UFOs of March 30th/31st 1993 Explained!
© Gary Anthony & Chris Fowler, November, 2006..
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This web page has been developed to address fallacious and misleading assumptions both spoken and visual made by the UK Channel 5 documentary ‘The UFO Mystery, Stranger Than Fiction’ that aired on Wednesday, 1 November, 2006. This site predominantly deals with the space debris component of the alleged March 30th/31st 1993 UFO sightings over the UK and tries to place them in proper context. Offering limited but useful insight and links to the official reports, whether explained or not by space debris. This page also indicates what remainder of sightings may have other explanations and identifies those that cannot be explained..
On the night of 30th and morning of the 31st of March, 1993, UFO sightings were reported across the UK and parts of Europe. The UK witnesses to these various events during approximately a seven-hour period hail from varied backgrounds, including policemen in Devon, Cornwall and Wales, RAF personnel and civilians, many officially reporting what were initially UFOs to the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The bulk of sightings occurred at around 01:10 am local time on the 31st March describing ‘two cream-white’ coloured lights traversing across the sky sometimes seen emitting tail-like plumes or projections and going from a north-west to south-eastern aspect of the sky.
Sightings occurred earlier on the 30th March particularly at 21:30 from Birch Wood, 22:10 towards the Camelford area and one at 22:40 reported to RAF Finingley.
After the 01:10 local time sightings on 31st March, there were later reports. An account by elver fishermen near Bridgewater describing a catamaran shaped UFO at around 02:00 local time and one from two guards on duty at Ternhill Barracks reporting lights. Finally there was an account from a meteorological officer Wayne Elliott, describing an object that moved erratically, possibly low to the ground emitting a beam near RAF Shawbury at 02:40 – 02:50 local time..
Contemporaneously Nick Pope the then Ministry of Defence UFO desk officer (Sec (AS) 2a) officially chased up the sightings receiving a number of reports from across the UK, but especially from Devon, Cornwall and Wales. However the number of official UK reports received and how they are lumped together may be at question. In places Pope alleges several hundred witnesses, whereas actually the official files only record less than forty sightings. Doug Cooper of Devonshire UFO Research Organisation (DUFORO) and British UFO Research Association (BUFORA) vigorously investigated the 30/31 March 1993 events and received quite a number of reports before Nick Pope had gone into work the following day to answer enquiries about them. Cooper despatched no less than thirty-three UFO report forms to witnesses, liasing with Nick Pope in trying to uncover what might be behind the sightings.
A few theories for the UFO sightings have been postulated and beside the popular extraterrestrial hypothesis, (ETH) both space debris and the super secretive elusive hypersonic Aurora plane were considered possible causes. Irish newspapers and radio initially favoured Aurora at the time. The Aurora speculation featured in an official loose minute 22 April 1993, sent up the official chain of command by the Head of Sec (AS) MoD to Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (ACAS). *1.
A space debris re-entry of satellite rocket booster (R/B) 22586 from Cosmos 2238 occurred over Ireland, Devon, and Belgium around 01:10 am local time on the 31st March 1993. Undoubtedly this re-entry caused most of the sightings.
In March of 1993, I was an astronomical consultant to BUFORA and recall Jenny Randles interest in these events and the investigation that transpired. They represented unfolding evidence to support Jenny’s adduced theories of witness misperception of natural, if albeit unusual events and in joining dots to arrive at false descriptions of shape, distance and size. *6, *8.
Members of the BUFORA National Investigation Committee (NIC) were interested in the March 1993 sightings and were able to confirm the trajectory first calculated by space expert T.S. Kelso as a realistic explanation for most of the sightings.
BUFORA had experienced another Cosmos re-entry in the winter of 1978 that caused comparative events to these and which generated speculation about massive cigar and other shaped UFOs with rows of windows over the UK. Bernard J Delair of Contact UK, followed up the1978 sightings (See table1, table 2, table 3, shapes 1, shapes 2, 1978 map for comparison). *5. The December 31, 1978, Cosmos 1068 launcher re-entry sightings also had civilians, policemen and military personnel inaccurately reporting UFO, directions, times and altitude from locations all over the UK. The 1978 sightings featured in UFO literature and are contained in a file at The National Archive attesting how multiple witness UFO sightings are misperceived. (See a few references at *5, *6, *7).
