[This story ran in the May 16, 1998 edition of CNI News.]
On several nights between Christmas and New Years, 1980, airmen at RAF Bentwaters and RAF Woodbridge, twin NATO air bases separated only by the Rendlesham Forest some 75 miles northeast of London, reported a bizarre series of events that became the best-known UFO controversy in England.
Though on British soil, the bases were manned by American personnel and the witnesses were U.S. airmen. The highest ranking officer involved was Woodbridge Deputy Base Commander, (then) Lt. Col. Charles Halt. A then-secret memo sent by Halt to the British Ministry of Defence some two weeks after the incidents was later released to UFO researchers under the Freedom of Information Act. Though reserved in language, the Halt memo leaves little doubt that strange things were seen by Halt and his men.
Halt himself has spoken many times about the incident in recent years, never wavering in his description of the strange events and flatly rejecting suggestions that he saw nothing more than flashes of light from the nearby Orford Ness lighthouse.
Several other eyewitnesses have also given detailed descriptions of their encounters with strange lights that seemed to hover and maneuver through the Rendlesham Forest. Witnesses John Burroughs and Jim Penniston claimed they saw an apparent craft in the woods.
Against this backdrop, respected British UFO researcher James Easton released a new report on March 1, 1998, in which he purported to explain away all the alleged unusual events of December 1980, leaving only a sad compendium of misperceptions and, perhaps, deliberately inflated stories. Easton described himself as disappointed and surprised by his own findings.
"Regrettably, it became quite clear during my research that the case did not have the apparent substance we had been led to believe," Easton says. His report "reveals significant new evidence which may prove to be disappointing to many of you, as it was to me," he wrote in an introductory letter.
Easton's report, though too long for inclusion in CNI News, deserves to be read. It is posted at http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/pulsar/
However, objections to Easton's findings were quickly raised by others in the British UFO community, notably Jenny Randles, one of England's best known and most productive UFO investigators. Randles has written extensively about the Bentwaters case and is frequently quoted in Easton's report -- a fact not entirely to her liking.
The following text by Georgina Bruni, published with permission, summarizes the current fallout from Easton's report.
[by Georgina Bruni, edited for length]
Ufologists waited in anticipation when researcher James Easton announced that he was about to disclose new information that would seriously question the Rendlesham Forest UFO witness statements. Whilst Easton has done a good job in bringing his findings to the public forum, it is felt that he has not disclosed the full facts.
Using Jenny Randles to verify his case hasn't amused Ms. Randles: "My principle concern, whilst I applaud equally James Easton's attempts to solve this case, is that I feel he has been misrepresenting me," [she said].
The question is, did U.S. military personnel stationed at the bases witness UFO landings in Rendlesham Forest during the last week of December 1980, or not?
According to "The Halt Memo," released to American researchers in 1984, something highly unusual definitely occurred. Ufologists are also in possession of an audio recording of one of the alleged incidents, whereby the (then) Lt. Colonel Charles Halt and several patrolmen were apparently out in the forest chasing unexplained lights.
Easton seems to have been instrumental in obtaining what he calls "the unpublished original witness statements" (some unsigned and undated) written by personnel Burroughs, Penniston, Cabansag and others, which apparently prove that what they were chasing that night was probably the Orford lighthouse. Considering that the aforementioned witnesses have claimed that they saw much more than the lighthouse -- including what appeared to be an unidentified triangular craft -- this was big news.
[Says] sceptic Ian Ridpath: "James Easton has now found contemporary documents that the airmen and Charles Halt knew the flashing light they were chasing was the lighthouse all along... they admit they eventually did manage to identify the light."
[Documents unearthed by Easton, purporting to be original written statements of the several witnesses, do appear to support this claim. -- ed]
Says Jenny Randles: "Right from the beginning, Burroughs and Penniston had always insisted that their statements were not the full story and were watered down. [Exactly the same thing could be said concerning the Halt memo, which by Halt's own admission was judiciously understated. -- ed] James Easton's paper does pose serious questions that have yet to be answered by the principal witnesses. There's also the facts about the witness statements which I explained to him, but that do not appear in his paper."
When I alerted Colonel (Ret) Charles Halt to the fact that Easton had been provided with these statements, he was most alarmed and replied:
"How did he get them? I'm the only one who has those statements."
So who leaked these statements out? Charles Halt may have the answer to that, because Easton has stated that they contain Halt's hand-written notes. The originals did indeed contain a hand written note on one of the statements, namely Cabansag's, in which Halt writes that he doesn't think Cabansag is telling the full story.
Why has Easton failed to mention this vital piece of information?
Another witness that Easton produces is Chris Armold, who claims he was the one who made [a] report to the Suffolk Constabulary.
[Excerpting from Easton's report: Suffolk police confirmed they logged a call concerning... "unusual lights being seen in the sky near R.A.F. Woodbridge"... at 4:11 a.m. on 26 December 1980... On the morning of 26 December, the police apparently returned to the site and were shown "landing marks" by air force personnel, who told them how an object had landed there.... It appears that the person who made the call was in fact Airman Chris Armold, who has recently provided me with a statement in which he confirms: "In fact I then called the Martlesham Heath branch of the Suffolk Constabulary and asked if they had any info about downed aircraft." -- ed.]
However, Chris Armold, in letters to British researchers Crow & Raine dated July 1997, writes that he was on duty at the time of one of the incidents, and that he was involved in what he calls "a non event." He accuses the witnesses, including Halt, of "well and truly snookering" everyone. But, according to Charles Halt, Armold is not a credible witness, and apparently [Armold] really disliked Penniston. Halt confirmed that Arnold was at the Woodbridge base that night, but insists he was NOT involved in the incident.
Strange that such a "non event" would prompt the Deputy Base Commander to file a report to the MOD.
[A potentially significant finding in the field investigation that immediately followed the sighting reports was elevated radiation readings on trees in the immediate area of the woods where several witness said a craft hovered or perhaps landed. -- ed.]
Ridpath brought the radiation readings into it.
"Nick Pope tried to maintain that there was something unusual about the radiation readings at Rendlesham, despite the fact that it has been publicly demonstrated to him that they were quite normal... The business of the radiation is rather technical, and has been misunderstood by many people.... the radiation readings are unremarkable..."
I asked Nick Pope for a quote about the readings:
"With regard to the radiation readings, I agree that the radiation levels were harmless, and I have never claimed otherwise. However, the levels recorded were ten times what is normal for the area, and peaked at the alleged landing site. Whilst working for Sec (AS) at the Ministry of Defence, I checked this with the Defence Radiological Protection Service, attached to Haslar, the Institute of Naval Medicine. This was an official assessment, and is not in dispute."
It's interesting to note that in the last few months many new witnesses have come forward, and although it's a long way from being solved, we now have a better picture of events during that period. I personally have been quietly researching this case and have been in contact with several ex-personnel from the bases, and if their stories are true, then we are looking at more than the Dec 1980 incidents. Jenny Randles confirms that she too has received reports of more than the famed [Dec 80] incidents.
Another interesting factor is that there appears to have been an incident at RAF Watton at the same time -- on December 27, 1980. This has been reported to me by an ex-RAF chap stationed at the base who claims he witnessed the incident.
One thing is certain, however: Rendlesham is not yet unravelled.
Says Jenny Randles: "Indeed, in my opinion, this case is far from being dead, and still poses a number of very important pieces of evidence that both the sceptics and James Easton have not even addressed. Unless and until they can come up with reasonable explanations for those various significant pieces of hard evidence, it is premature to conclude, as they seem to be doing, that they have resolved the case."
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