Ian Ridpath’s UFO skeptic pages
The October 1967 UFO flap
In 1967 October a rash of UFO sightings occurred over Britain. Many of these made it no further than the pages of the popular press, but some were reported to the Ministry of Defence. Details of the MoD’s investigations of these events have been publicly available at The National Archives, Kew, since 1998. All the cases were easily resolved, and most of them were caused by Venus.
October 27 – another flying cross
Most celebrated of the cases was the famous ‘flying cross’ reported on the morning of 1967 October 24 by two Devon policemen and identified by astronomers and the MoD as Venus, which I deal with on a separate page. What is less well known is that, three days later, policemen in Cheshire also reported a bright cross-shaped UFO. The MoD report on this sighting can be found in file AIR 20/11890. What follows is a brief summary with my own comments.
At 4.15 am on 1967 October 27 two constables on beat duty in Stalybridge, Cheshire, made the first sighting of an object said to be bright, cross-shaped, and travelling at an estimated height of about 1,000 feet in a north-easterly direction.
Fifteen minutes later another PC at Mottram-in-Longdendale, about three miles south of Stalybridge, reported a hovering object moving from side to side over Glossop, a town another 3 miles or so away. Depending exactly where the officer was standing, the azimuth of the object would have been anywhere from the east to southeast.
‘The object then began an up and down movement and finally remained stationary for about five minutes,’ the report continues. Three officers were sent out by car from Chester to verify the incident, bringing the total of police witnesses to six.
The PC at Mottram-in-Longdendale was in touch by radio with one of the PCs at Stalybridge, so it is evident they were seeing the same thing. It is also evident that, despite the earlier report, it had not moved north-east at all, or else it would not have been hovering over Glossop.
The object disappeared into misty cloud at 5.30 am, over an hour after it was first spotted.
Spurious side-to-side and up-and-down movements of hovering celestial objects are common due to the autokinetic effect in the eye. In addition, passing clouds can give the illusion that stationary celestial objects are moving.
Evidently all this was well-known to the MoD investigator, who commented in a handwritten note on the teleprinter printout: ‘The facts are consistent with Venus being viewed through semi-transparent clouds.’
October 5 sighting
A daylight UFO sighting had been made earlier that same month from Okehampton, Devon. Four witnesses from a company called Sterling Hatcheries reported to Okehampton police that they had seen through binoculars a brilliant white semi-spherical object ‘like an inverted parachute’ for two hours from 08.50 on the morning of October 5. It lay in the direction of Okehampton Camp, to the south of the town, and over the two-hour period of observation it moved horizontally at an altitude of about 50 degrees.
On that date, Venus was at a crescent phase (like a parachute, in fact) and brilliant enough to be seen in daylight. Its actual altitude at the time of the sighting was around 45 degrees. It would indeed have appeared to move over a period of hours due to the rotation of the Earth.
Taking into account the position and movement of the object, and its appearance through a telescope, the MoD investigation concluded: ‘The object is Venus’ (AIR 20/11889).
It is highly likely that the two Devon policemen who made the ‘flying cross’ sighting three weeks later in the same area had heard about this case, although without knowing the solution.
October 26 sighting
A sighting near Okehampton on the evening of October 26 of a beam of light was attributed to a tank searchlight, while that same night the lights from a USAF refuelling exercise led to further UFO reports.
Summing up the month’s activities on October 30, the head of the MoD secretariat S.4(Air), James Carruthers, wrote to the Under Secretary of State for the RAF, Merlyn Rees: ‘There is nothing in any of this current series of reports to alter our basic attitude to UFOs’ (AIR 20/11612).
Despite the fact that any reasonably competent investigator could come to the same conclusions as the MoD, these cases are still quoted by some enthusiasts as genuine UFOs.
© Ian Ridpath. All rights reserved
Content last revised 2021 January