Getting back to the 1993 March sightings, Devonshire investigator Doug Cooper, in a letter to the MoD dated 26 May, 1993, made mention to Nick Pope stating he was ‘certain the majority of 01:10 am sightings were of the space debris.’ According to the official files Nick Pope had consulted MoD departments in defence intelligence DI50, DI55c and Fylingdales BMEWS in trying to determine a trajectory for the 22586 debris. But the files do not reveal any trajectory plot or information crucial in understanding how witnesses from different locations could observe a single phenomenon, sometimes seen in different directions? Nor did the MoD make necessary comparisons with other such events..
Below is a screen grab of an accurate simulation, using the last element data set for 22586 provided by NASA that I did of the space debris re-entry orbit, employing STS Orbit Plus program by David H Ransom. (Thanks David). A large icon (usually used to represent the Hubble Space Telescope HST) is conveniently utilised to show more clearly where 22586 was on the 31st March around 01:10 local time BST at the moment re-entry was recorded elsewhere. ** (positions were calculated and double-checked the old fashioned method -- using pencil, paper and grey cells, I am willing to address more technical details, calculation methods and considerations with enquirers in email at firstname.lastname@example.org where time permits).**
STS Orbit Plus screen, of 22586 re-entry used by permission. (in greyscale)
The re-entry track traversed south-easterly over the UK, through Ireland and Devon and may account for delineated and different directions in the official witness reports for the sightings at or near the 01:10 local time. The re-entry was observed from Ireland before crossing over the Irish Sea to Devon. The circular line shows it’s potential visibility from most parts of the UK, if intervening weather conditions or geographical features did not interfere.
This simulation using the NASA Space Command element data proves T.S. Kelso was correct in his early estimate in 1993. After corresponding with T.S. he informed me he had used his TrakStar code (based on SGP4) to analyse the last orbit back in 1993. To be certain, more recently I sought the qualified assistance of Dr. Nick Johnson of NASA Space Debris Program in June 2004 and asked Dr. Johnson to separately calculate the position of 22586 for March 31, 1993. Dr Johnson emphasised that ‘Sat. No. 22586 was over Southern UK at 0010 GMT on 31 March 1993, heading in a south-easterly direction.’ In a following email Dr Johnson remarks ‘You will need to check to see if the UK was on Summer time on 31 March. My guess is that it was.’
[Technical Note:- Time is expressed in Greenwich Meant Time (GMT) and we had changed to British Summer Time (BST) on the 28 March 1993 So an hour needs adding to Dr Johnson’s GMT time. The simulation above calculates the trajectory against accurate UK local times in BST. Data used to extrapolate the track simulation is from the last observation of 22586 from a tracking station and in such data elements, times are expressed in Julian time (*4) and can be used to calculate orbits within acceptable range, at location and in any expression of time. Since this was a rocket booster from immediate Cosmos 2238 satellite launch it was current knowledge at the time].
According to Chris Fowler, American ‘UFOlogist’ Dr. Richard Haines recently also calculated the final orbit and concurs space debris explains the bulk of sightings around 01:10 am local time on the 31st March, 1993 over the UK. So the separate corroboration of space debris by four separate experts confirms the Fylingdales BMEWS estimate and now we can move on to how it accounts for the largest fraction of the official total March 31st, 1993 sightings. Including all, if not most of those close to the 01:10 local time.
Examination of the sighting reports by comparison to the space debris appearance and trajectory and with the details of the 1978 re-entry should answer a number of possible doubts and criticisms about how fundamental details can be falsely reported in multiple witness sightings. See Joe McGonagle’s Cosford, 1993 UFO web page at www.uk-ufo.org/cosford/sightings.html for breakdown of all official sighting reports.
Sighting 8 at 00:15 Haverford West describing the same visual details as the 01:10 batch may be a confused time, out by as much as one hour and five minutes in reference to a watch or clock perhaps not yet adjusted to reflect the BST change. Another clue for sighting 8 is that if we make a simple assumption that the object crossed the width of St Brides Bay in about 25 seconds as the witness stated this sighting is over the Irish Sea right in the debris transit track (placing it possibly in the right region of the atmosphere and travelling at meteoric velocities).
