Enigma Labs Share UFO Sighting
By Enigma Labs

Rendlesham Forest incident, December 1980 

Early in the morning of December 26, 1980, U.S Air Force personnel stationed in Suffolk, England reported seeing unusual flashing colored lights descending on  Rendlesham Forest,  a wooded area near their base. Three airmen–John Burroughs, Jim Penniston, and Edward Cabansag–pursued the lights, while reporting by radio to nearby master sergeant, J.D. Chandler, and to their shift commander, Pat Buran. Penniston reported chasing a “mechanical object” with flashing lights. Burroughs saw movement in the trees but couldn’t discern the cause. Cabansag said they searched for more than an hour and concluded the lights they saw came from “beacon” on a nearby lighthouse. 

At around 4 am, local police were called to the scene, located on the grounds of the Royal Air Force base at Woodbridge, which was leased to the U.S. military. They reported that the only lights visible were from the Orfordness lighthouse, located seven miles away.¹

In response to a query about the incident Chief Constable Inspector Mike Topliss described two visits his men made to the location:

“The first visit immediately followed the reported incident and the two officers who attended made search of the area with a negative result,” Topliss wrote. “…A further report was received at 10.30am on 26 December 80 from a staff member at RAF Bentwaters [a nearby U.K. base also leased by the U.S.] indicating that a place had been found where a craft of some sort could have landed. An officer attended and the area involved did bear three marks of an indeterminate pattern. The marks were apparently of no depth and the officer attending thought they could have been made by an animal.”

The following evening, December 28, 1980, responding to another report of unusual lights, Col. Charles Halt, deputy commander of the base, went to the scene of the incident with two officers, one of whom brought a Geiger counter to detect unusual radiation levels. As the men inspected the area, Holt dictated his observations onto a portable recording device.² [Listen here.]

“We’re seeing strange lights in the sky,” Halt said,  as the men tramped the woods. “We’re at the far side of the farmer’s...the second farmer’s field and made sightings again about 110 degrees. This looks like it’s clear off to the coast.  It’s right on the horizon. Moves about a bit and flashes from time to time.  Still steady or red in color.”³ Skeptics later noted that the Orfordness lighthouse was visible further to the east in the same line of sight.⁴ 

Two weeks later, on January 13, 1981, Halt reported the incidents to the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) in a memo entitled “Unexplained Lights.”⁵ The three airmen who investigated, he stated in a one page memo, “reported seeing a strange glowing object in the forest. The object was described as being metallic in appearance and triangular in shape, approximately two to three meters across the base and approximately two meters high. “Illuminating the entire forest with a white light,” Holt went on, “the object itself had a pulsing red light on top and a bank(s) of blue lights underneath. …..As the patrolmen approached the object, it maneuvered through the trees and disappeared. At this time the animals on a nearby farm went into a frenzy.” 

Halt’s memo was based, in part, on a drawing that Burroughs made in his statement about the incident.

The next day “three depressions 1.5 inches deep and 7 inches in diameter were found where the object had been sighted on the ground,” Holt said. His Geiger counter, he said, recorded “beta/gamma readings of 0.1 milliroentgens … in the three depressions and near the center of the triangle formed by the depressions.” Nearby, trees had a “moderate” radiation level, he said. The significance of these findings is disputed by radiation detection experts.

That evening, when Halt and aides ventured out with the Geiger counter, he saw a red pulsing light on the horizon. Then “three star-like objects were noticed in the sky, two objects to the north and one to the south, all of which were about 10 degrees off the horizon. The objects moved rapidly in sharp, angular movements and displayed red, green and blue lights. The objects to the north appeared to be elliptical through an 8-12 power lens. They then turned to full circles. The objects to the north remained in the sky for an hour or more. The object to the south was visible for two or three hours and beamed down a stream of light from time to time.”

