The National Archives have released the fifth collection of UFO files from the Ministry of Defence. The files can be downloaded free of charge for one month from the TNA UFO website which also contains a 10-minute audio/visual summary of the contents and a guide to the highlights.
As TNA’s consultant for the project I have been helping to prepare for what is the largest release of files to date. There are 24 files in this tranche containing more than 6,000 pages of documents spanning 1994-2000. The correspondence files span the period 1994-99 and the UFO report files begin in August 1996 and end in September 2000.
1996 was one of the busiest years for UFO reporting, with 609 incidents logged by the MoD. The popularity of the subject, encouraged by TV, films and media hype, continued into 1997 when 425 reports were received. But from that point there was a steady decline in reporting, with 193 incidents in 1998, 228 in 1999 and 210 in 2000.
It is important to note that most of these reports should not be regarded as “UFOs”, as few if any were investigated or followed up to the stage at which it was possible to eliminate even the most basic explanations. An Air Ministry study in 1955 found that 90% of sightings they received at that time could be explained if inquiries were made before the scent went cold. In the 1950s sightings were investigated by air intelligence officers, who found many could be accounted for as balloons, aircraft, fireballs and celestial objects.
By 1996 when these MoD files were compiled, few of the incidents were investigated thoroughly and even the most interesting were simply filed away. This was due to lack of time and resources, as desk officers were distracted dealing with correspondence with UFOlogists and members of the public who believed they were hiding facts about alien visitors.
This does not mean the files contain nothing of interest. This tranche contains a fascinating example of a “Close Encounter of the Second Kind”, the account of a man who suffered an unexplained illness after he was struck by a beam of light from the sky. The identity of the witness – who worked in a funeral parlour at Newport, Gwent – has been redacted from the file. But a two-page report on the case completed by an officer at a RAF base in Wales the morning after the encounter, on 27 January 1997, describes the incident in bare detail.
Whilst driving near Ebbw Vale at 10.40 the witness saw “a massive star” approaching his car from the east. Then a “tube of light” came down from the sky at a 45 degree angle, surrounding him. He stopped and switched his headlights off as “the light encircled the car, remaining for perhaps five minutes.” During this time he got out of the car and walked through the brilliant light. He noticed there was no sound as would have been expected if the light was a searchlight from a helicopter or aircraft. Very frightened, he began to feel ill and vomited later that night. As he returned to the car he noticed it was covered in dirt or dust and found his radio and mobile phone would not work. When he called the RAF the following morning he was still feeling ill and had developed a skin condition that needed medical treatment. But that is all the brief report tells us. There is no evidence in the file to suggest the MoD followed up this startling incident or collected evidence from the scene (DEFE 24/1988)