What’s not generally known in the UFO community -- up until now -- is that this particular spectacular space debris was anticipated and observed and recorded by space enthusiasts here in the England, in Ireland and France and that it featured in Phillip Clark's ‘Worldwide Satellite Launches, 1993, "Decay from orbit was observed in Ireland and Belgium, the final burn-up coming approximately at 00.10 GMT on March 31." Although in the UK, in the public gaze at least, ironically it was morphed into a UFO. (GMT and Universal Time are used frequently in astronomical measurements and expressions of time).
Although space debris entry into our atmosphere is an everyday occurrence, it’s not often a rocket booster burns up over the UK. A booster is quite large by comparison to common natural sand grain or pea sized meteoric events. The booster and associated fragments incandesced brightly perhaps somewhere beyond half a minute or so.
Here are two images of the re-entry of Compton Gamma Ray Observatory on June 4, 2000 courtesy of NASA’s Dr. Nicholas Johnson. There’s a single main light, now for some conceptualisation, imagine what two, possibly three would look like. There’s a note that 22586 may have fragmented. *9.
In a message to Ufology UK mailing list on Smartgroups about ‘The British UFO Mystery – Stranger Than Fiction documentary, Jenny Randles commented that she hoped after 13 years Nick Pope had learned investigative lessons from the 1993 March UFOs case and that the documentary would be objective. *10. However David Clarke, who took part in Channel Five’s (C5) show and who was privy to an advanced screening adversely expressed an opinion it was both unbalanced and misleading.
After watching the documentary myself, I wondered if Nick Pope had lost the real plot or not because in places there were exaggerative comments and the reports were misrepresented both by Nick and in the visual continuity and the narrating voice. The presentation was more geared towards Pope’s own personal and theatrical interpretation of the sightings and was laid out fallaciously for an unsuspecting public. Relevant information was not included, witness participation was minimal and some of the facts presented were grossly out of context. That’s the nature of entertainment I guess! Hopefully this web page may address some of what was missing from the C5 documentary in an objective manner.
A message to the International UFO Updates Mailing List on 1 November by Nick Pope advertising the documentary beforehand suggested it might not be objective. In this public post Pope comments ‘A cluster of the sightings may have been attributable to the burning up of a Russian rocket, but many of the others were harder to explain. Many of the witnesses were police and military personnel and the UFO was described by some as a vast triangular shaped craft, capable of accelerating in seconds from a virtual hover to speeds of around Mach 2.’ These two sentences are indeed misleading, especially contrasted against analysis of the file contents and the witness reports, this statement is untrue. Firstly there is little evidence to substantiate a vast triangular shaped craft that travelled at Mach 2 from a hover. (See The Meteorological Officer’s Sighting). Neither is there anything to substantiate proof that ‘many’ of the others [sightings] were harder to explain.’ After reasonably ruling out the very large ‘cluster’ attributable to space debris, not ‘many’ reports remain. See Joe McGonagle’s Cosford website at www.uk-ufo.org/cosford for details of all the official reports from the files.
The whole C5 feature seemed to be mostly how brilliant Nick Pope’s assessment of the March 30/31, 1993 sightings was but disappointingly that was flawed as Pope proved incapable of reaching the right conclusions about certain of the sightings. He clearly has fallen into the trap of not recognising salient features and errors of multiple witness reports, making links that do not exist and falling back on the questionable prowess of ‘trained observers,’ endowed with super-human abilities of discerning distance, altitudes and size in lights seen at night. A real house of cards.
The programme featured only one witness, a lady who saw a row of lights whilst driving home. For the 45-minute plus feature exclusively on these sightings none of the official witnesses used to bolster the theme appeared.
Four years ago David Clarke requested the official documents from the MoD under the then existent Code of Practise (CoP) and was supplied with both the D/Sec(AS)12/7 and D/DI55/108/15/2 files covering the March 30/31st events, a check with the MoD by anyone will confirm Clarke’s correspondence. Realising that most of sightings were explicable by the debris, we were still curious to learn why Nick Pope continued to make a big deal of lumping them together in the strange way he does? David Clarke asked me to re-evaluate the satellite debris component and make sure as best as I could where it was and compare this to all the official sightings. On reading through and carefully analysing the documents I was disappointed to find very scant references in support of Pope’s reasoning and multitude of various conflicting public statements about the March 30/31, 1993 UFO sightings. *2, *3.