After receiving Halt’s memo, the Ministry of Defence decided not to investigate further. “We believe that the fact that Col. Halt did not report these occurrences to MoD for almost two weeks after the event, together with the relatively low-key manner in which he handled the matter, are indicative of the degree of importance in defence terms which should be attached to the incident,” said a 1985 briefing paper for senior government officials, which was not made public until 2008.⁶


When UFO researcher Jenny Randles first asked about the incident in 1981, the MoD denied any knowledge of it. In April 1983, U.S. researcher Robert Todd obtained a copy of Halt’s January 13, 1981 memo, via the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. Confronted with the document, MoD officials acknowledged that the incident had happened, telling Randles they could “confirm that USAF personnel did see unusual lights outside the boundary fence early in the morning of 27 December 1980 but no explanation was ever forthcoming.” The MoD statement added there was “no question of the account being a cover-up for a crashed aircraft or testing of secret devices as you suggest, nor was there any contact with ‘alien beings.’”⁷

Six months later, the story exploded in a front page headline of The News of the World, a popular UK tabloid: “UFO lands in Suffolk – and that’s official.”  The Oct. 2, 1983 story was based on an account by a former US airman at RAF Woodbridge named “Art Wallace,” later identified as Larry Warren, a member of the base’s police force.  Warren claimed that he was taken from his guard post to investigate strange lights in a forest clearing near the base where he and other servicemen confronted an alien craft on the ground. Deputy commander Halt, according to the story, had verified some of the details in a memo.⁸

The combination of a U.S. government memo, official British confirmation and multiple eyewitness accounts, elevated the Rendlesham Forest incident into the best known UFO case in Great Britain, sometimes called "the British Roswell” for its impact on public opinion. 

Skeptics, led by astronomer Ian Ridpath and journalism lecturer David Clarke, say the Rendlesham reports reflect a coincidental combination of natural phenomena. The witnesses themselves are divided on whether an extraterrestrial spacecraft visited the forest. Evidence of an extraterrestrial visit is slight.

The December 26 Witnesses

“The incident took place in the county of Suffolk, which is a part of the larger 

region of East Anglia,” wrote UFO researcher Georgina Bruni in her account of the incident. “It is a rural area blessed with green pastures, rich farmland 

and beautiful pine forests….Approximately four miles east of the small town of 

Woodbridge sits Rendlesham Forest, home to an abundance of wildlife and 

Corsican pine trees. Amidst all this beauty, buried away in a corner of the nearby 

coastline and facing the cruel North Sea, is a desolate marshy terrain called 

Orfordness…. The only structure to brighten up this dull unattractive range is a red and white ninety-nine-foot lighthouse station.”⁹ 

“UFOs and aliens were very much in the air in December 1980,” wrote Ridpath for the Guardian. “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.”¹⁰

Within days of the incident, the five men involved gave statements, which were first obtained and made public by Scottish researcher James Easton, in 1997. These statements, made when the memories were freshest, must be considered the most accurate of the witness accounts.

Staff Sergeant Jim Penniston stated that “a large yellow glowing light was emitting above the trees (refer diagram). In the center of the lighted area, directly in the center ground level, there was a red light blinking on and off 5 to 10 second interviews. And a blue light that was behind for the most part steady…….When we got within a 50 meter distance, the object was producing red and blue light…. Positive sight of the object… color light and that it was definitely mechanical in nature…We proceeded after it. It moved in a zig-zagging manner back through the wood and then lost sight of it. On the way back we encountered a blue streaking light to the left lasting only a few seconds.”¹¹ 

Edward Cabansag reported seeing blue, red, white and yellow lights. 

“As we approached the light would seem to be at the edge of the forrest[sic],” he wrote in his statement. We were about 100 meters from the edge of the forrest when I saw a quick movement, it looked visible. I look like it spun left a quarter of a turn, then it was gone.”  Cabansag did not otherwise say what “it” was. 

