The Secret Files»
UFOs in History»
However, the experienced senior officer was forced to admit that there had been a number of genuine reports of “phenomena”, including a low-flying aircraft, a huge explosion in the sky, and smoke. Mike France, the Mountain Rescue co-ordinator, remained as baffled as the police. He said his teams - who knew the area initimately - had thoroughly searched up to 50 square miles of the moorland with help from the helicopters.
“There was no scouring to the moor, there were no bits of wreckage. There was no oil traces on the reservoirs,” he said.
Officially, South Yorkshire Police categorised this incident as “unexplained” but senior officers remain convinced that the truth about what really happened has still to be revealed. At the time, the closing entry in the Police Log suggested the incident had been caused by a series of unconnected events and concludes: “..enquiries reveal a combination of circumstances that would lead people to believe a plane might have crashed.”
Today the police continue to remain open-minded about the incident and have even considered the possibility that the Howden Moors event was triggered by a plane involved in a drugs drop, or was caused by the appearance of a phantom “ghost plane” which, according to local folklore, haunts the moors surrounding the Ladybower and Derwent reservoirs. Their most recent comment, prior to the screening of a BBC “Mysteries” documentary on the case in October 1997, was:
“No explanation was ever found and we remain open-minded about what was behind the sightings.”
Since that time a second TV documentary has appeared on the case, alongside a flurry of speculation linking it with UFOs and sinister Government cover-ups. The UFO mythology is littered with speculation about secret military retrievals of alleged crash-landed flying saucers, and believers are eager to seize upon any rumour which alleges such an event has occurred in Britain and abroad. To the police, emergency service and local people who took part in the events of March 24, 1997, the Howden Moors incident remains a baffling mystery, but one of mundane proportions, and none of them has ever seriously considered the involvement of Extraterrestrial visitors. However, the weeks which followed the incident saw an influx of what one landlord described as “fruitbats and assorted nutcases” who set out to search for evidence of UFOs and associated cover-ups. It was not long before rumours were circulating concerning mysterious burnt patches in fields, ‘Men in Black’, flying triangles, objects removed from the moors on low-loaders and unmarked helicopters. The most precise rumour concerned an alleged sighting of ‘body bags’ being pulled out of a reservoir and flown by the Sea King to a waiting ambulance. In this instance it soon became clear that the ‘body bags’ were simply equipment being transferred from the Sea King to the Mountain Rescue HQ at Hepshaw Farm during the search operation. The “ambulance” turned out to be the four-wheel drive rescue vehicle used by the Peak District Mountain Rescue Organisation which was present at the scene. Among the rumours was one which suggested that Yorkshire Water workers who had witnessed the above scene had been “told to keep quiet” in true cover-up fashion. However, this investigation quickly located the workers in question and they were only too keen to discuss what they remembered about the incident. They had been ordered to check up to three of the reservoirs in the Strines area for signs of oil or debris which may have resulted from a possible crash, but they claimed the search had been called off before lunchtime on March 25. It was at this point they said they had been told by the police that the RAF had admitted the incident had been caused by one of their jets on an night-time exercise, which had accelerated to supersonic speed, causing a flash and a bang which had been witnessed by a number of local people.
An official said: “The police told us to stand down as the RAF had admitted the flash and bang had been caused by a plane involved in a night-time exercise which had gone through the sound barrier. I got the impression from the police that they had been wasting their time and if they had known they would not have put as much effort into it [the search].”
This explanation is at odds with what both the Mountain Rescue co-ordinator and the senior police officer in charge of the operation claim they were told by the RAF at the time, namely that there was no military operation. However, it fits neatly with what has since been discovered, and suggests that someone is being economical with the truth. It should be noted, however, that at least one senior officer who took part in the 15 hour search, Inspector Jack Clarkson, remains convinced it was caused by a covert military operation. His views can be read in the Opinions section.
The Eye-Witness Testimony
Monday, March 24, 1997 was a clear, cold spring evening with a full moon and many people from Sheffield and the neighbouring areas took advantage of the fine weather conditions to venture out onto the Peak District moors west of Sheffield to watch the comet Hale-Bopp which was at its brightest and most prominent in the night sky. The gazetteer which follows follows chronologically the events of that evening from dusk until midnight, using wherever possible direct quotations from witnesses transcribed from shorthand notes taken during face to face and telephone interviews.
Readers will note there appear to have been two separate groups of observations; the first seeming to describe a formation of low-flying military jets observed at intervals between 8.30 and 9.50 pm. Then shortly after 10pm a single, low flying aircraft is seen moving west across the moors on the northwest outskirts of the city of Sheffield. It appears to crash and simultaneously a loud explision is heard. This was the event which triggered the search operation. From that point onwards, the appearance of the two rescue helicopters, the first of which reached the scene at 11pm, adds to the confusion as witnesses including Sharon Aldridge and Dan Grayson quite clearly observed the West Yorkshire Police helicopter performing its search pattern and associated this with the “crashed airplane” scenario.
The influence of the media was also important in the generation of rumour, as the events received widespread coverage both in the local and national media, in newspapers and on TV and radio. This resulted in a flood of calls to the police from further witnesses who had sighted aircraft and other flying objects on the night of March 24 but had not deemed them out of the ordinary until they heard the news reports about the search for the downed plane on the radio the following morning. »