The official papers did help in our learning the extent and limitations of an official enquiry into a multiple witness event. Nick Pope from his time at Sec (AS) 2a deserves some credit in recording details in his correspondences, however there is much more that could have been done in analysing these reports. After personally watching Pope relate certain facts in support of his own pet theory about these events at the Newcastle Science Festival last year, I thought he couldn’t beat that act. I was wrong… Congratulations are in order, because never was a bigger deal or meal made of the March1993 sightings than in the C5 feature. Thirteen years on nothing has changed Pope’s mind about the majority of sightings – it’s stuck in limbo-like stasis but the official files demonstrate that the UK’s second best case is in need of a big bandage and clearer revision.
Chris Fowler separately requested *all* of the March 30/31 1993, UFO documents from the MoD under the new UK Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) independently last year featuring on the Internet and recording Chris’s first impressions. After going through the official documents carefully Chris said he too noticed many of the sightings occurred around the time of the space debris and that he had spotted other questionable points relating to how those just outside the time possessed the same descriptions. Chris emailed Nick Pope on at least three occasions afterwards, asking for clarification of certain points but was fobbed off leaving a series of valid questions unanswered. Chris also emailed Timothy Good who featured these sightings as largely unknown in his last book and learned that Good is more prone to take Nick’s word.
Several researchers have now had opportunity to analyse every detail of every document in the official files perspicaciously and realise the major significance of the re-entry, as well as submit further relevant enquiries. David Clarke wrote a definitive article for Fortean Times providing a reasonable backdrop to the historical and official angle, revealing that we had substantially confirmed the presence of space debris over the UK by consulting the NASA Space Debris Program. Clarke’s FT article also shed new insights on the meteorological officer Wayne Elliott’s sighting and concerning Nick Pope’s subsequent interpretation of his account and even though it’s thirteen years later, it’s always best to consult the horses mouth than trust second-hand information or rely on some scenario involving argumentum ad verecundiam.
In Nick Pope’s message to UFO Updates Mailing List he mentions that ‘The documentary covers the sightings themselves, the roles of the Defence Intelligence Staff and the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System at RAF Fylingdales, the briefing of the Assistant Chief of the Air Staff and the liaison with the US Government.’ The official records note Fylingdales BMEWS were aware of the re-entry and that it was visible from the UK at 12:10 GMT. A loose minute to Head of Sec (AS) dated 16 April confirms this, but Fylingdales didn’t calculate a clear trajectory of 22586 for Nick Pope to superimpose against the geographical locations. Channel 5 didn’t show any track or plot of the satellite debris over the UK either, even though they were provided with one?
In a handwritten statement on a loose minute addressed to DI55c dated 7 May, 1993 there is a note asking Nick Pope to ‘drop’ his examination and enquiries yet Nick Pope is adamant that the official enquiry and assessment was in-depth. Perhaps it is in-depth by comparison to most other MoD UFO assessments, but it clearly wasn’t deep enough to reach the right conclusions about a number of the sightings, specifically those around the time of the space debris that Nick supposes cannot be explained. It is difficult to gauge Nick Pope’s motives when his statements are at variance so much. Five weeks had then elapsed from the date of the sightings and the MoD in inimitable style obviously decided (since it’s not Aurora) whatever happened no longer represented a threat to UK Air Defence Region. Fairly, Nick Pope makes similar comment in the C5 programme about his role of trying to determine whether these sightings were a threat to UK airspace, the MoD’s usual remit.
In support of the above is a memorandum from DI55c dated 19 May, 1993, demonstrating the defence intelligence branches had not ‘yet investigated’ the reports which suggests their investment was in some way ineffectual. (What if there had been a threat to UK airspace?) We can note at this juncture that MoD intelligence aren’t likely to go any further with the reports, since Pope has been told to drop them twelve days before. All the defence intelligence papers end here culminating in an open-ended file with a few loose ends and courteous correspondence between Doug Cooper and Nick Pope along with Cooper’s investigative report. The final letter is Nick Pope’s to Cooper of 10 June, 1993. Which in paragraph 2 reads ‘I agree that unless a sighting is explained almost immediately, there is very little hope that it will ever be explained; perhaps if the case is mentioned in ‘UFO Times’ it will lead to some useful feedback.’
