Night OneBy admin
It was some time after midnight on the 25 December 1980. Christmas day was just ending, there was only a skeleton of staff on duty at the two bases and no aircraft were in the sky.
Airman First Class (A1C) John Burroughs – who was only 19 at the time – was stationed at RAF Woodbridge’s back gate, commonly known as the East Gate. He was with Staff Sergeant (SSgt) Bud Steffens (then known as Bud Parker).
It was John Burroughs who first noticed the strange lights. They just appeared, hovering at about tree-top level, they seemed to be originating from the edge of Rendlesham Forest. Thinking that they had never seen lights like this before during their patrols, Burroughs and Steffens decided to take a closer look, especially as the lights seemed to be rather close to the base. John Burroughs describes the lights, “there were strange lights out in the forest. To me, it almost looked like Christmas lights at first, a Christmas display. At that point we looked at each other and we decided that we’d better go out and take a closer look because we weren’t sure what we were dealing with. What we were looking at wasn’t real .” They left RAF Woodbridge through the back gate (“East Gate”) of RAF Woodbridge in their patrol vehicle. As they came along the long road past East Gate, leading to the edge of Rendlesham Forest, it became apparent to them that the lights were quite close, closer than they had originally suspected.
The lights reminded Burroughs of a Christmas light display, they were flickering different colours, red; yellow and green. They drove a bit closer, as they did this a large white light (which appeared to be another part of the main object) moved along the forest boundary, as if mirroring their movement. It seemed closer than ever. This startled them. Burroughs and Steffens returned quickly to the East Gate, they required assistance.
When they returned, John Burroughs rang through to Sergeant McCabe, Burroughs used the guard shack’s landline – it was safer this way, their conversation could not be intercepted by hand-held receivers. Sgt. Mccabe was on the other end of the line. Burroughs was having trouble explaining what they had just seen to him, and McCabe was having trouble believing it, “he had a lot of trouble believing what I was telling him.”
McCabe asked to speak to Bud Steffens, he needed confirmation, Steffens confirmed everything that Burroughs had said, adding that the lights were still visible. McCabe decided the best thing to do would be to alert the bases Central Security Control – it sounded rather like a plane had crashed into the nearby forest. Staff Sergeant (SSgt), James W. Penniston was the on duty flight chief at RAF Woodbridge. He was eating a sandwich when he received a call from Sergeant John Coffey, who had spoken to Sgt. Mccabe.
Coffey refused to explain what was happening, he insisted that the men who were already at East Gate would explain the situation instead. “I received a call from the Control Centre to go on down to the east gate and contact John Burroughs. About 12:02 am – I remember that distinctly – I was dispatched to the East Gate, which was sometimes referred to as the back gate at Woodbridge. I asked them what was the nature of the problem down there and they said that they’d rather not tell me, they’d rather have me go down there and talk to the patrol man on the scene.”, recalls Penniston.
Jim Penniston was driven to the East Gate by Edward Cabansag (pronounced Cavansac). On arriving at East Gate, John Burroughs and Bud Steffens explained to Jim Penniston what they had seen. “The first thing that came to mind was an aircraft crash. I’ve had at least 30 or 40 crashes that I had been to at that point in time and that’s definitely what I thought it was.” Jim Penniston could identify almost any type of aircraft which was around at the time, thinking logically it was really the only thing which could have crashed into the forest. Bud Steffens quickly pointed out, ‘It didn’t crash, it landed.” It was also Christmas time, so there was no scheduled flying – it didn’t make sense, what could have landed in the forest?
“Master Sgt. Chandler contacted the shift commander’s office, and within a minute or so I got the go-ahead to proceed off base with two other security policemen. We were told to leave our weapons behind, so as to not violate the Status Forces Agreement with the British. I and Airman First Class John Burroughs and Ed Cabansag, also an Airman First Class, got into our Jeep and proceeded out the East Gate, then down a logging road adjacent to the perimeter”, recalls Penniston.
Burroughs, Penniston and Cabansag began their way into the forest by vehicle to investigate the strange lights, Steffens refused to enter the forest, he was scared. According to Edward Cabansag, they handed their weapons over to MSgt Chandler, although there is a possibility that they still had their side arms with them. They drove down the road which Burroughs and Steffens had been down a while earlier, took a right and then a left. They were now on logging road/route 12 (recently renamed to route 10). The road was full of holes and was covered in stones, it soon became too difficult for their vehicle to handle, Penniston affirms this, “the road was pretty hard [too] because everything was frozen.”
