Rendlesham Forest UFO case
Analysis of Col. Halt’s tape
Analysed by Ian Ridpath
ON OTHER PAGES
This is my analysis of the third and final page of my transcript of the tape recording made by Lt.Col. Charles Halt during the Rendlesham Forest UFO incident. For analysis of the first two pages of the transcript, see here.
1. As this part of the transcript starts, Lt Englund has just pointed out what Halt describes as “a strange, small red light, looks to be maybe a quarter to a half mile, maybe further out... It was approximately 120 degrees from the site”. Halt has said that he was not carrying a compass, and it appears from evidence later on the tape that the measurements were made by Lt Englund, presumably with a military lensatic compass. (Later versions of the starscope had built-in compasses but Donald Laisure, the armourer who issued the starscope to Bruce Englund, has told me that the model they were using did not.) Given that they were trying to measure the bearing of an intermittent light between trees and possibly while on the move, a certain amount of error would be expected. In addition, the instructions for such a compass say it should not be used near metal or electrical equipment, so the presence of such equipment might have thrown off the readings slightly.
2. Halt and his men try to approach the light. Its bearing is now described by Englund as being at “about 110 degrees” and this figure remains consistent for the rest of the sighting. (Note that the direction is only ever described as “about”, indicating that the measurements were not exact.) For comparison, the actual magnetic bearing of the Orford Ness lighthouse at that time was 99 degrees. Under the circumstances, an error of around 10 degrees seems reasonable. If the lighthouse was a separate object, why did someone not say that the UFO was about 10 degrees to the right of the lighthouse?
3. The geiger counter readings start to increase again, up to four clicks, then die away again. Halt says: “I think it’s something other than the ground.”
4. They have gone, by Halt’s estimation, about 150 or 200 yards from the landing site when Halt says: “There is no doubt about it – there is some type of strange flashing red light ahead.” He is immediately corrected by one of his party who says “It’s yellow” – and you need to be very sure of your ground to correct your commanding officer. In fact, Halt is the only person to describe the light as red. Possibly Halt suffers from some bias in colour perception such as deuteranomaly, which is relatively common.
5. Halt now says: “It appears to be maybe moving a little bit this way? It’s brighter than it has been.” Of course, it would appear to be getting closer if it got brighter, even if it wasn’t actually moving at all. Changes in brightness could occur as they changed position and the light emerged from behind intervening trees and bushes in the distance. There is no further suggestion of it approaching. In fact, as they move towards it, it appears to recede in front of them – as a distant light would appear to do, even if it was actually stationary.
6. Next Halt says: “Pieces of it are shooting off”. In subsequent interviews, Halt has said that the object appeared to be “dripping molten metal” but this phrase is not used on the tape. Halt goes on to admit in his interviews that this was only an illusion, as no such metal was found. So what caused this strange effect? Perhaps the answer lies in a letter written by Inspector Mike Topliss of Suffolk Constabulary on 28 July 1999 to Georgina Bruni, and reproduced in Bruni’s book You Can’t Tell the People. Topliss says: “I know from personal experience that at night, in certain weather and cloud conditions, these beams [i.e. from the lighthouse and a landing beacon at Bentwaters] were very pronounced and certainly caused strange visual effects”. You can read the original police documents here. Topliss’ letter, which is very revealing as to the local police attitude to the sightings, is the final document, and the quotation comes from the penultimate paragraph.
7. Now they see a second light, to the right, although no compass bearing is given and we do not know exactly where it lay. However, it is possible that this was the Shipwash lightship, which lay off to the right, behind an intervening ridge. This is presumably the origin of Halt’s later claim that he saw the Orford Ness lighthouse ”off to the right”. It’s worth noting that the Orford Ness lighthouse is never mentioned on the tape, even though it was the most obvious flashing light visible from their location, and right in the direction they were looking.
8. They now move to the edge of the woods and observe the light through the starscope. Halt gave us some more information about his position in an interview with Salley Rayl in 1997: “If you were standing in the forest where we stood at the supposed landing site, or whatever you want to call it, you can see the farmer’s house directly in front of us and the lighthouse was, like I say, 30 to 35 degrees off to the right and the object was close to the farmer’s house” [see my footnote on this page]. It sounds as though Halt was in pretty much the same place and seeing the same things as Burroughs, Penniston and Cabansag two nights earlier.
9. Halt says: “OK, we’re looking at the thing, we’re probably about two to three hundred yards away. It looks like an eye winking at you. Still moving from side to side. And when you put the Starscope on it, it sort of has a hollow centre, a dark centre, it’s... like a pupil of an eye looking at you, winking. And the flash is so bright to the Starscope that it almost burns your eye.” This sounds like a pretty good description of a lighthouse. The starscope they were using amplified light by about a thousand times and magnified 4 times, so the light would have been far brighter and larger than to the naked eye. The dark centre is of course caused because the starscope has ‘burned out’ due to the intensity of the light.
10. Like Burroughs, Penniston and Cabansag two nights earlier, Halt and his men went across the field and past the farmhouse into another field in pursuit of the lights. (See this aerial view of the region.) Halt gives a progress report on the chase: “We’ve passed the farmer’s house and are crossing the next field and now we have multiple sightings of up to five lights with a similar shape and all but they seem to be steady now rather than a pulsating or glow with a red flash”. This is probably the origin of the “silent explosion” that Halt has talked about in more recent interviews, although there is no mention of this remarkable disintegration on the tape. Halt’s description of these lights is too vague for us to be sure what they might have been, but at least he tells us that they were not flashing.
