An Explanation of the Woodbridge UFO

Ian Ridpath
Magonia 14, 1983.

On October 2nd, 1983, the News of the World reported the alleged landing of a UFO outside RAF Woodbridge in Suffolk, at Christmas 1980. Prime documentary evidence of the event consists of a letter from the deputy base commander, Charles L. Halt, which was published by the News of the World. The paper also interviewed an eye witness, a former security guard given the pseudonym of Art Wallace.
In outline, the story is that two patrolmen reported seeing unusual lights in the sky at 3 a.m. Subsequently they reported seeing a strange object among the trees of a nearby forest that pulsed and “illuminated the forest with a white light”. Next day three depressions in the ground were found. Later that night, the colonel himself was witness to a “sunlike light seen through the trees” and three star-like objects in the sky.

The facts of the matter are these:

1. The date of December 27 given in the Halt memorandum is evidently wrong. Police records reveal that they were called to the scene at 4.11 a.m. on December 26th. They have no record of any further calls on December 27th or thereafter.

2. Records of the British Astronomical Association’s meteor section show that at 2.50 a.m. on the morning of December 26th, 1980, a brilliant fireball (a piece of natural debris from space) burned up in the atmosphere over southern England. Witnesses reported it as being comparable in brightness to the Moon, which was then three-quarters full. Anyone seeing this spectacular event could easily conclude that an object was crashing to the ground.

3. Shortly after publication of the News of the World story, local forester Vincent Thurkettle realised that a line drawn from the back gate of RAF Woodbridge through the alleged UFO landing sight points directly to the lighthouse at Oxford Ness. On the night of October 6-7th, 1983, Ian Ridpath visited the site with Mr Thiikettle and confirmed that the pulsating lighthouse beam does indeed appear to hover among the trees near ground level, and lights up fire forest with a white light. Although the lighthouse is five miles away, it is so brilliant that it appears much closer. An observer moving through the forest could easily conclude that the pulsating light was also moving. If a UFO had been present as well as the lighthouse, the witness should have seen not one, but two pulsating lights in their line of sight.

The flashes from the lighthouse were videotaped by a BBC camera crew for an item transmitted on Breakfast Time. In an interview in The Times on October 3rd, Mr Thirkettle noted that the site was covered with 75 foot high pine trees 10 feet apart at the time of the alleged landing. He attributed the indentations in the ground to rabbits.

4. When local police arrived on the scene on the night of the alleged landing they found nothing untoward. According to the police account, the only lights they could see were those of the Orford lighthouse. Next day they examined the indentations in the forest and concluded that they were probably made by an animal. Air Traffic Control received reports of ‘aerial phenomena’ over southern England that night. By coincidence, in addition to the 3 a.m. fireball, the Russian Cosmos 749 rocket had re-entered the atmosphere over southern England at 21.07 on the night of December 25th, and was widely seen.

5. Although the sequence of events is not clear from Col. Halt’s letter, it seems that his last paragraph refers to events on the following night. He says: “A red sun-like light was seen through the trees. It moved about and pulsed. Either this is the lighthouse again, or we are asked to believe that a second UFO landing occurred on the same site. Col. Halt’s “star-like objects . . . 10 degrees off the horizon” were probably just that – stars. The reported “angular movements” are attributable to movements in the observer’s eye (the autokinetic effect, familiar when watching a stationary star) and the “red, green and blue lights” are an effect caused by simple twinkling when a star is low in the sky. The object to the south that remained visible for two to three hours, and which “bearned down a stream of light from time to time” is almost certainly Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. Either that or a brilliant flashing UFO hovered over southern England for three hours without being seen by anyone else.

Conclusions: Observers who interpreted the 2.50 a.m. fireball as a craft descending in the forest outside RAP Woodbridge might subsequently regard the startling appearance of the lighthouse beam among the trees as the same object having landed. Once they were convinced that something strange was happening, the witnesses could then easily misinterpret other natural phenomena as UFOs. Such behaviour is common in UFO cases. The details of this case for which a reliable account exists are subject to stralghtforward, rational explanation.