They parked their truck, and instructed Edward Cabansag to stay at the tree line with the vehicle and to act as another relay for the radio communication. John Burroughs stepped out of the vehicle. There were animals running around everywhere, and things just didn’t seem right. Burroughs recalls what happened next, “we started on foot towards those lights. At the same time we could hear the animals were getting very upset. At that point we got a radio transmission, they had just got in contact with Heathrow [Airport]. An object had been seen over our base and had disappeared on radar.” Jim Penniston confirms the radar related message which they received from CSC, “they [CSC > John Coffey] notified me that they were tracking an unidentified bogey about 15 minutes ago and they confirmed it with contact with eastern radar and Heathrow in London and the approximate location was about 5 miles off base when they lost contact with it.”
As Burroughs and Penniston moved further into the forest, they began to notice other strange things; Jim Penniston realized that a downed aircraft would be leaking gallons of fuel, it would probably burning as well but there was no smell of fuel. The cluster of lights was also too concentrated, if an aircraft had crashed there would be burning fragments all over the forest floor and in the trees. Burroughs and Penniston soon realized that the hair on their arms and the back of their necks was standing on end. There seemed to be a field of static electricity all around them. Penniston was walking ahead, leaving Burroughs slightly behind. As they noticed the static, they lost contact with CSC, Cabansag and all the others – was the static field interfering with their radios?
They had both walked quite a distance now, and were in the centre of the forest. As they moved closer they noticed a small, shiny object sitting within a clearing. It had a bank of blue lights on it and it was just sitting there, it was completely stationary. “It was unbelievable…we got pretty close to the object, we knew it had the feet on he ground from there”, says Burroughs. Jim Penniston managed to get really close to the landed object, “I got to within 10 feet of the craft and the clearing where it sat. I estimated it to be about three meters tall and about three meters wide at the base.” Penniston moved closer, he was right next to the object now, he was able to see exactly what it looked like.” The air was filled with electricity – like static. You could feel it on your skin as you approached the object. There was also a sense of slowness, like time itself was an effort”, said Penniston. It soon became difficult to walk and move, rather like they were wading through treacle. Everything seemed to be slowing down. “It was like a weird feeling, like everything seemed slower than you were actually doing and stuff”, said Burroughs.
Edward Cabansag, who was back at the tree line, could see something unusual in the forest too, “It was cone-shaped, egg shaped, with lights running around its belt from left to right. They were blue, white and red lights, flashing, sometimes rapid, sometimes slow. Then we saw flakes of metal coming from it…It wasn’t the lighthouse.
Jim Penniston was standing right next to the landed object, “no landing gear was apparent, but it seemed like it was on fixed legs. I walked around the craft, and finally, I walked right up to the craft. I noticed the fabric of the shell was like a smooth, opaque, black glass. The bluish lights went from black to grey to blue. I was pretty much confused at that point. I kept trying to put this in some kind of frame of reference, trying to find some logical explanation as to what this was and what was going on. It was dead silent. No animals were even making noise anymore. The nearer we got to that thing the more uneasy I felt…it was as if I was moving in slow motion.”
Jim Penniston had his notebook and camera with him, so he began to take notes about the object which was sitting in front of him. Penniston read an extract from his notepad on the Sci-Fi Channel’s documentary about Rendlesham, “… triangular in shape. The top portion is producing mainly white light, which encompasses most of the upper section of the craft. A small amount of white light peers out the bottom. At the left side centre is a bluish light, and on the other side, red. The lights seem to be moulded as part of the exterior of the structure, smooth, slowly fading into the rest of the outside of the structure, gradually moulding into the fabric of the craft’. “As I was taking notes, I also memorized what was in front of me for what seemed like hours, but was in fact only minutes. Finally, I unleashed my camera-case cover and brought the camera up to focus. I began snapping photo after photo. [Soon] I had already taken all 36 pictures on my roll of film. On the smooth exterior shell there was writing of some kind, but I couldn’t quite distinguish it, so I moved up to it. It was three-inch lettering, rather symbols that stretched for the length of two feet, maybe a little more.”
