Rendlesham Forest UFO case:
the story concludes

What had made the airmen think that something had crashed into the forest in the first place? I already knew from previous UFO cases that a brilliant meteor, a piece of natural debris from space burning up in the atmosphere, could give such an impression. But I was unable to find records of such a meteor on the morning of December 27 [the date given in Halt’s memo].

Here the police account provided a vital lead by showing that Col Halt’s memo, written two weeks after the event, had got the date of the first sighting wrong. It occurred on December 26, not December 27.

With this corrected date, I telephoned Dr John Mason, who collects reports of such sightings for the British Astronomical Association. He told me that shortly before 3 am on December 26 an exceptionally brilliant meteor, almost as bright as the full Moon, had been seen over southern England. Dr Mason confirmed that this meteor would have been visible to the airmen at Woodbridge as though something were crashing into the forest nearby. The time of the sighting matched that given in Col Halt’s memo.

Finally, I turned to the question of the radiation readings. I learned [from the UK’s National Radiological Protection Board] that readings like those given in Col. Halt’s memo would be expected from natural sources of radiation such as cosmic rays and the Earth itself. In short, there was no unusual radiation at the site.

As for the star-like objects in the final paragraph of Col. Halt’s memo, they were probably just that – stars. Bright celestial objects are the main culprits in UFO sightings and have fooled many experienced observers, including pilots. The object seen by Col. Halt to the south was almost certainly Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.

If it seems surprising that a colonel in the US Air Force should identify a star as a UFO, consider the alternatives. Is it likely that a bright, flashing UFO should hover over southern England for three hours without being spotted by anyone other than a group of excited airmen? And if Col Halt really believed that an alien craft had invaded his airspace, why did he not scramble fighters to investigate? [Actually, we now know from Halt himself and from RAF Watton that Halt asked if anything was seen on radar, but evidently nothing was. Researcher Nicholas Redfern found that Halt’s call was logged by RAF Watton at 03.25 on December 28, which shows that Halt’s memo got the date of the second sighting wrong, too].

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. The rest of the case is a marvellous product of human imagination.


One of the original promoters of this case, British UFOlogist Jenny Randles, who has probably spent more time investigating and writing about it than anyone else, has gradually come to accept most of the explanation outlined above, although she still nurtures the belief that something unusual may have happened even if it wasn’t a genuine UFO. In a 1998 book on the case, UFO Crash Landing, she writes glumly: ‘Many people think the Rendlesham story is a nonsense that was debunked out of existence. One might even be tempted to argue that if a UFO case like Rendlesham falls, then none is safe. The whole mystery may collapse into misperception and witness exaggeration.’

That, of course, is exactly why the UFO community dare not let Rendlesham fall.

I would make one further observation. In the decades since the Rendlesham case, digital cameras and digital phones have become ubiquitous. If such an event happened today, almost everyone involved would be able to capture it all on video. There would be no doubt about what had happened, there could be no later changes of story, and the explanation would be rapidly forthcoming.

That is why Rendlesham will be the last of the great UFO close encounters.

Coming to a forest near you...

UFOs and aliens were very much in the air in December 1980. Earlier that month the Special Edition of Close Encounters of the Third Kind was showing at the Gaumont cinema in Ipswich, the nearest major town to Woodbridge where many of the airmen lived, while the ABC cinema in the same town was showing Hangar 18, a science fiction film designed to feed the belief in crashed UFOs and government cover-ups. Before the month was out a real-life UFO encounter was to play itself out in Rendlesham Forest, provoking fresh claims of conspiracy and cover-up. (Thanks to Adrian Frearson for the research.)

Links to more detailed discussion:

  • Why did the airmen think that something had crashed in the forest?Click here.
  • To read the statements of the original witnesses, click here.
  • For more about the identification of the Orford Ness lighthouse, including photographic evidence demonstrating the visibility of the lighthouse from the forest and the question of whether Col Halt saw the lighthouse as well as the UFO, click here.
  • For more about the identification of the other lights in the sky seen by Col Halt, click here.
  • For more about the significance of the radiation readings, click here.
  • For more about the location of the supposed landing site, click here.
  • For more about the landing marks, including a sketch of them, and a discussion of the supposed tree damage, click here.
  • For more about the suggested connection between the Cosmos 749 re-entry and the events in the forest, click here.
  • For a discussion of claims that the sighting was the result of a hoax or practical joke, click here.
  • For a brief discussion of claims that UFO was detected on radar, click here.

One interesting development for researchers came in 2001 when the formerly secret file of the British Ministry of Defence on the Rendlesham incident was released. It provides a fascinating insight into official attitudes towards UFOs, but no support for those who think that anything strange happened at Rendlesham. It can now be accessed on the MoD website under file reference DEFE 24/1948.

Content last updated: 2022 January.

©   Ian Ridpath 2022. All rights reserved.