An Important Point - UFO Sightings Close To Time Of The Space Debris Re-entry
Nick Pope concedes in the C5 feature that the ‘high level’ sightings might be explained by space debris, as he did in the beginning during his days at Sec (AS) 2a. But I would like to use this opportunity to ask Nick, why the debris component is seldom mentioned in his many intermediate public lectures and TV appearances? In the ‘The British UFO Mystery, Stranger Than Fiction’ the high level sightings are presented as only those around 01:10 am local time and the programme visuals and Nick Pope’s comments suggest some of the 01:10 am sightings were not of the debris, when clearly the descriptions tally with debris reports? Nick implies in his statement of the high level sightings that these are a minority by suggesting many others remain unexplained. Perhaps Nick could individually identify those he thinks cannot be accounted for by the space debris?
Isn’t it reasonable to conclude that all sightings of the same description occurring say somewhere up to but not exceeding 15 minutes before or after the local debris re-entry time on the 31st March may represent actual observations of the space debris, but not reported accurately in time, directions or distance? That perhaps two reports are exceptions and could be out by as much as an hour or so, simply because the witnesses referred to time devices that had not been adjusted from the very recent change from GMT to BST?
Multiple UFO sightings comprising either one or more confirmed significant IFO component characteristically possess an error margin accounting for poor time reportage, it is a natural logical feature and a necessary consideration to be factored into the evaluation, even including observations by policemen and RAF personnel. (See table1, table 2, table 3, shapes 1, shapes 2, 1978 map for comparison).
We know observation times are not always recorded properly and accurately, even in officialdom by otherwise considered competent observers. Jenny Randles recently pointed out in a message to the UFOlogy UK Mailing List comparing these events to the winter 1978 cosmos re-entry ‘the classic 31 December 1978 event was an almost identical example where the evidence proves what happened and reveals that the biggest timing error came from what you might have expected to be the most reliable source - police officers reading the time from their station clock yet clearly reporting this incorrectly as they very obviously saw what everybody else saw and so we know the time that they should have reported.’ *10
No one’s disputing police and military personnel reported what they saw, only the accuracy of reports in fundamental aspects of time, altitude estimates, shapes, size and directions reported at night. It is also not disputed that some military reporters may know their directions and how to apply useful measures to their observations; but again here we advise careful scrutiny of details in all of the official sightings. In the C5 documentary, claims of low-flying craft, close to or at the time of the re-entry were cited to bolster an erroneous perspective reinforced supposedly by observers who are official police and military personnel, as a sanction of precision. This view does not stand up in this case under scrutiny. Readers should examine the descriptions, times and other details from the witnesses and superimpose them against the satellite debris track and time and try to determine fairly what may be applicable to the space debris.
A logical argument may settle the matter of sightings with same or similar description at or close to the time of the actual space debris re-entry.
The reports describe significantly a number of witnesses outdoors near the time of the re-entry.
The witnesses do not mention seeing a spectacular event as separate to their UFO sightings, since the debris was re-entering while they where outdoors, why is it not mentioned as a separate item or connected in some way to their sightings? (Particularly those cited as 01:10 am local but alleged as not of debris).
The simple answer may be that witnesses at or close to the time were watching only space debris.
After space debris sightings are correlated, what remains?
March 30th UFO Sightings
What of the earlier sightings on the 30 March? There were at least four from the Devon and Cornwall area and one at 21:30 Birch Wood and another from Bradway 23:40, South Yorkshire. The most notable examples appear to be 22:10 Camelford and 22:40 reported to RAF Finingley? See sightings 2,3,4,5,6,7
Can we treat these early sightings as part of a mass, lumped together or should they not be concatenated?
Can any of these sightings also be linked with the later sightings? Certainly logic might eliminate them from the space debris batch at least.
Where the visual descriptions are diverse perhaps examination might determine if these should be treated separately. More importantly is there any possible explanation for any of them?
It seems that at the time Nick Pope was in receipt of a possible explanation, yet strangely despite his other unprecedented early disclosures and help offered to Doug Cooper and in the C5 documentary, Pope has never shared at least one important piece of information. An omission that might explain the Camelford 22:10 report and perhaps other of the reports on the 30th from the Devon and Cornwall areas (See sightings 2,3,4,6). Recorded in the official files there is an MoD communication dated 1st April. It refers to the fact that on the 30th March, 1993, two Sea King helicopters from RNAS Yeovilton were active in the LFA 2 area up to midnight.
