Our Christmases tend to merge into one as we become adults. But the military men and women at Rendlesham Forest in England will always remember the Christmas of 1980, when they were witness to one of the most extraordinary UFO encounters in history.
The events that unfolded over that Christmas weekend are sometimes called Britain's Roswell. With dozens of trained military witnesses and official documents, it is cited as the best documented of all UFO cases, one even the most forthright of sceptics have failed to explain away.
RAF Woodbridge and RAF Bentwaters were known as the Twin Bases. Separated by an area of woodland called Rendlesham Forest, the two installations in Suffolk, South East England were perhaps the United States most important military complex during the cold war. And they held a dark secret.
This secret was not from beyond the stars, as some suspect of the UFO that visited the bases that Christmas in 1980, but man made. Even today, it's not officially acknowledged that nuclear weapons were being stored at the bases; a violation of the US and UK's treaty obligations like this would still be a major scandal 35 years later.
Some believe the solution to the mystery of the Rendlesham Forest Incident lies in the clandestine contents of the weapons storage area at Bentwaters. Indeed many of the witnesses to whatever it was in the woods that weekend think it was more interested in the bunkers than them.
But unlike so many UFO cases, to understand Rendlesham we don't need to rely on wild speculation or any dubious latter-day recollections. The case is unique in that we have an audit trail of official documents, contemporary accounts of those that were there and most remarkably of all, an audio tape made as senior US Air Force staff encountered a mysterious entity they now believe could not have been from Earth.
It probably not much fun to be on security duty on Christmas night, thousands of miles from home in a cold British military base on the east coast of England. 20-year-old American patrol sergeant John Burroughs had the short straw that night, guarding RAF Woodbridge's lonely east gate which edged into the dark woods of neighbouring Rendlesham forest.
As the 25th turned into the 26th, Burroughs looked out into the darkness and saw something strange; colored lights appeared to be hovering and dancing over the trees. Was is some kind of Christmas display? Burroughs had an uneasy feeling that it was something unusual and drove back to the gate house to inform the security controller.
Security Policeman Jim Penniston joined Burroughs at the gate to observe the lights. In his two years working at the base, the 26-year-old Penniston had never seen lights in the Rendlesham woods before, but had witnessed several small aircraft crashes during his career and felt that might explain what the men were seeing.
Relating this possibility to the security tower, at around 3am Penniston, Burroughs and fellow airman Ed Cabansag were given permission to venture out into the forest to investigate. The men were tentative, even the trained military professionals found the prospect of driving into the winter woods at night to investigate mysterious lights slightly unnerving.
The air was filled with electricity
The small party followed the lights as far as they could in their jeep, then ventured out into the woodland to investigate further by foot. Penniston was sure he could see the outline of an object in the distance, but by now was certain it was no light aircraft.
"The air was filled with electricity", Penniston recalled. "You could feel it on your skin as we approached the object". The men were now on edge, even their radios appeared to have stopped working properly. Reaching a small clearing, Penniston took out a small notebook, determined to capture every detail of the incredible scene before him.
The two men differ on what the craft looked like, but both concur it did not appear like anything made on earth. About 9 by 6ft in size, triangular and composed of a smooth, glass-like material with unusual symbols adorning its surface, they were transfixed by the strange vehicle for almost 20 minutes. Underneath a strong bright light pulsated and red and blue lights swirled around its edges.
Penniston scribbled furiously in his notebook, drawing as best he could the shape of the object, but found it increasingly difficult to write as if some strange force was weighing him down. Then, without ever acknowledging their existence, it suddenly shot off into the sky and disappeared entirely from view.
Penniston's notebook reveals his palpable sense of astonishment at what he was seeing. "Liftoff 2.45. No sound. No air disturbance. Takeoff. Unknown speed. Impossible."