Cabansag said that he was ultimately satisfied as to the source: “...[W]e ran and talked for a good two miles past our vehicle until we got to a vantage point where we could determine what we were chasing was only a beacon light off in the distance…Or route through the forest and field was a direct one, straight toward the light.”¹² 

In his statement Burroughs reported hearing strange noises, including a woman screaming “and farm animals making a lot of noises.” He saw shimmering lights but did not see any flying object. After walking two miles, he said they discovered the source of the lights. “We could see a beacon going around and so we went toward it. We followed it for about two miles before we could see it was coming from a lighthouse.”¹³

Master Sergeant J.D. Chandler, the most senior officer in the forest, maintained radio contact with Penniston throughout the incident. “On one occasion Penniston relayed that he was close enough to the object to determine that it was a mechanical object,” he stated. He said that Pennington reported coming upon a “beacon light” but that “was not the light or lights he had originally observed.” He said he spoke with the three men afterwards and “he was sure they had seen something unusual.”¹⁴

Lt.  Fred “Skip” Buran, shift commander who monitored the search, recalled questioning Penniston closely about whether he had seen an object, adding Penniston was “a totally reliable and mature individual.” In his statement Buran said he was convinced the men had seen something “beyond the realm of explanation.” ¹⁵

Another relevant report came from a group of British astronomers.

“Those astronomers observing Christmas night 1980 may be forgiven for thinking that they had overdone the Turkey and Christmas Pudding,” declared the newsletter of the British Astronomical Association Meteor Section in February 1981.”... three (possibly four) fireballs were reported” that evening. A fireball is an especially bright shooting star, or meteor.

Four witnesses reported seeing a fireball in the sky at 1:50 am that lasted three or four seconds, according to the astronomers. The most spectacular fireball, seen by people all across southern England at 10 pm on December 26, was attributed to the disintegration of a Russian satellite re-entering the atmosphere. ¹⁶ 

Two local UFO researchers, Brenda Butler and Dot Street, immediately began investigating reports of a UFO sighting in Rendlesham Forest. One resident said their car was followed by some kind of flying object in the early hours of December 26. Another saw “a huge bright object traveling horizontally through the sky.” A third said he saw “glowing green light moving in his direction” one night in late December 1980. The witness described the UFO as “mushroom shaped, somewhat rounded and possibly three dimensional.”¹⁷

Omni, an American science publication, reported on the incident in March 1983. After publication of the News of the World article in October 1983, Stars and Stripes, the U.S. armed forces publication, bannered the story on their front page under the headline, “Fleet Street whoops it up. British paper reports UFO landing near RAF base.” A spokesman denied that U.S. Air Force officials had been involved in a cover-up, noting they had already provided Halt’s memo to researchers.¹⁸ 

The controversy burgeoned. In 1984, Ufologist Jenny Randles, co-authored the book Sky Crash, with researchers Butler and Street, depicting a “cosmic conspiracy” to hide what happened.¹⁹ The BBC assigned astronomer Ridpath to cover the story. He interviewed a local forester, Vince Thurkettle, who lives within a mile of the alleged landing site. Asked about the reports of flashing lights in Rendlesham Forest, he said, “‘It’s the lighthouse.” ²⁰

Ridpath amplified his skeptical coverage in his  January 5, 1985 article for the Guardian.  In that article, Thurkettle insisted the men had seen the flashing lighthouse beacon, as they reported in their original statement. As for the three depressions in the alleged landing site mentioned in Halt’s memo, “Thurkettle noted they were irregular in shape and did not even form a symmetrical triangle. He described them as rabbit diggings, several months old and covered with a layer of fallen pine needles.” ²¹

That description is consistent with the Suffolk police report on the incident, which was released many years later.

The ‘burn marks’ on the trees, supposedly left by the UFO, Ridpath wrote, “were axe cuts in the bark, made by the foresters themselves as a sign that the trees were ready to be felled. I saw numerous examples in which the pine resin, bubbling into the cut, gives the impression of a burn.”²²

Media reports on the incident proliferated over the years.

