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UFOs in the daily Press:

U-K.'S FOIA, 2003:

This article was published in the daily newspaper The Observer, U-K, Sunday July 6, 2003.

Secret papers tell how RAF hunted aliens

Paul Harris

They have been the subject of derision for claiming aliens have visited Earth from outer space, but believers in the existence of UFOs were this weekend excitedly poring over newly released military documents that show how fighter aircraft were scrambled to intercept strange shapes in Britain's skies.

The secret papers obtained from the US military give an insight into an astonishing chain of events sparked by UFO sightings over East Anglia in 1956.

After receiving numerous calls reporting bright lights darting across the sky, fighters from RAF Lakenheath spent more than seven hours trying to shoot down the objects, which were picked up on army radar screens.

The classified documents were secured under the US Freedom of Information Act by Dave Clarke, an author researching the subject.

One US Air Force intelligence report described how "12 to 15" objects were picked up on radar screens on 13 August 1956. They were tracked for more than 50 miles. One object was logged travelling at 4,000mph. "Operators making these radar sightings are of the opinion that malfunctions of equipment did not cause these radar sightings," the document said.

The radar logs describe white lights darting across the skies. At times, the objects travelled in formation and performed sharp turns.

One document describes how an object was tracked by radar for 26 miles, before it hovered for five minutes then flew away again.

A cable was sent from US Air Force Headquarters in Washington warning of the "considerable interest and concern" at the sightings and demanding an immediate inquiry. The cable asked if they were linked to a similar scare reported by a British radar station on the Danish island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea a week later.

Most UFO sightings are explained by phenomena such as clouds, weather balloons or unusual atmospheric events. At the time of the "Lakenheath incident", observers did report an unusual level of meteorite activity. Meteors, and the trails they leave behind, can register on radars and critics have said this explains the Lakenheath incident.

Astronomical phenomena are also considered a possible cause. One pilot sent up to intercept the objects reported "chasing a star." Others described objects they were able to "lock on" to with their radar systems but that then manoeuvred around them.

But for UFO believers the new documents confirm their Lakenheath sightings as the most dramatic of British UFO encounters and provide proof that alien craft have "buzzed" Britain for the past 50 years. "I am absolutely convinced they were breaches of our airspace by some extraordinary flying machines," said Graham Birdsall, editor of UFO magazine.

Clarke admitted this weekend it was difficult to attribute all the visual sightings and radar activity both from the ground and the on-board radar systems to meteorites or weather conditions. He believes the incident was treated so seriously by the military that it sparked a Cold War security scare. By 1956, the RAF Lakenheath air base, where the fighters were scrambled from, was on the front line of the geopolitical divide. Lakenheath played host to the new super-sensitive American U-2 spy planes and also provided storage facilities for atomic bombs.

Clues to solving the mystery may still lie in secret US archives. After being told no more documentation existed, Clarke discovered a reference to a further document on the incident in the US National Archives. He has logged a request to release it. All British reports were destroyed in a fire five years after the event, according to RAF records.

Clarke believes the incident had such serious security implications that documents must still exist. "I am a UFO sceptic but this is an incident that has me baffled. It is just possible that some form of Soviet spy craft was responsible, but difficult to match any of their planes to what was observed at the time," he said.

Paul Harris

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This page was last updated on June 14, 2003.