What on earth had the man witnessed? Whatever it was was, all three were reluctant to go back to their commanding officers and say they had seen an alien spaceship. rumours had long circulated around the twin bases of lights in the skies, but most airmen preferred to keep such reports to themselves for fear of ridicule.
On returning to the base, the men relayed what Penniston described as a 'sanitised' account of the encounter to their commanding officer Lt Fred Buran and were informed that the nearby radar base had also reported an unusual blip on their radar earlier the previous night. Was this the object the men had seen?
Like so much of the Rendlesham incident, we have official documents that confirm that this incident did indeed occur. Buran's typewritten report dated January 2nd 1981 confirms Burroughs and Penniston's sighting. Fred Buran affirms that the men are reliable and mature individuals and appeared convinced that Penniston had indeed experienced something 'out of the realm of explanation for him at that time'.
By now, the strange lights over Rendlesham had also been reported to the local police. Returning the next morning with two officers from the Suffolk constabulary, Burroughs and Penniston tried to find the location of their mysterious nocturnal encounter.
Happening upon the what they believed was the same clearing, the men saw three indentations in the ground. Often seized on by skeptics, the subsequent police report states that these indentations were actually rabbits burrows. Penniston, however, is adamant they were not - "the ground was frozen and it was just impossible for that to have happened", he stated in a SciFi television documentary.
Penniston believes the officers were reluctant to state what the marks really were as, like him, they were worried they would be ridiculed. Supportive of Penniston's integration was the fact the three indentations formed an exact equilateral triangle when measured out.
Burroughs and Penniston's encounter in the woods might well have been dismissed as a mistake, or even Christmas hijinks, if it wasn't for the events of the following two nights.
Although the Rendlesham Forest Incident is usually reported as two nights of UFO activity, the 25-26 and 27-28th, there was actually a lesser reported sighting the following night. Twenty hours after the Burroughs and Penniston sighting, 18-year old basic airman Lori Boeon recalls seeing more lights during her midnight shift guarding the east gate.
Against a black sky, Boeon saw a ball of orange-red light descend into the forest northwards of her guard post. Five of Boeon's senior colleagues also saw the lights, speculating amongst themselves that it may be the British celebrating New Year early.
News of the UFO sightings had by now reached to the base's deputy commander Colonel Charles Halt. Whilst attending a Christmas awards party at the base on the night of the 27th, an ashen faced Lt. Bruce Englund rushed in and told Halt -"We've got to talk now, it's back!"
Halt, then a 41-year-old veteran of Vietnam and Korea, had little truck with tales of UFOs and was irritated that his men were getting distracted from their duties with such nonsense. Determined to find the source of the lights once and for all, Halt led a search party into Rendlesham Forrest to look for answers.
Halt himself was equipped with a small handheld dictaphone and his 18-minute tape of the party's expedition into the woods contains some of the strongest evidence presented in any UFO case. As the men roamed the woods and out into a nearby farmers field, Halt can be heard describing his observations of a red-orange light hovering over the forest, zipping about at unimaginable speeds and directing beams down into the twin bases.
...it's back again...it's coming this way...there's no doubt about it...this is weird!
As his voice gets visibly more excited, Halt says - "see it too...it's back again...it's coming this way...there's no doubt about it...this is weird...it looks like an eye winking at you...it almost burns your eyes...he's coming toward us now!"
Sceptics have pointed out that light from the nearby Orfordness lighthouse filtering and scattering through the branches may have been what the men were seeing. Could the experienced military men really be mistaking a lighthouse for a UFO?
Just like Burroughs and Penniston's encounter, the men were hampered by mysterious failures to both their radio equipment and the portable floods lights they were using to search the forest.
Staff Sergeant Monroe Nevels accompanied Halt as they inspected the landing site from the previous night. Nevels was armed with a giga-counter found unusually high readings around the three indentions in the ground.
What worried Halt was the beams of light the object was firing towards the ground. Halt says he heard over his radio that RAF Bentwaters were also reporting light beams over the base. What might have been a curious distraction in the woods now looked like a serious security issue.
