his crew could see the other lights simultaneously with the lighthouse and describing the other lights as a very different type of light. There may be some truth to his explanation as it seems the lighthouse would have been something that would not appear out of the ordinary. The lighthouse light would have appeared each night and the servicemen would have not found it out of the ordinary to see that light passing over again. The differences between his latest statement and those he made originally were noted by skeptics, however. Other information surfaced that revealed that many MoD files relating to Rendlesham had been disposed of as part of a policy to destroy files of no historical interest.
Today the sight serves as somewhat of an attraction for those interested in the history. At the start of the UFO trail an information board awaits those seeking information. The board gives a basic history and account of what happened in 1980. All of the surviving documents on the incident have been released to the public allowing ufologists to read and determine for themselves whether or not this event is UFO related.