The Strange But True TV program, broadcast in the U.K on December 9, 1994,  gave the impression that Mal Scurrah, a former radar operator at another Royal Air Force Base, had seen the Rendlesham object on radar. However, Scurrah told UFO Magazine that his radar sighting, which took place during a training exercise, had happened in late October or early November 1980 and was not linked with the Rendlesham events.²³

In 1997, witness Larry Warren published a book with researcher Peter Robbins, titled Left at East Gate, in which Warren described seeing two non-human entities with large heads and cat-like black eyes who accompanied the craft. Warren’s drawings of the entities – made from memory years after the event – were included in the book. Warren also asserted that deputy base commander Halt had spoken with the aliens, which Halt denied.²⁴

 Critics noted that Warren’s figures resemble what is commonly known as “the gray alien” – a term that refers to a generic large-eyed figure with egg-shaped head that often appears in abduction and encounter claims. The book attracted negative reviews.²⁵

In 1997 Georgina Bruni obtained photographs of the alleged landing site taken the morning after the initial sighting, when it was being examined by local police. “The Americans must  have thought it was a very real event, or why would they contact the Suffolk Constabulary at Martlesham to report that they had found a place where a craft of some sort had landed?” Bruni asked in her 1999 book, You Can’t Tell the People.²⁶ The images, however, are consistent with the Suffolk police report that the site did not look unusual. 

Bruni’s credibility was enhanced by a favorable introduction written by Nick Pope who had investigated UFO reports for the Ministry of Defence. “I believe this interesting, disturbing and well-researched book will come to be regarded as the definitive account of the Rendlesham Forest incident,” Pope wrote. ²⁷

With the accumulation of new evidence and allegations, Jenny Randles changed her mind. In the book The UFOs That Never Were, co-authored with Andy Roberts and David Clarke and published in 2000,  Randles wrote "Whilst some puzzles remain, we can probably say that no unearthly craft were seen in Rendlesham Forest. We can also argue with confidence that the main focus of the events was a series of misperceptions of everyday things encountered in less than everyday circumstances."²⁸

Over time the accounts of some witnesses changed. In December 2003, Penniston claimed to have taken notes during the encounter, which was not mentioned in his original statement. He first showed the purported notebook publicly on the Sci Fi channel documentary, “UFO Invasion at Rendlesham.”²⁹ Seven years later on the 30th anniversary of the Rendlesham event, Ridpath notes that Penniston “claimed that the day after the initial encounter he wrote down in his notebook many pages of binary digits that he had received telepathically.” Penniston did not mention telepathic communications in his original statement.

The oft-repeated claim that the Rendlesham events had been captured on radar could not be confirmed.

In 2003, Derek Coumbe, the senior operations officer on duty at another RAF base, told BBC Radio 4 that several calls had come through from RAF Bentwaters on Dec. 26, 1980, asking them if they were seeing anything unusual in the area. “We scrutinized the radar time and time again completely, and kept a watch on it through the whole period when these phone calls were going on and nothing was seen,” Coumbe told the BBC. “Nothing at all.” ³⁰

The MoD’s files on the Rendlesham incident, released in August 2009, show that no unusual targets were detected by any RAF radars during the Christmas/New Year period of 1980. “[RAF] Neatishead, which is the Sector Ops Centre responsible for that area [Bentwaters/Woodbridge], had nothing unusual to report, and nothing more substantive has come to light,” an RAF Squadron Leader wrote on March  21, 1983. “I have received no evidence that any radar reported unusual tracks.”³¹

Additional witnesses came forward to say they had seen spectacular fireballs recorded by the British astronomers. In September 2009, Richard Bertolino, on duty on the morning of December 26, 1980, recalled what he described as “a very bright falling star. It had a blue-green luminescence, sparkle [sic] tail to it.’ In  comments to the Earth Files podcast, Bertolino said his immediate feeling was that the object was close to them and was ‘falling between the two bases’. Shortly thereafter Bertolino says he heard someone on the radio yelling ‘There’s a UFO out here!’ 

[The interview with Bertolino can be heard here.]³²

“In the interview Bertolino estimates the time as about 1 a.m.,” Ridpath wrote on his Web page, “but it is clear from the context that what he saw was actually the 3 a.m. fireball seen by the guards at East Gate of Woodbridge. His testimony leaves little doubt that this fireball sparked off the whole UFO chase in the woods.”³³

In June 2010, Col. Halt joined the debate by signing a notarized affidavit giving an embellished summary of the Dec. 26 incident, his investigation, and his memo. Halt rejected the claim that the witnesses mistakenly identified the lighthouse beacon. The men saw the lighthouse and the flying object at the same time, he said. He said the one or two of the beams came down in the area of the nearby Bentwaters Weapons Storage Area (WSA), widely reported to be a top-secret depot for undeployed nuclear armaments. 