After hours following the lights around the woods, the object appeared to break up into smaller pieces, then suddenly vanish. Further smaller white lights were then seen sporadically in the sky for hours afterwards,
From his point on, many of those present during this search believe a vast and clandestine cover-up began, under the nose of even a senior officer like Colonel Halt.
Whilst Halt himself tried to find out from his men what had happened, other agencies swooped in to interrogate the men about the events of the previous three nights. Jim Penniston recalls been repeatedly grilled about the incidents by the Air Force's Office of Intelligence, even being administrated truth drug Sodium Pentothal on one occasion.
Sgt Adrian Bustinza claims he was interrogated for hours in an underground part of the base by unnamed agents, possibly from the CIA. Ed Cabansag, who had accompanied Burroughs and Penniston on the first night of activity, says he was ordered to sign a false statement that concealed what he really saw.
Wing commander Charles Gabriel, in charge of all USAF forces in Europe, made an unprecedented impromptu visit to the bases, seizing much of Halt's evidence. Unbelievably, Halt was then told the United States had no official interest in the incident.
Unsure exactly what to do, and with jurisdiction over the matter officially shared between the US and UK, Halt was told to hand the matter over to the British Ministry of Defence. Halt's January 13th 1981 memo entitled 'unexplained lights' summarizing the events of the weekend was sent British government but received a similar lack of interest.
For all those involved, this seemed to mark the end of the matter. Life on the base got back to normal. Unlike many other cases nothing was made public, there were no false stories about swamp gas or weather balloons or the planet Jupiter.
Outside of a bit of gossip amongst UFOlogists, events of that amazing weekend would probably have become just another X-file, hidden away in a dusty basement somewhere. That was until a sensational tabloid scoop nearly three years later blew the whole thing wide open.
'UFO LANDS IN SUFFOLK...and that's OFFICIAL', the UK's News of the World roared. The paper had managed to obtain Halt's top secret memo and was gleefully reporting its contents, aswell as adding their own imaginative embellishments.
This story understandably made a big splash. This wasn't an anonymous source, it was the words of a senior American Air Force Colonel in an official memo. The seeming credibility of the document even lead to questions being asked of the then conservative government in the UK parliament.
Over the next few decades, competing claims would emerge about what happened over Christmas 1980 at the twin bases. More witnesses would emerge, often with incredible claims that were scarcely believable. Sceptics would pounce on inconsistencies and try to find rational explanations for what happened.
American Airmen Larry Warren had been anonymously leaking stories about Rendlesham to the UFO community for years, and his remarkable account of what he saw would prove to be very divisive amongst the other witnesses.
Warren's take on what happened in the woods varied significantly from Burroughs, Penniston and Halt's. According to the then 19-year-old Warren, it wasn't just lights or a craft the search part found in the early hours of the 28th, it was actual alien beings. Was the Rendlesham Forest Incident far more profound than anyone was letting on?
Warren would also make some startling claims about how men in black style agents had interrogated him and messed with is mind, possibly planting false or distorted memories. Rendlesham Forest was starting to move from a well-documented encounter with a mysterious light to what looked like full-scale science fiction.
Critics seized upon people like Larry Warren and the numerous inconsistencies between witnesses. Many, such as Jim Penniston, appear to be telling quite diffierent stories today than they told their commanding officers back in 1980. Was the story been rewritten for dramatic effect?
Some have even suggested the whole thing was a hoax, or that the airmen had had a bit too much Christmas cheer. Or perhaps it was simply a mistake, the nearby Orfordness lighthouse or an old Soviet rocket burning up in the atmosphere?
Regardless of the attempts to debunk Rendlesham, the original witnesses, the documents and the physical evidence all attest to something very genuine occurring at Rendlesham in 1980. Had the men really encountered an alien craft?
