UFO Crash Landing: Friend or Foe?

by Jenny Randles
Blandford, London, 1998, 224 pp., paperback, $12.95.

Reviewed by Douglas Chapman

The prolific Randles has written many books on UFOs, and is one of the better—and most popular—commentators on the subject.

One of the most famous UFO-connected incidents is a noted strange happening within Rendlesham Forest in rural England. It started on December 25, 1980 and has been discussed ever since. Those of the U.S. Air Force who were stationed there had to cope with much more than usual. But why did British and American officials avoid commenting? Both were involved, in that two USAF bases, RAF Bentwater and Woodbridge, are leased to the Americans by the British Ministry of Defence, for NATO-mandated use.

Randles has been told “off the record” that the “special relationship” of openness needed in this situation was negatively tested by the 1980 events.

The USAF took charge of events in the forest, even though that area was British property and not part of the lease arrangement. There is some debate about whether Air Force people notified Ministry of Defence personnel immediately or two weeks later.

Randles wonders about any aircraft secrets involved, and comments, “To say mea culpa over some minor military affair and silence the UFO [activists] and tabloid hacks must be preferable to allowing the idea that Suffolk played host to visiting extraterrestrials to keep on gaining momentum.” She also considers the opposite idea.

Some higher-ups eventually commented on Rendlesham in ways that heightened the mystery, including Lord Hill-Norton, the late Ralph Noyes, and Nick Pope—the former two having been highly placed military, and the latter in charge for three years of United Kingdom UFO files.

There is much evidence for Randles to sift, and her deploying of it apparently rules out the reentries of elements of Russian military satellites as explanations for the incident(s).

Known trackings of these and other aerial occurrences are examined in the light of the various theories proffered over the years.

One idea seems important to forteana’s place in history: the development of death rays led to the invention of radar, which was tested at Bawdsey Manor which later became RAF Bawdsey. (Too much energy was required for death rays to be efficient.) Tales persist of lights, sicknesses, electrical interference, and stalling cars that occurred during radar tests. Randles raises the question whether radar is as harmless as people have been led to believe, especially if affected individuals are at focal points.

Radar side-effects are not an all-inclusive explanation.

In the Rendlesham case, on the first night of the sightings in 1980, there were witnesses of the UFO, including Gordon Levett, who spotted the thing in the air after his dog reacted to it. Levett’s drawing looks like a bell tent or shallow triangle, even though he said it resembled a mushroom turned over. The triangle shape matches up with some other accounts.

Sky activity had been observed by some civilians, but the chaotic events in Rendlesham in East Anglia were the province of the military. And theory got mixed with fact as word got around at the bases.

In 1980, John Burroughs had been 20 years old and an U.S. Air Force airman. Circa 1989, in Arizona, Jenny Randles met him and he now spoke freely of the Rendlesham Forest incident, in which at 2:00 a.m. on December 26, 1980 when patrolling with his supervisor, the latter had called his attention to something which neither had seen the like of before. First, there was a large light low in the sky, then when down in the forest it came to resemble fairy lights. When Burroughs returned to the gatehouse he reported the incident, but the desk sergeant had a hard time with the concept. (It did perhaps sound a bit Christmassy, after all.)

Burroughs and Jim Penniston were the two individuals that finally penetrated the forest at 2:30 a.m. Static hampered radio contact with those outside. The two men apparently came upon something rather triangular which was partially transparent, so that lights could be seen emanating from inside--or through it. It shortly moved away. Neither man later remembered any aliens. Physical effects like static electricity and time alterations had been felt, and the air had seemed like glue.

While some opined that the two men saw a nearby lighthouse, what, if so, distorted their senses?

The UFO “came back” on December 27, 1980, at 10:30 p.m. Involved this time was Colonel Charles Halt, deputy base commander at Bentwaters, who had been told about Penniston and Burroughs’ experience when he came on duty at 5:30 a.m. on the 26th. On the 27th, answering to the report of its return, he brought a tape recorder. The recording that resulted is much valued in ufological circles. Randles has a copy. While some elements point to the lighthouse hypothesis, there are also odd details like panicked local animals.

What made the lights if not the lighthouse?

Randles explores the idea of projection weapon that simulated a UFO type experience, but the idea remains merely a suggestion in a baffling series of events. Only so much “light” can be shed on the subject.

To Randles, each theory has contradictions in the evidence (all of which is fascinating). One of these is the problematically dated Halt memo, describing the lightshow and the animal panic, which is among the interesting photos included in her book: “The object itself had a pulsing red light on top and a bank(s) of blue light underneath. The object was hovering or on legs.”

Whether there were physical traces of a UFO—or rabbit marks—and significant radiation left after the incident are among the details discussed.

No witnesses seemed afflicted by radiation sickness, though levels were various described.

Late in the volume, Randles discusses how the UFO theme may have been consciously deployed, to distract from the truth. One claimed-to-be-true account describes a triangular remote-control flying device of earthly origin which went out of control and crashed.

Randles comes to a tentative conclusion: that NSA’s secret Cobra Mist experiments were involved in some fashion or other. The experiments had reportedly been ones in which energy was beamed to the stratosphere, and reflected from “over the horizon” to achieve long-range radar. But the beam had disruptive effects, like the aforementioned death rays, and much had to be tidied up when all was said and done.

Because of the complexities involved in the Rendlesham case, Randles book can be recommended to those who wish to contend with the more challenging elements of a major mystery.

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