[There is a more detailed map to the LFA 2 and 2P area in the recently released Condign report Volume 2, Chapter 9 – 17, figure 16 also worth consulting for the range of this locale. *12 ].
It’s a pity the radar information available in the file only relates to the 31st March and none for the 30th March because all those which are adjusted to Zulu time are by definition one hour plus into the 31st March local times! Where is radar information for the 30th March?
If we have followed a reasonable path then we should arrive at correct conclusions, working from known facts and inferences and by those presented by both the un-official and official file sightings and resolve there are only two witness remaining describing anything close to an actual ‘flying triangle’ Sightings 3 and 26 Sighting 3 mentioned as 30 March, at 22:40 Bradway. Remarkably through the filter of Sec (AS) 2 we learn that the witness of this sighting informed that it was ‘a triangle with red glow from it’s centre tail area,’ ‘heading north’ and ‘just above the horizon against a light sky’, moving ‘not slow but not too fast’ stating also that the witness ‘did not believe in UFOs.’ A note at the bottom of the form poses the question ‘Was Stealth in the area?’
Sighting 26, report from Braunton Burrows, Devon of three large bright lights heading from the south. But just lights, no mention of a discernible triangular shaped craft.
It’s possible incorrect directions are reported, as well as times see the 1978 cosmos debris tables cited earlier for comparison.
Sighting 3, just above the horizon doesn’t bode well either against expression or assumption of a vast triangular craft penetrating UK airspace. Since lights seen against the horizon are subject to more atmospheric distortion in colour and shape. But none of these facts have stopped Nick Pope continually making the triangular craft assumption since leaving his official role. *3, *11. You cannot take one or even two vague descriptions and relate them to other diverse reports of just lights without reason?
The Meteorological Officer’s Sighting.
Claims of an exotic craft on March 30/31, 1993, hinge exclusively upon an insistence on the RAF Shawbury meteorological officer, Wayne Elliott’s sighting as being extraordinary. *2 On Nick Pope’s website there is misrepresentation of this in the section titled ‘Selected Essays’ in an article titled ‘The Real X Files.’ where this sighting is described as being of a ‘vast triangle’ hovering at ‘200 ft’ firing a ‘narrow beam’ down to the ground and then flying off at ‘high speed.’ See sighting 29. David Clarke recently contacted Mr. Elliott who said he was personally much ‘more ambivalent’ about what he saw than the ‘excitement’ and interpretation Nick Pope subsequently placed upon the experience. Okay, so the interview is thirteen years later but there are some points worth examining by comparison to the official papers and Nick Pope’s version and the relevancy of primary rather than secondary information that’s already been covered.
Pope's account on the C5 documentary implies that when the Military Police at Cosford saw their UFO they phoned Shawbury to tell them it was on its way and that Mr. Elliott then went out to see something minutes later, supporting Nick Pope’s widely expressed false notion of a fast-moving triangular shaped craft travelling at Mach 2 between RAF Cosford and RAF Shawbury....In Pope’s own words from the C5 documentary ‘From RAF Cosford the object moved quickly to the next military base Shawbury.’ So quickly, it took more than 1 hour 35 minutes to travel a mere 20 miles, a homemade aircraft with an elastic band might fair technologically better. Nick was a little naughty suggesting this when in fact Elliott saw his sighting one and a half hours later! See Nick Pope’s own official note about this sighting, demonstrating clearly that he knew when both these sightings really occurred. (For reference the sighting numbers are 22 and 29)
The files reveal that Mr. Elliott's sighting actually took place around 2.50 am after he left his office to take his weather observations. Mr. Elliot told Clarke it may have been nearer to 02:40 am. Pope's original account does not mention a "triangular shaped" UFO but includes a guesstimate of size "somewhere between a C130 and a 747 [jumbo-jet]". The UFO carried three red lights "two side by side and one larger red light slightly behind", which may be where the idea of a triangular object was further enforced. Mr. Elliott was indeed familiar with military aircraft and helicopters, but said this was unlike anything he had seen before. He said it hovered for several minutes 15-20 km away before moving across the airfield at a speed estimated at hundreds of miles per hour. As it passed over Mr. Elliott heard what he described as "a low humming noise" and at one point when the object was 400ft above the ground it projected a thin shaft of light, like a laser beam, which "appeared to be searching for something on the ground." Mr. Elliott also told Clarke that Nick Pope used a leading question about the shape of the UFO ‘asking if it could have been triangular?’ when Mr Elliott might have been more content to express the UFO in terms of lights rather than discernible shapes.