The Halt Memo
The most cited piece of evidence in the Rendlesham Forest case is the so-called Halt memo, deputy commander Lieutenant Colonel Charles Halt's summary of the events of the Christmas weekend in 1980 at the twin bases of RAF Woodbridge and Bentwaters.
Halt's memo provides a rare, direct piece of contemporary documentary UFO evidence signed by a senior member of the US military. Some critics have questioned the dating of this memo - January 13th, more than a fortnight after the incident occurred, but this appears to be explained by the general confusion over the jurisdiction over the incident.
RAF Woodbridge and RAF Brentwood were British air-force bases that were been leased to the US Air Force since 1952. There was a joint jurisdiction over the bases with the British technically having the primary role. The surrounding area, including Rendlesham forest where most of the activity occurred, were under sole British jurisdiction.
As such, Halt was told by his own commanders to hand the matter over to the British. With the base's British liaison Donald Moreland on leave, Halt elected to wait to act until he had discussed it with Moreland. With no further activity and no evidence of any threat, Halt no longer regarded the incident as especially urgent.
The Halt memo was released to the public in 1983 after the American Citizens Against UFO Secrecy organisation successfully launched a Freedom of Information to release the document. The story was then broken to the general public be the British News of the World newspaper.
Both the USAF and the British Ministry of Defence have consistently stated the activity detailed in the Halt memo is of no defence interest. Former UK Defense chief and Chairman of the NATO Military Committee Lord Hill-Norton thinks this stance is not believable, arguing that the events of Rendlesham were either genuine or several senior military staff are hallucinating or lying. He stated - "Either of these simply must be 'of interest to the Ministry of Defense'".
In the 1990s, whilst head of the MoD's UFO desk, researcher Nick Pope conducted a cold case review into the Rendlesham Incident. According to Pope, the reality was that the MoD were unable to find any credible explanation for the incident and classified it as 'unexplained'. Pope thinks the original investigation was hobbled by confusion over jurisdiction, the wrong date quoted in Halt's memo, delays and some destruction of evidence.
Suspiciously, Charles A. Gabriel, the commander in chief of the USAF in Europe made an unscheduled trip to Bentwaters shortly after the incident. Gabriel was briefed about the incident and removed a large amount of evidence, much of which was never seen again.
Pope reveals that Gabriel's intervention caused disconnection at the MoD. It directly contradicts the official USAF line that they had no interest in the incident and that it should be handed over to the British. In fact, the MoD was never made aware of Gabriel's visit, what evidence he took and the results of any subsequent investigation.
Sceptics have long struggled to dismiss the Halt memo. Colonel Halt's credibility is difficult to question, he had a distinguished 42-year military career and retired in 1991 with the highest peacetime award given by the Secretary of Defense. He never publicly spoke about the incident until he retired and scrupulously sort permission before doing so.
Halt is, therefore, the most reputable senior military figure for which we have direct contemporary documentary evidence unambiguously discussing an encounter in any UFO case. Halt's memo rules out the idea the incident may have been some kind of joke fueled by yuletide spirit - a deputy commander of a nuclear facility like Halt would clearly never escalate such a hoax to the British government.
Whilst his memo cannot easily be dismissed, the deputy commander is also the source of arguably an even more convincing piece of evidence, in the form of an 18-minute audio tape of a real live UFO encounter.
The Halt Tape
After receiving more reports of lights, on the night of the 27th December deputy base commander Charles Halt took a party of men into Rendlesham Forest to try and determine their source. Halt's men were armed with flood lights, jeeps, radios and a geiger-counter. Halt himself took his trusted Lanier micro-cassette recorder he regularly used to dictate notes during base inspections.
Halts 18-minute tape of the party's seven-hour expedition in the woods is unique amongst all UFO cases in that it contains Halt and several other military personnel's live reactions to UFO phenomena occurring around them. The officers featured on the tape are Halt, Sgt. Monroe Nevels, Sgt Robert Ball, Sgt Adrian Bustinza and Lt. Bruce Englund.
