UFO hunters will continue to believe that an alien spaceship landed in Rendlesham Forest that night. But I know that the first sighting coincided with the burn-up in the atmosphere of an exceptionally bright meteor, and that the airmen who saw the flashing UFO between the pine trees were looking straight at the Orford Ness lighthouse.

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 original 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 Guardian 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, despite allegations to the contrary, 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 1980.

Although the overall case is complex, the main aspects can be summarized as follows:
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 Ness).
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.

Tim Printy’s skeptical assessment of the case, from the online UFO review SUNlite.

Dr David Clarke’s 25th anniversary assessment of the case, originally published in the 2005 December issue of Fortean Times.

James Easton’s 21st anniversary summary of the case, from the 2001 November Fortean Times.

Peter Brookesmith’s assessment of Halt’s role, from the online UFO review SUNlite.

Read Evan Davis’s blog of his visit with me to Rendlesham Forest in 2010 August.

Sky Crash by Brenda Butler, Dot Street, and Jenny Randles (Neville Spearman, 1984).
UFO Crash Landing? by Jenny Randles (Blandford, 1998).
See also Jenny’s chapter titled Rendle Shame Forest in The UFOs That Never Were (London House, 2000).
You Can’t Tell the People by Georgina Bruni (Sidgwick & Jackson, 2000).

Content of this site last updated 2020 January.

All original content © Ian Ridpath. All rights reserved.
Those who are already familiar with the case may wish to go directly to a more detailed examination of the main issues:

More about the 3 am fireball that apparently sparked off the whole sequence of events

Read the original written statements made by the airmen who witnessed the first night’s events

My transcript of Col. Halt’s tape recording of his sighting, and my step-by-step analysis of it

Was the flashing light really the Orford Ness lighthouse? Photographic evidence of its visibility from the forest and the question of whether Col. Halt saw it as well as the UFO

Watch a video clip of the lighthouse flashing in the forest, taken from my original BBC TV investigation

What were the other lights in the sky seen by Col. Halt?

Where was the supposed landing site?

Were there anomalous radiation readings at the site?

What caused the supposed landing marks and tree damage?

Which route into the forest did the airmen take on the first night?

Did Jim Penniston touch a landed craft in Rendlesham Forest?

Is Penniston’s story of time travellers a false memory?

Was it anything to do with the re-entry of the Russian Cosmos 749 satellite?

Was it a hoax that got out of hand?

What about the supposed radar sightings?

Read Col. Halt’s original memo to the MoD

Col Halt’s affidavit of 2010 June – a disastrous attempt to rewrite the facts of the case

See some photographs of the area, including the famous East Gate, as it appeared in 1983

I would be particularly interested to hear from anyone on the base at the time who can add their own insights to the events.
<ian @ ianridpath.com>

 How much did the British government really know about the Rendlesham incident, and when? To find out, read the formerly secret file of the Ministry of Defence, now available publicly. Also now released is the Suffolk police file, which offers independent eyewitness accounts of the same sightings

 Why did the British government not investigate the case in any depth? Click here for its explanation

 A robust exchange of correspondence about the Rendlesham case between Lord Peter Hill-Norton and the Ministry of Defence, released under the Freedom of Information Act in 2007, can be downloaded from the MoD website

 Documents from the Public Affairs Office file at Bentwaters

“Ian delivers brilliant demolition of Rendlesham” — Fortean Times