11. They now cross a creek (which, Halt later admitted, they fell into). We now discover that the flashing light had not broken up after all, for at 02.44 Halt reports: “We’re at the far side of the farmer’s...the second farmer’s field and made sighting again about 110 degrees. This looks like it’s clear off to the coast.” Burroughs, Penniston and Cabansag had much the same experience two nights earlier except that they recognized what the flashing light was.
12. Halt reports more radiation readings: “After negative readings in the centre of the field we’re picking up slight readings, four or five clicks now, on the meter”. This of course is the same as they got at the supposed landing site, confirming that this is just the general background level in the area (see my earlier comment under Page One, Point 5).
13. In the last part of the tape, Halt refers to three objects in the sky, two to the north and one to the south. In his memo he describes them as “starlike”, moving with “sharp, angular movements” and displaying “red, green, and blue lights”. These descriptions sound to me like these were in fact bright stars, which we know are a common cause of UFO reports. The colours are caused by twinkling, an effect of the Earth’s atmosphere that is particularly prominent when the objects are close to the horizon. There are several effects that can cause celestial objects to appear to move when they not in fact doing so. These include the autokinetic effect and moving cloud (there was patchy cloud on the night in question according to the met records from Bentwaters tower). I have written more about this here.
14. This is an important and complex part of the tape and I will take Halt’s commentary on these lights point by point. This is the first part of his description, made at 03.05: “At about ten degrees, horizon, directly north, we’ve got two strange objects, er, half moon shape, dancing about, with coloured lights on ‘em. At, er, guess to be about five to ten miles out, maybe less. The half moons have now turned into full circles as though there was an eclipse or something there for a minute or two”. What could cause such an effect? Fortunately his memo provides us with additional information to interpret these remarks. He explains in his memo that the objects “appeared to be elliptical through an 8–12 power lens. They then turned to full circles”. This suggests he was looking at them through zoom binoculars (or a monocular) and the apparent changes of shape were optical effects caused while he was focusing. The memo tells us that objects to the north remained in the sky “for an hour or more”, which is a further clue that they were stars. I identify these objects as the bright stars Vega and Deneb which were indeed about ten degrees off the horizon in the northeast at the time.
15. Shortly after this, Halt reports: “Now we’ve got an object about 10 degrees directly south, 10 degrees off the horizon. And the ones to the north are moving. One’s moving away from us.” Another voice, which sounds like that of Bobby Ball, says: “This one on the right’s heading away, too.” Halt concurs: “They’re both heading north. Hey, here he comes from the south, he’s coming toward us now.” What is happening here? I have dealt with the apparent side-to-side movement in Point 13 above. The impression of approach and recession can be caused by brightening and fading of the object resulting from the intervention of thin cloud. To me, all these descriptions by Halt sound like standard misidentifications of celestial objects.
16. Perhaps the most sensational description on the whole tape is: “Now we’re observing what appears to be a beam coming down to the ground.” This beam came from the starlike object in the south which, the memo tells us, remained visible for two or three hours. In Point 14 above, I identified the two objects to the north as the stars Vega and Deneb. This one is even easier to identify: it is Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. Very bright objects cause glare in the eye which gives the impression of spurious shapes and extensions. A famous example was the ‘ flying cross’ reported by two police officers in Devon in 1967. In another case I looked into, a UFO in Spain reportedly descended to a height of 7 to 8 metres above a car and lowered landing gear. In both cases the object was Venus. Although Sirius is not as bright as Venus it can still exhibit similar effects.
17. We are helped in our identification of Sirius by Halt’s last few taped notes: “03:30 and the objects are still in the sky, although the one to the south looks like it’s losing a little bit of altitude.” And finally: “04:00 hours. One object still hovering over Woodbridge base at about five to ten degrees off the horizon, still moving erratic and similar lights and beaming down as earlier.” From Halt’s position in the forest Woodbridge was to the southwest. If this bright object was hovering over it, it must have been in the southwest, not south, which is where Sirius was setting at the time.
18. On the tape, the objects to the north and south are always described as being low down. Halt’s more recent description of the object to the south emitting a laser-like beam down to their feet seems to be a later elaboration. There are some beautiful TV reconstructions of the beam coming down from above them, but these are fiction.
19. Halt instructed Central Security Control to call RAF Watton while these sightings were going on, but nothing was recorded on radar. I have dealt further with the identification of these other lights, including the testimony of other witnesses, on this page.
20. While all this was going on Halt’s superior officer, Col Conrad, was monitoring his reports over the radio. In 2010 January Conrad told my fellow researcher Dave Clarke that he and several others came out of their houses at Woodbridge to look for the lights that Halt was describing. Conrad said: “We saw nothing that resembled Lt Col Halt’s descriptions either in the sky or on the ground”.
21. Finally, and anti-climactically, the tape ends with Halt and his party turning round and heading back to base. As Halt told Salley Rayl in an interview for Omni in 1994: “We left those things out there.” So how seriously did Halt take all this?
That’s my reading of the Halt tape. As should be clear from the above, there is nothing on it that I regard as truly inexplicable, and most of it supports what I had deduced in my original article on the case published in 1985. This may be why certain believers have regarded the tape as either an outright fake or at least edited to give a certain impression, even though Halt has always maintained the tape is exactly as he recorded it. Georgina Bruni, in particular, was a strong exponent of the theory that the tape was edited and that Halt was lying to cover this up. I challenged her to produce evidence for this view and was told it would be in her book. Of course, it never was.
In my view, Halt was at the time guilty of nothing more serious than human error. Since the story got out Halt has been embellishing it ever since with the encouragement of the uncritical media and UFO believers. That is why it is so important to go back to the original tape to see what really happened.