The men can be heard inspecting the original landing site Burroughs and Penniston found two nights earlier. Disaster preparedness officer Nevels is heard to find unusual radiation readings at the site. Most of the rest of the tape contains the men's reactions to observing multiple unusual white and coloured lights flying around the forest and over the bases.
On several occasions, the men describe the object 'exploding' into smaller lights which then dart around laterally and vertically. This matches precisely the testimony of Rick Bobo, observing the lights from the weapons storage guard tower at Bentwaters - "after it was hanging there a long while, I saw things shooting off it, really, really fast, like little sparks or something. Maybe four or five of them", Bobo told researchers.
Towards the end of the tape, the objects start to beam rays of light or energy towards the ground. "Now were observing what appears to be a beam coming down to the ground...This is unreal!", Halt says. Several of the other men express their amazement at the lights and their strange behavior.
One popular suggestion from sceptics to debunk what is captured on this tape is that the men were observing light from the nearby Orfordness lighthouse, but there are some serious issues with this theory. The most obvious is that the lighthouse predates the then 38-year-old military bases, yet none of the thousands of men and women who had served at the bases during that time had ever mistaken the lighthouse for a UFO before.
Indeed, since these were US Air Force bases with military aircraft coming in and out multiple times a day, it seems somewhat unlikely that trained airmen would make such an elementary mistake. A further problem is that the beam from Orfordness is deliberately dimmed when shining inland by a blocking plate fitted around the lens. A lighthouse's beam also fails to match the actual nature of the observations the men are heard to be making.
A lighthouse doesn’t move through the forest...change shape...doesn't send down beams of light from the sky
Nick Pope rules out the lighthouse as the source of the phenomena, pointing out that it is either not visible or only a tiny pin-prick of light from the locations of the sightings. Halt himself also dismissed the lighthouse theory, stating - "A lighthouse doesn’t move through the forest; the lighthouse doesn’t go up and down, it doesn’t explode, doesn’t change shape, size - doesn’t send down beams of light from the sky".
Many UFO incidents are debunked by proving they either never occurred or that the witnesses were mistaken. The Halt tape is indisputable evidence that the incident did indeed occur and that several US airforce personnel experienced an unexplained encounter with a UFO.
Whether they were all mistaken is open to debate. But if they were, then they are joined by multiple others who witnessed something strange occurring around Rendlesham that Christmas.
It's unknown exactly how many of the staff at the twin bases saw UFOs over Christmas 1980. There are at least a dozen named witnesses that have given verifiable, unambiguous on the record statements about what they saw over three separate nights, and authors like Georgina Bruni and Linda Moulton Howe have also tracked down and interviewed several more willing only to talk off the record.
However, the observations were not confined just to the US Air Force. Multiple civilians, such as local resident Gordon Levitt, also reported UFO phenomena over the same three nights.
Levitt lived in Sudbourne, a small village on the edge of Rendlesham, and reported seeing a UFO sometime on the night of the 26th December. In his police statement, Levitt says saw an unusual glowing object hovering over his garden at about twice the height of his house. Levitt then states the object moved away over towards the direction of the Rendlesham woods and RAF Woodbridge.
Clearly regardless of what Levitt saw, it is too much of a coincidence that he made this sighting during the same period as the phenomena at Woodbridge and Bentwaters. Levitt's sighting cannot be dismissed as bandwagon jumping as he reported it contemporaneous and independently to the police.
More local residents, amongst them Arthur Smekle and Roy and Marina Webb also saw multiple lights hovering over the forest on the 26th and 27th of December. Whether all of these observations can be dismissed with conventional explanations is open to question, but other evidence does tend to support that these witnesses saw something out of the ordinary.
Although sceptics correctly point out that there is no official documentary evidence that incongruous objects were tracked on nearby radar stations during the sightings, there is some reason to suspect otherwise.