“I believe the objects I saw at close quarters were extraterrestrial in origin,” Halt concluded. The event and its significance had been covered up by both the British and American intelligence agencies “by use of well-practiced methods of disinformation.”³⁴

RIdpath notes that Tim Egercic, a security policeman on duty at the Weapons Storage Area at the time, said “I was on duty at the alarm monitor’s building, which was located between the double fence that surrounded the WSA. I never saw or heard about a UFO at the WSA, or beams of light, or anything like that.”³⁵

Halt also said elsewhere that base commander Ted Conrad had seen the object.

Conrad issued his own statement, asserting "We saw nothing that resembled Lieutenant Colonel Halt's descriptions either in the sky or on the ground" on December 28, 1980, and that "We had people in position to validate Halt's narrative, but none of them could." ³⁶

In 2014 author Nick Pope and witnesses Penniston and Burroughs, published a new account, Encounter in Rendlesham Forest, which embellished their original accounts. Penniston now claimed to have touched the flying object he saw. He described it as a small triangular metallic craft, ten feet tall, with a bank of blue lights on one side and a bright white light on top. He stepped into what he referred to as the “bubble field,” an area in the clearing which he felt to be completely still and totally quiet. Burroughs claimed to have been engulfed in a beam of light which rendered him motionless. Afterwards, he said could remember nothing of the incident, which is not mentioned in his original account.³⁷

Burroughs also claimed that he developed serious health issues due to his proximity to the object he claims to have encountered but did not report, in 1980. Burroughs cited a U.K. Defence Intelligence report on UAP (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) radiation, that speculated the Rendlesham Forest event “is an example where it might be postulated that several observers were probably exposed to UAP radiation for longer than normal UAP sighting periods.” Burroughs claimed the report as validation of his story.³⁸

In a November 2015 shift commander Skip Buran disputed the accounts of Penniston, Burroughs, and Halt. “I think Cabansag's statement gives the best explanation of the lights’ [i.e. Orfordness lighthouse],” Buran wrote in a Facebook post. “ …. They went, looked, and came back. No one was traumatized by the event. No one requested medical help. The Suffolk Constabulary constables who responded also found.....nothing. Folks, this is a non-event, at best a hoax, and is being blown way out of proportion by people who may have self-serving motives.”³⁹

When Burroughs filed for Veteran Administration medical disability benefits  for health issues that he said resulted from his experience at Rendlesham, the government initially denied he was on active duty at the time. With the help of a lawyer and Senator John McCain’s office, his records were corrected and he received his full medical disability. In 2015, he claimed the granting of benefits represented the “U.S. government’s de facto acknowledgement of the existence of UFOs.”⁴⁰

Official Sources

The MoD documents covering the incident at Rendlesham Forest in 1980 were first released in May 2001 to David Clarke, journalism lecturer at  Sheffield Hallam University. The documents can be viewed here.

The MoD has also released extensive correspondence related to the incident, which can be viewed here.

The Suffolk Police files on “Unusual Lights” in 1980 can be accessed here.

Popular Culture

There have been 30 television and podcast episodes devoted to Rendlesham Forest since 2006, according to IMDB, the entertainment industry database. ⁴¹

In response to public interest, the British Forestry Commission has created a three-mile UFO Trail at the site  “that children of all ages can enjoy.”⁴²  To forestall disappointment in “any disappointed children (or adults),” the Guardian travel writer noted, “we should just point out that the walk contains no visible evidence that any aliens ever visited Rendlesham Forest.”⁴³


2.    Rendlesham Forest UFO –Halt tape,  http://www.ianridpath.com/ufo/Halt_tape.m4a

3.  Rendlesham Forest UFO – Halt tape transcript, http://www.ianridpath.com/ufo/halttape.html

6.  Digital copy of DEFE 24/1925: UFO reports; with redactions, https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C10023477

7.  Flying Saucery Presents: The Real Ufo Project, Rendlesham http://www.uk-ufo.org/condign/rendanl.htm

8.  “UFO lands in Suffolk – and that’s official.”  News of the World, October 2, 1983, p. 1

9.  You Can’t Tell the People: The Definitive Account of the Rendlesham Forest UFO Mystery” by Georgina Bruni (London, Pan Books, 1997), p. 41.