Clearly the object seen by Wayne Elliott wasn't the Russian Tsyklon rocket booster. What else carries red lights, moves erratically at low altitude and uses a beam of light to search the ground late at night? An answer seems obvious. But it wasn't until 2005 that an airman serving at RAF Shawbury read Nick Pope's account of the sighting and decided it was time to speak out. "The UFO supposedly seen at RAF Shawbury was later identified as a Dyfed-Powys police helicopter following a stolen car down the A5 between the A49 junction," he wrote. "The observer was using his NiteSun to illuminate proceedings."
Are we to take the word of one airman over another, or try to make sense out of both and of the experience and possibilities?
How could a meteorologist - a trained observer - be mistaken? When David Clarke put this to Mr Elliott, now a senior figure in the Met Office, his reply was equally surprising. Mr Elliott confirmed MoD police at Cosford, having seen the rocket decay, phoned his station and suggested he look out for UFOs. When, over an hour later, he saw unfamiliar lights hovering near the airbase, he was primed to interpret what he saw as a UFO. Details of Mr. Elliott’s sighting were then passed by Cosford to Whitehall and Nick Pope rang to quiz him. Mr. Elliott said he was assured that checks had ruled out military or civilian aircraft. But had any enquiries been made with local police forces? At the time both the Dyfed-Powys and West Mercia police forces operated helicopters equipped with searchlights. Unfortunately flight logs are only kept for a short period before destruction. As a result, it is impossible to establish with certainty whether a helicopter was indeed responsible for Mr Elliot's sighting.
Significantly we should not ignore Mr Elliott’s discussion with David Clarke, in his own words "At the time it did not strike me as being something familiar," he told me. "However, it's clear in hindsight that what I saw was not the same object seen at Cosford as it was much later. I never made anything of it, I just reported what I had seen. Nick Pope was very excited about it and made a great deal of the fact that I was an official observer, which was true. He assured me that he had checked with all the military sources for aircraft and ruled them out." Adding. "I believed what I was told at the time, but now I'm convinced that what I saw has been explained. I have to accept that the noise like a humming and the beam of light are very similar to what you would expect of a police helicopter."
In reference to police helicopters David Clarke cites the following relevant information from a policeman.
PC Ian Cooke of South Yorkshire Police said their copter (an American MD-902, which is apparently the type used now by most other UK forces), carried four lights:
1) a red port light
2) a green starboard light
3) a red anti-collision beacon (flashing), sometimes white
4) A NiteSun searchlight
Operational height: is usually 1,000 feet, but can often descend to 500 feet when pursuing stolen vehicles or chasing miscreants! (compares with the altitude described by Elliott).
"If there’s no full moon you would not necessarily see the shape of the aircraft just the three lights and perhaps the searchlight," said PC Cooke.
"On a number of occasions in the last nine years we have had people ringing the police to report UFOs and when we have checked our operation logs it has turned out to be our helicopter," he said.
"On other occasions we have had people reporting UFOs who have actually seen airliners descending into Manchester who have switched their landing lights on or off.
"Most people have no idea of spatial awareness at night and cannot accurately judge the height or distance. We have had people saying they have seen things at treetop height and when we have checked it has been an aircraft descending into Manchester at 10,000 feet or more."
PC Cooke also made an important point about the noise made by helicopters:
"If the wind is blowing it's possible an observer might not hear the noise at all, even if the aircraft is very close by, and then if the wind direction changes suddenly they may hear a terrific noise."
My own dealings with the Oscar 99 crew discovered that the regional police helicopter in Humberside has also been reported as a UFO frequently and this is probably a common occurrence elsewhere in the country.