Some of the military witnesses, such as Jim Penniston and Fred Buran, had already stated they heard over their radios that radar stations had tracked an uncorrelated target, or 'bogey' on radar. In her book You Can't Tell the People, author Georgina Bruni found former radar operator from RAF Watton who claimed that a strange object had been tracked in the Rendlesham area on the night of the first sightings.
More recently, two USAF air traffic controllers at Bentwaters have come forward with similar accounts. James H. Carey and Ivan R. Barker now both admit they had tracked an object moving at impossible speeds on their radar scopes, "What impressed me most was the speed this thing had. I have never seen anything so fast in my life! It was zoom, gone!", Barker told UFO researcher Robert Hastings.
"It covered 120-miles in approximately eight to twelve seconds. In the 15 years I was an air traffic controller, I'd never seen anything travel across the scope that fast.", Carrey affirmed. These impossible speeds, in the many thousands of miles per hour, match almost all of the eye witness statements who observed the objects in the Rendlesham woods.
The MoD's recently released UFO files do demonstrate that they sought to corroborate the radar readings, but were hampered by the fact records had been destroyed and some of the cameras used to record the radar readings were not working during the days in question.
Mistaken Flying Objects
Most UFOlogists acknowledge that the vast majority of reported sightings have conventional explanations. BUFORA, the British UFO Research Association analyse over 400 sightings every year and find approximately 95% of them can be explained as natural phenomena such as planets, stars or meteors, conventional aircraft, wildlife or other unusual atmospheric lighting effects.
Numerous sceptics have attempted to fit the Rendlesham Forest incident into the category of mistaken identity. The most popular hypothesis is that the sightings were due to the nearby Orfordness lighthouse. Whilst this explanation does not adequately fit most of the observations, there is a very telling correlation between the lighthouse's beam rotation and the Halt tape.
The lighthouse, built in 1793, makes one full rotation every fifteen seconds and flashes once every five seconds. When this five-second flashing interval is overlaid over Colonel Halt's audio tape it does seem to match the occasions Halt observes a flashing light very closely. Could Halt simply be mistaking the lighthouse for something more unearthly?
It's also notable that the period of 25-26th December coincided with a confluence of unusual atmospheric phenomena. Shortly before the first cluster of sightings at Rendlesham, a Russian Kosmos 749 satellite burnt up over Western Europe and was widely reported as a UFO by multiple civilians.
Another rare event, the burning up of a meteor in the atmosphere, occurred in the early hours of the 26th of December. This meteor produced an unusually bright fireball and was visible throughout South East England.
There are pros and cons to these alternative possibilities. It's certainly a striking coincidence that the period of the observed UFO activity corresponded in time and location with at least three viable sources of false positives - the Russian rocket, the meteor and the lighthouse.
This clearly cannot be overlooked and must surely account for at least some of the lights people claimed to have seen during that Christmas weekend. If these mistaken sightings could be eliminated from the list of observed UFOs at Rendlesham then the incident might start to look less impressive.
However, the rocket and the meteor are both short-lived events and don't adequately explain the nature of most of the observations nor the fact they were spread out over several hours over three separate nights. Likewise, the lighthouse cannot account for the majority of the sightings as it simply was not visible in the locations they were made.
One of the most consistent characteristics of famous UFO cases is how evidence and testimony tend to evolve and become more sensational over time, usually to the detriment of the credibility of the case in question.
A notable example is Roswell. Ever since the famous 1947 case was rediscovered in the 1970s and 80s a whole series of dubious new claims about reverse engineered alien technology and even a filmed alien autopsy have come to light.
With an endless production line of trashy TV documentaries to gobble up such material, a feedback loop of ever more sensational claims has plagued many high-profile UFO cases.
The Rendelsham Forest Incident has its fair share of sensational latter day embellishments like this. Although never mentioned in any of the original contemporary documents, airmen Larry Warren has emerged as a prominent and controversial Rendlesham witness in recent years.
