Introduction and summary
THE Rendlesham Forest UFO case has taken on the mantle of the “British Roswell”, but in truth it is a far more significant event than Roswell.
There is scarcely any other UFO case anywhere which can boast such a large
number of apparently highly credible witnesses on two separate nights, or such
a wide variety of supporting evidence that includes supposed physical traces, an official memo confirming the events written by a high-ranking USAF officer, a real-time tape recording made during the second night of the sighting by the same USAF officer, a report
by local police officers who were called to the scene on two separate occasions, and written statements made by the military witnesses to the first night’s events. There are more TV programmes to be found posted on YouTube about this
one case than any other, and it regularly appears on lists of ‘best ever’ UFO sightings.
Yet much of the popular discussion of the case has centred not on the
well-substantiated primary evidence mentioned above, but instead on various
tales of doubtful provenance that emerged many years later once the Rendlesham
mythology had become well-entrenched.
I was the first journalist to investigate the Rendlesham incident after it hit
the headlines in 1983 and I have been following it ever since. On these pages
you can see my BBC TV report about it from October that year and read the first article I wrote about it, published early in 1985. Although old, the article remains valid
because it demonstrates where the case stood shortly after it became public
knowledge; hence it is a good place for newcomers to begin reading. The article
highlights the main elements of the case and offers explanations for each in
turn (see the Summary below). Over the years, further evidence has emerged that
has strengthened those explanations. The bulk of this website is devoted to
examining those explanations and the evidence for them.
My article first appeared in The Guardian, a highbrow English newspaper, on 1985 January 5 under the title “A Flashlight in the Forest”. In this web version I have included a few bracketed asides to clarify and
update various points, added some explanations to make various references more
comprehensible to non-English readers, and included several illustrations.
The article was written before the release of the tape-recording made by Lt.
Colonel Charles Halt describing the events of the second night as he witnessed
them. I have placed on this website the latest version of my own transcript of that tape, compiled with the help of Col Halt himself, which corrects many
errors contained in various other versions found in print and online. I have
also added a detailed analysis of the events on the tape.
Other than Col Halt’s tape recording, the most significant evidence to emerge since my original
article appeared was the witness statements made by the participants on the
first night of sightings. These statements were unearthed by British researcher
James Easton in 1997, whose findings converted him from a believer in the case
to an outspoken skeptic. Also of great significance are government documents
released since 2001, initially obtained by fellow researcher Dr David Clarke, which confirm that the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) never considered the case worthy of a serious
investigation, and we now also know why. In short, there was no cover-up because there was nothing to be covered up.
I hope you will find the contents of this site a suitable balance to some of the
more fanciful treatments of this case now in circulation. This remains the only
full, rational explanation for the events of those nights back in December
Although the overall case is complex, the main aspects can be summarized as
1. Security guards saw bright lights apparently descending into Rendlesham Forest
around 3 a.m on 1980 December 26. A bright fireball burned up over southern England at the same time.
2. The guards went out into the forest and saw a flashing light between the trees,
which they followed until they realized it was coming from a lighthouse (Orford
3. After daybreak, indentations in the ground and marks on the trees were found in
a clearing. Local police and a forester identified these as rabbit scrapings
and cuts made by foresters.
4. Two nights later the deputy base commander, Lt Col Charles Halt, investigated
the area. He took radiation readings, which were background levels. He also saw
a flashing light in the direction of Orford Ness but was unable to identify it.
5. Col Halt reported seeing starlike objects that twinkled and hovered for hours,
like stars. The brightest of these, which at times appeared to send down beams
of light, was in the direction of Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.
At its most basic, the case comes down to the misinterpretation of a series of
nocturnal lights – a fireball, a lighthouse, and some stars. Such misidentifications are standard
fare for UFOlogy. It is only the concatenation of three different stimuli that
makes it exceptional. Those unfamiliar with the ways in which nocturnal lights
can be misidentified should read my article on astronomical causes of UFOs.
The links at the left will take you to more detailed discussion of the above
issues, and more. These links are repeated at the end of this article.
Articles and books about the Rendlesham Forest UFO case:
New light on Rendlesham – Dr David Clarke reveals the previously undisclosed background to the Halt memo
and the MoD’s response to it from interviews with those who were involved behind the scenes.
Sky Crash by Brenda Butler, Dot Street, and Jenny Randles (Neville Spearman, 1984).
Content of this site last updated 2014 February.
All original content © Ian Ridpath. All rights reserved.