10.  The Rendlesham Forest UFO Case, Guardian, January 5, 1985 http://www.ianridpath.com/ufo/rendlesham1a.html

11.  Statement and two drawings by Staff-Sergeant Jim Penniston, 81st Security Police Squadron:  http://www.ianridpath.com/ufo/Penniston1.PNG

12.  Statement by Airman Edward N. Cabansag, 81st Security Police Squadron: http://www.ianridpath.com/ufo/Cabansag.PNG

13.  Statement and drawing by Airman First Class John Burroughs, 81st Security Police Squadron: http://www.ianridpath.com/ufo/Burroughs1.PNG

14.  Statement by Master-Sergeant J. D. Chandler, 81st Security Police Squadron. http://www.ianridpath.com/ufo/rendlesham2c.html

15.  Statement by Lieutenant Fred A. Buran, 81st Security Police Squadron  2 January 2, 1981. http://www.ianridpath.com/ufo/rendlesham2c.html

18.  You Can’t Tell the People, p. 78

20.  “Vince Thurkettle, the original interview, http://www.ianridpath.com/ufo/rendlesham1c.html

21.  The Rendlesham Forest UFO Case

22.  “A Flashlight in the Forest,” by Ian Ridpath, The Guardian, January 5, 1985 http://www.ianridpath.com/ufo/rendlesham1a.html

23.  “The supposed radar sightings,” http://www.ianridpath.com/ufo/rendlesham8.html

24.  Left at East Gate: A First-Hand Account of the Bentwaters/Woodbridge UFO Incident, Its Cover-up and Investigation, https://www.amazon.com/LEFT-Larry-Robbins-Peter-Warren/dp/B00FFXUJ7Q 

26.  You Can’t Tell People, p. 254

27.  You Can’t Tell the People, p. 5

28.  The UFOs That Never Were (London, London House, 2000) p. 222.

29.  “UFO Invasion at Rendlesham” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=od

30.  Newly released UFO files from the UK government https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ufos/

31.  National Archives, Digital copy of DEFE 24/1948: UFO reports of sighting: Rendlesham Forest, December 1980; https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C10342055

32.  Episode 57 Another RAF Bentwaters Security Airman Speaks About December 1980 UFOs http://www.earthfiles333.com/earthfiles/EarthfilesPodcast/Episode57.html

33.  “The 3 a.m. fireball–how it all started.” http://www.ianridpath.com/ufo/rendlesham1d.html

35.  UFOs and Nukes: Extraordinary Encounters at Nuclear Weapons Sites

37.  Encounters In Rendlesham Forest: The Inside Story of the World's Best-Documented UFO Incident.

38. “UK Defence Intelligence suggests witnesses may have been exposed to UFO radiation,” Open Minds, Sept. 25, 2014. https://www.openminds.tv/vet-says-government-acknowledged-injured-ufo-duty/32397, The report titled, “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) in the UK Air Defence Region,” known as the Condign Report, can be found here: https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ukgwa/20121110115327/http://www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/FreedomOfInformation/PublicationScheme/SearchPublicationScheme/UnidentifiedAerialPhenomenauapInTheUkAirDefenceRegion.htm

39.  Justice for Bentwaters 81st Security Police, Rendlesham Forest 1980 http://www.ianridpath.com/ufo/Buran%20and%20Conde%20Facebook.pdf

40. “Vet says government has acknowledged he was injured by UFO while on duty,” Open Minds, March3, 2015 https://www.openminds.tv/vet-says-government-acknowledged-injured-ufo-duty/32397

43. “England's forests: following the UFO trail in Suffolk,” The Guardian, July 26, 2013.https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2013/jul/27/forestry-commission-ufo-trail-suffolk

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