Warren says he was present on the third night during Colonel Halt's investigation in Rendlesham Woods. His testimony differs radically from the acknowledged core witnesses like Halt in that he claims he saw the investigation party conversing with actual alien beings at the crash site. Warren also says he was brain-washed by men in black style interrogators in an underground facility at the base.
Warren's statements have caused a great deal of resentment amongst the core witnesses. Not only do they not match anybody else's recollections of what occurred, they tend to make the whole event look ridiculous and unbelievable. Records show Warren did serve at Bentwaters, but Halt, Monroe Nevel, Sgt Bustinza and others have stated that they do not recall him ever been present during any of the events of that night.
Those who know Larry Warren think he is a sincere individual who has been greatly traumatised by his perceived experiences. It's possible his story of been brainwashed may have some truth to it and he was somehow planted with false memories to undermine the credibility of the otherwise credible case.
Some of the acknowledged core witnesses have also heavily embellished their stories in recent years. Jim Penniston now says he spent 45 minutes examining the craft he observed in the first night, noting symbols on its body. He also says he touched the skin of the craft and received a telepathic message in binary code.
There is no reference to any of this in Penniston's original witness statements. Nor is there anything remotely resembling this version of events in his radio communications with his commanders at the base.
Penniston has also produced some impressive looking documentary evidence in recent years, such as what he says is his police notebook from the night. The notebook has been covered in television specials and appears to show the notes he made describing the craft as well as drawings of the hieroglyphic-like symbols he says adorned it.
However, John Burroughs says he does not remember Penniston making any notes during the entire period they observed the object. Burroughs also says Penniston did not spend any deal of time examining the craft. The time and date shown in the notebook also does not correspond with the actual time and date of the incident as recorded in the contemporary documents.
Penniston's notebook is incredible and if genuine would be a pivotal piece of evidence in establishing the reality of the Rendlesham Forest case. Yet when interviewed for the 1994 Strange But True ITV special on the incident, he makes no mention of the notebook at all.
Penniston's now famous sketches of the triangular craft he says he saw in the woods also differs from the sketch of a rectangular object he made for Fred Buran just hours after the event in 1980.
Noted debunker of UFOs and the paranormal Dr David Clarke contacted Colonel Ted Conrad in 2010. Conrad was the commander of the twin bases and Charles Halt was his deputy. Conrad was present at the base on all through Christmas and believes the only occasion anything unusual occurred was the first night when lights were observed in the woods.
Conrad was in radio communications with the search party on the third night when Halt made his famous tape. He says he and the rest of the Christmas awards reception at RAF Woodbridge went outside to try and see the lights Halt was describing over the radio but saw absolutely nothing unusual all night.
If Colonel Conrad is telling the truth, then it does tend to suggest Halt and his men may simply have been misinterpreting a mundane phenomena such as a lighthouse beam as something more spectacular than it was.
However, even if he is not attempting to deliberately downplay the events, there appears to be little reason to favour Conrad's account, made from memory some 30 years after the incident, over the live recording of the men actually experiencing the events in question.
UFO cases are usually contentious. Advocates, certain there is a widespread government cover-up of the truth, tend to disbelieve anything coming from what they deem as establishment sources. Sceptics meanwhile, often overreach in their absolute determination to debunk controversial events.
As the inexhaustible appetite for alien and UFO related material grows on television, Rendlesham has become a popular topic for numerous documentaries in recent years. With this, there has been a troublesome escalation in the outlandishness of the retellings of the events of that Christmas in 1980.
Despite this, the hard evidence from the time remains unimpeached. Whatever stories are now been told, something very real happened in the woods at Rendlesham that, as the MoD files themselves now conclude, remains 'unexplained'.
Did dozens of military personnel at RAF Bentwaters encounter an alien spacecraft over Christmas 1980?