Rendlesham Forest: UFO 'sighting' becomes legend like King Arthur

By Nic Rigby
BBC News, East

  • Published
Lights in Rendlesham ForestImage source, Chill Factor Films
Image caption,
USAF personnel claimed they saw lights and a UFO in Rendlesham Forest - mocked up here for the new documentary

A new documentary about one of the most famous UFO sightings in the UK concludes that the mystery has "legend" status like Loch Ness or King Arthur.

The film Codename Rendlesham looks at the reports by US airmen who claimed to have seen a UFO in Rendlesham Forest, Suffolk, in December 1980.

Theories range from it being an alien visitation to a hoax.

Academic David Clarke said researchers were at an "impasse" and the longer it goes on "the more it becomes a legend".

Image source, USAF
Image caption,
One of the USAF servicemen produced a picture of what they claimed to have seen

On 26 December 1980, several United States Air Force (USAF) security personnel stationed at RAF Woodbridge, reported that they investigated "lights" in the surrounding forest.

In 1983, a memo by deputy base commander Lt Col Charles Halt was released by the US government describing an encounter with an apparent UFO.

It made headline news in the UK which has ballooned into an industry of theories covered in books, dramas, documentaries and websites, suggesting it was either an actual alien visitation, a secret military aircraft, a misinterpretation of natural lights or the beam of Orfordness Lighthouse, or a hoax.

The new film hears from former USAF personnel, UFO enthusiasts, sceptics and academics.

Mr Frearson, director, said it "examines the elements that have made this one of our great modern legends".

Image source, BBC/Lt Col Charles Halt
Image caption,
Lt Col Charles Halt was one of the servicemen who claimed to have witnessed the UFO at Rendlesham Forest
Image caption,
The Forestry Commission has set up a UFO Trail in Rendlesham Forest, featuring a model based on what the USAF personnel claimed to have seen

Mr Frearson, who grew up in Walton-on-the-Naze in Essex, got interested in the story after going camping in Rendlesham Forest and seeing the beam from the lighthouse on Orford Ness, which some believe may have been mistaken for a UFO in 1980.

Researching the film, he was fascinated to find that the UFO film Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Special Edition was in cinemas at the time and other science fiction films such as Hangar 18 were from that era.

He said reports of the sighting that included suggestions of car engines cutting out and burnt markings found in the forest could have been influenced by these films.

Academic researcher into the UFO reports Dr David Clarke, of Sheffield Hallam University, said in the film: "Now it may have been a lighthouse. It may have been some natural phenomena. That is beside the point.

"We've reached an impasse. There are those who can only see it in black and white terms - aliens or people from the future came here.

"Or it's the sceptical version - that people are lying or they have been misled by ordinary things. The more it is elaborated on, the more it becomes a legend."

Image caption,
Forestry Commission staff at the East Gate of RAF Woodbridge - beyond which USAF personnel reported seeing strange lights in December 1980

Ian Ridpath, an astronomy writer who believes the sighting can be partly put down to the beam from Orfordness Lighthouse, said: "Some of the witnesses have changed their stories. New bits of information have come out that we hadn't heard of.

"Really what we are seeing is the creation of a modern myth, and I don't think it will ever die."

The film produced by Chill Factor Films is set to be screened in Woodbridge later in the year.

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