The Rendlesham Forest Incident is the name given to a series of reported sightings of unexplained lights and the alleged landing of a craft or multiple craft of unknown origin in Rendlesham Forest, Suffolk, England, in late December 1980, just outside RAF Woodbridge, used at the time by the U.S. Air Force. Dozens of USAF personnel were eyewitnesses to various events over a two- or three-day period. Some ufologists[who?] believe it is the most famous UFO event to have happened in Britain, ranking amongst the best-known UFO events worldwide. Along with the Berwyn Mountain UFO incident, it has been compared to the Roswell UFO incident in the United States, and is sometimes referred to as “Britain’s Roswell”.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) denied that the event posed any threat to national security, and stated that it was therefore never investigated as a security matter. Later evidence indicated that there was a substantial MoD file on the subject, which led to claims of a cover-up; some interpreted this as part of a larger pattern of information suppression concerning the true nature of unidentified flying objects, by both the United States and British governments (see the UFO conspiracy theory). One person to take this view was eyewitness and Deputy Base Commander Colonel Charles Halt (see below). When the file was released in 2001 it turned out to consist mostly of internal correspondence and responses to inquiries from the public. The lack of any in-depth investigation in the publicly released documents is consistent with the MoD’s earlier statement that they never took the case seriously. Included in the released files is an explanation given by defence minister Lord Trefgarne as to why the MoD did not investigate further. Sceptics regard the sightings as misinterpretation of a series of nocturnal lights — a fireball, the Orford Ness lighthouse and bright stars.
Around 3 a.m. on 26 December 1980 (reported as the 27th by Halt, see below) strange lights were reported by a security patrol near the East Gate of RAF Woodbridge apparently descending into nearby Rendlesham Forest. Servicemen initially thought it was a downed aircraft but, upon entering the forest to investigate they saw, according to Halt’s memo, a strange glowing object, metallic in appearance, with colored lights. As they approached, it moved through the trees, and “the animals on a nearby farm went into a frenzy” (but see below). The craft left three impressions or depressions in the ground that were visible the next day. One of the servicemen, Sgt. Jim Penniston, later claimed to have encountered a “craft of unknown origin” and to have made detailed notes of its features, touched its “warm” surface, and copied the numerous symbols on its body. The object allegedly flew away after their brief encounter. Penniston also claimed to have seen triangular landing gear on the object. While undergoing regression hypnosis in 1994 Penniston subsequently claimed that the “craft” he encountered had come from our future, and was occupied by time travellers, not extraterrestrials. Sgt. Penniston’s report made shortly after the incident contains no mention of physically encountering an unknown craft, nor of interacting with it. This report and associated sketches are neither signed nor dated, nor are they representative of AF Form 1169, Statement of Witness.
Shortly after 4 a.m. local police were called to the scene but reported that the only lights they could see were those from the Orford Ness lighthouse, some miles away on the coast.
After daybreak on the morning of 26 December, servicemen returned to a small clearing near the eastern edge of the forest and found three small impressions in a triangular pattern, as well as burn marks and broken branches on nearby trees. Plaster casts of the imprints were taken and have been shown in television documentaries. At 10.30 a.m. the local police were called out again, this time to see the impressions on the ground, which they thought could have been made by an animal.
Several servicemen and Halt returned to the site again in the early hours of 28 December 1980 (reported as the 29th by Halt) with radiation detectors which detected radiation in the depressions and on the near side of a tree, although the significance of the readings they obtained is disputed. The deputy base commander Lt Col Charles I. Halt investigated this sighting personally and recorded the events on a micro-cassette recorder (see “The Halt Tape”, below). The site investigated by Halt was near the eastern edge of the forest.
Later, starlike lights were seen in the sky to the north and south, the brightest of which seemed to beam down a stream of light from time to time.
There are claims that the incident was videoed by the USAF; but, if so, the resulting tape has not been made public