Jim Penniston then proceeded to touch the landed object, he was only able to for a short time. “I touched the symbols, and I could feel the shapes as if they were inscribed or etched or engraved, like a diamond cut on glass.” Soon after he touched the symbols, the white light on the object instantly grew brighter. Jim Penniston and John Burroughs jumped backwards in defence, they threw themselves onto the floor for cover. “At that point, I backed away from the craft, because the light was starting to get brighter. Still, there was no sound.” Said Penniston. “We all hit the ground…”, said Burroughs rather literally. The white light flooding out from the top of the unknown object was almost blinding. “The craft moved up off the ground, about three feet, still with absolutely no sound. It started to move slowly, weaving back through the trees at a very slow pace, maybe a half a foot per second. It took about a couple of minutes for it to manoeuvre itself back to a distance of about 100 to 150 feet, then it rose up just over the trees, about 200 feet high. There was a momentary pause and then literally with the blink of an eye it was gone. All with no sound. That still boggles my mind”, stated Penniston.
The object had departed. Both Burroughs and Penniston were left dazed and confused. The UFO seemed to have some kind of static field which would disrupt radio transmissions and confuse the men nearby. “All of a sudden, when the object was gone, everything was like normal again, by normal, I mean everything seemed real around you…you’re looking around and there at a distance you see the lighthouse beacon, you know, the sky looks the same, everything around you seems the same. But when all this was going on…it was different.” ” When it was happening, everything seemed to go slower. We seemed to be in … I wouldn’t say a time warp, but everything appeared to be happening slower to us, and everything felt different. When it disappeared, everything was normal again. The perception, the ground, the air and the stars were different”, explains Burroughs.
John Burroughs noticed another light in the distance, they walked for about 300 yards, before realizing that they had been out in the forest for too long and should return to the base. “We thought it had left, but then both Airman Burroughs and I saw the same array of colored lights maybe a half mile away. So we pursued it, trying to follow its course as best we could on foot. We only got about 300 yards into the woods before we turned around”, recalled Jim Penniston.
As they walked back to the logging road, Burroughs noticed three indentations in the forest floor. They were in the same place that the object was first sighted, they assumed that it had been sitting on the floor, “we found three of them, all triangular in shape, each about three meters apart.” Noting the location of the three indentations, the two men continued on their way back to the base. They found Cabansag, and went back to the base. After returning to the base, they were instructed to report to the shift commander’s office. Jim Penniston and John Burroughs were told it was best if they kept quiet about what they had just seen, “he basically said: you saw something, Heathrow tower confirms you saw something. Now you should go out and look for some physical proof of what happened”, said Burroughs.
Penniston and Burroughs went back into the forest, to check for any evidence which would support their story. Burroughs was hoping that there would be nothing out there, in the forest, perhaps then he could dismiss the whole incident, “I was hoping that when I got out there, that basically I would see nothing – there would be no tell-tale evidence that something possibly happened. That would make it easier for me, because if there’s nothing proving that something happened to me, you can kind of just check it off. [But] When you get out there, you find damage to the trees, depressions in the ground and stuff – that makes it even more unexplainable.”
Penniston and Burroughs found what appeared to be scorch marks on the trees, along with branch damage and the three indentations which they had found earlier. This is what they had been looking for, so they decided to leave the forest.
Jim Penniston made his way to a friend’s house near Ipswich, who he knew would have the necessary ingredients to make plaster casts. Penniston collected the plaster, and made his way back to the forest – he intended to take plaster casts of the three indentations. After about 40 minutes, he had found the three landing marks and had successfully made a plaster cast of each and every one, they were all identical, “I had to have tangible, solid evidence for myself”, explains Penniston. At 10:30AM, only 8-10 hours after the incident, RAF Bentwaters had called the Suffolk Constabulary HQ to alert them that a possible landing site had been found which was related. As Jim Penniston was walking back to his vehicle after making the plaster casts, he bumped into the Suffolk Police who were with John Burroughs.
Penniston explained his involvement along with Burroughs. Although, according to Penniston, the Police officer refused to write any information relating to a UFO incident in his logger – he wrote that there was a sighting of ‘strange lights’ which could have been from the nearby lighthouse and that the landing marks looked like ‘rabbit scratchings’. Penniston was worried about this, he had explained to the officer that he had seen an actual craft and pointed out that the three indentations were identical and all the same distance apart – the PC would not listen, “I asked him why and he said, ‘because he’s not going to put anything other than that in his report’. We found that just totally absurd. The ground was frozen and it was just impossible for that to happen”.
Soon after the incident Jim Penniston asked Lt. Col. Halt if he could be transferred to another base, the event had left him shaken. John Burroughs had been affected by the earlier UFO sighting too, he stayed out in the forest for days waiting for the UFO to return. Charles Halt recalls sending out blankets and food to Burroughs, which Burroughs apparently refused.