As well as the flashing light near ground level that was seen to the east, Col Halt’s memo on the Rendlesham Forest sightings reported three starlike objects in the sky at about 10 degrees altitude, one in the south and two others in the north. The one in the south, which was the most prominent, was visible for two or three hours and was reported to beam down a stream of light from time to time. Some UFO researchers have failed to distinguish the fact that these starlike objects were quite different from the original flashing light to the east and have treated them as though they were all caused by the same highly mobile object. Here it is shown that these starlike lights have a completely separate explanation.

Identifying the lights

In my original investigation, I tentatively identified these three starlike objects as real stars: first-magnitude Deneb and Vega in the north, and Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, in the south. I reached my conclusion before Col Halt’s tape recording of events was released. That tape contains additional information about the positions of these objects which allows us to make a more secure identification.

On the tape, Halt describes the starlike object to the south as ‘hovering over Woodbridge base at about five to ten degrees off the horizon’ at 4 am. However, no one at Woodbridge seems to have seen this object supposedly hovering above them even though they went out and looked. Halt’s superior officer, Col Ted Conrad, was monitoring events by radio and came out of his house at Woodbridge along with his wife and several others. But, as he told researcher David Clarke, they failed to see any of the strange lights described by Halt either in the sky or on the ground.

We do not know exactly where Col Halt was when he taped that 4 am note, but from his patrol’s likely position either in the forest or on their way back to Bentwaters the base buildings at Woodbridge would not in fact have been due south of them but southwest. A simple planetarium computer program shows that this is indeed where Sirius was slowly setting, being at an altitude of about 7 degrees when Halt taped his note at 4 am. If Halt’s definition of north was similarly skewed, this supports the identification of Deneb and Vega, which were actually east of north.

Moving and beaming

Some researchers have been unconvinced by these prosaic identifications, citing Halt’s taped description of the objects as ‘dancing about with coloured lights on them’ (in his memo he had said they ‘moved rapidly in sharp, angular movements and displayed red, green and blue lights’). But of course stars twinkle many colours as their light is refracted by the atmosphere, and the effect is most noticeable when they are near the horizon, as they were in this instance. In another common effect, stars appear to move from side to side due to movements in the observer’s eye (the so-called autokinetic effect). When they are seen between scudding cloud they can appear to be moving when it is actually the cloud that is moving.

Another of Halt’s descriptions, contained on tape and in his memo, is that the objects appeared as ‘half-moons turning to full circles’ seen through an 8–12 power lens (presumably zoom binoculars or a monocular), but this was evidently an optical effect as he attempted to focus the binoculars.

More puzzling, perhaps, is this quotation from Halt’s tape: ‘Here he comes from the south. He’s coming toward us now. Now we’re observing what appears to be a beam coming down to the ground.’ (On the tape, Halt’s description of these beams is much less exciting than he has made them sound in subsequent interviews.)

Of course, the brilliance of objects such as Sirius causes dazzle in the eye which can give the impression of beams (as with the ‘flying cross’ effect of Venus). But what could cause stars apparently to move towards or away from the observer? The answer is obscuration by thin, moving cloud. The resulting changes in the brightness of a star can give the false impression of approach (brightening) or recession (dimming). The length of time for which the starlike objects were viewed (several hours) reinforces the belief that they were in fact stars.

To me, the descriptions attributed to the ‘starlike objects’ sound like the standard misperceptions of celestial objects which feature in so many other UFO reports. (For more on the ways in which celestial objects are misperceived, see my article on the astronomical causes of UFOs.)

Halt’s reaction

What did Halt do about these unidentified lights supposedly gallivanting in his airspace? As he told journalist Salley Rayl in an interview published in the 1994 April issue of Omni:‘I called the command post, asked them to call Eastern Radar [i.e. RAFWatton], responsible for air defense of that sector. Twice they reported that they didn't see anything.’ (British researcher Nick Redfern had previously found that Eastern Radar had logged a call from Halt at 3.25 a.m. on December 28.)

After that there was not much more to do. Near the end of his tape, Halt says:’03:30 and the objects are still in the sky, although the one to the south looks like it’s losing a little bit of altitude. We’re turning around and heading back toward the base.’

Halt confirmed this in his interview with Salley Rayl:‘After an hour or so, I finally made the call to go in. We left those things out there.’

What a curiously unsatisfactory way to end a supposed close encounter – ‘We left those things out there.’

British investigator Jenny Randles adds another telling quote on pp. 123–4 of her book UFO CrashLanding (1998). She says Halt told her that when he was back at base, ‘the objects were still in the sky – however, it was getting light and they were getting faint’. Jenny adds: ‘I suspect that this is the final clue that demonstrates that these star-like lights to the north were, indeed, just stars.’

Other witnesses

Halt later confused the issue in various interviews by claiming that there were three objects in the sky to the north, not two, and that they sent down beams into the Weapons Storage Area (WSA) at Bentwaters. However, security policeman Tim Egercic, who was actually in the Bentwaters WSA at the time, has publicly refuted Halt’s claim that any such beams came down into the WSA. He told author Robert Hastings:

The night Colonel Halt said he saw a UFO beam lights down into the Weapons Storage Area, 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.

I had control of the net. All security transmissions were going though me. Primary Central Security Control (CSC) had passed responsibility over to me, which they would usually do for several hours early in the 2300hrs – 0700hrs shift. I had the radio right next to me, and I never heard that a UFO was at the WSA. … Believe me, I would have known about that, if it had happened. My responsibility as alarm monitor and [temporary] primary CSC would have been to up-channel a ‘Helping Hand’ – a possible security violation of a priority resource – to the Wing Command Post had our WSA been breached. Any beams of lights from an unidentified craft onto our Hot Row might have constituted a ‘Covered Wagon’ – a definite breach of a priority resource.

In fact, on the tape and in the memo the only object Halt describes as sending down beams is the one to the south, over Woodbridge, not the ones to the north, over Bentwaters. So this more recent claim by Halt seems to be based on faulty memory.

Another witness at Bentwaters, Rick Bobo, has spoken about seeing lights in the sky that night from the watchtower in the Bentwaters WSA. He told Robert Hastings:

When the object first caught my eye, it was already stationary, I didn’t see it move to where it was and I didn’t see it leave … After it was hanging there a long while [he had previously told Georgina Bruni ‘it was up there for about five hours, just hovering … it was quite low in the sky’], I saw things shooting off it, really, really fast, like little sparks or something … They were shooting off in all directions, but up into the sky, not down to the ground.

Bobo’s account has all the hallmarks of a misidentification of twinkling stars, as outlined above. If this sounds implausible, think how less likely it is that a large, brightly lit alien craft should hover for hours over Suffolk without attracting wider attention.

All eyewitness reports of the lights in the sky, including Halt’s, describe them as hovering low over the forest. No one ever claimed to see them high up. From Bentwaters they were seen towards the south, so they cannot have been the same objects that Halt saw to the north and which he claimed were over the WSA at Bentwaters. In summary, all the sightings of lights hovering in the sky are consistent with bright stars seen twinkling close to the horizon.

Content last revised: 2020 December

© Ian Ridpath. All rights reserved

Halt’s superior officer, Col Ted Conrad, came out of his house at Woodbridge but failed to see any of the strange lights described by Halt.

‘After an hour or so, I finally made the call to go in. We left those things out there.’

Colonel Halt