In response to Nick Pope’s official request for radar tapes and information covering the period, there is another detail not previously shared with the UFO community, but which featured in the C5 documentary. It is a memorandum to Sec (AS) 2a dated 19 April, 1993, showing radar detections on the dates of the sightings, which Pope rounds up quite well in his description, at point 9, it states ‘310140z Clee Hill Squawk 2304/200 descending on A25. At 0146z overhead Shawbury squawk 5231/203 southbound.’ It’s an aircraft, transponding at 20,000 ft plus, directly over Shawbury, during the time of Mr Elliott’s sighting. The aircraft is at altitude with perhaps only lights visible. At this altitude some aircraft lights have a tendency to merge into singular form. It’s difficult to reconcile this information with three lights as reported by the witness and mentioned by Pope in the C5 documentary. However on the question of what may or not have been visible in the area that morning, it may be relevant, if not causal. A high altitude aircraft’s visibility at night is dependent upon it’s size, type, light configurations and whether any other non-routine lights were switched on and upon atmospherics and weather. The earlier space debris may have appeared visually much more dramatic by comparison to the squawk aircraft.
Late in 1997, Pat Delaney and Anne Griffin of the Irish UFO and Paranormal Research Association (IUFOPRA) uncovered official documents relevant to the March 30/31 UFO sightings.
One particular document titled 'Unidentified Airborne Sighting’ signed by a Commander H. O’Keefe of the ‘Headquarters Air Corps Group’ is revealing. O’Keefe, Captain of an Air Corps Dauphin helicopter with five other servicemen aboard, had left Baldonnel at 00:30 am local time, on the 31 March. The helicopter headed towards Finner Camp in Donegal flying at 1,500 feet at an air speed of 140 knots. About ten miles east of Mullingar all the crew had a 'visual sighting.'
In O'Keefe's own words ‘I and the co-pilot observed a light at our two o'clock position at 10-15 miles… The observed light came on and went out in a period to two seconds. We continued to observe the position and noted two white lights at a fixed distance apart in the horizontal plane. These lights continued to close our position moving from our two o'clock towards our eight o'clock. This track was in a north-west to south-east direction.'
The servicemen also watched the lights through night vision equipment. They saw trails behind the lights and the two lights passed over them. They contacted Dublin Air Traffic Control at the time, who insisted no air traffic was on the course reported. Shannon radar also had nothing on screen. During a conversation between Air Traffic Control (ATC) and the Dauphin, a Captain of Iona Airways Flight 961 joined in. The Iona flight heading to Ireland from Europe crossing the coast of southwest Wales at 20,000ft confirmed fast moving lights across their path too, approximately going from north to south.
According to the helicopter clock bearing and description they passed below the 22586 transit, while the Iona flight behind en route to Ireland over the coast of southwest Wales was in an approach corridor and both aircraft are seeing two lights. Calculably the approximate areas and altitudes of both aircraft seeing the lights simultaneously demonstrate their crossing at high altitude and moving at velocity. (At re-entry zone and descending from possibly as high as 120 km altitude). The helicopter crew noted the beginning of the burn-up, seeing initial flashing.
Interestingly, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) told Shannon ATC the same day they had no record of a satellite debris burn up, but later stated it was the 22586 re-entry.
The Air Corps report is useful and enlightening. The crew and servicemen all gave different estimates of height for the lights between 500 and 3,000 feet above them. These are enormous spatial inaccuracies, but since this type of event is infrequent, with no conscious reference and experience of this phenomenon to fall back on, it’s understandable how anyone may not be able to discern accurately. *14, *15
What Credence For Determining Altitude of Lights Seen At Night?
The human visual perceptual system and cognisance are very discerning but easily fooled by events like those described here. The example cited by Jenny Randles from 1978 is a good benchmark showing how observers misperceive. It is part of common UFO reportage that lights and aircraft flying at night can lead to false reports of distance, altitude, time estimates, size and other fundamental attributes. There is a noteworthy earlier case of pilots misperceiving space debris during flight manoeuvres near Ypenburg on 5 November, 1990
It should be stressed that in the 01:10 and 01:15 am local time batch of officially reported sightings, obviously describing the 22586 re-entry, there are observations that misperceive altitude, see sightings 13, 15, 20, 21, 22.
We should take note all observers are fallible to misperception and illusory effects and to false interpretation and apply adequate reasoning here.
These 1993 events may be exemplary in providing more evidence of the inability of those often described as ‘trained observers’ to discern altitude in lights than is supposed. It is fallacious to assume that certain subsets of people, by occupation, may be more or less accurate in their observations of lights, shapes, distance and altitude without providing evidence. Here is a reference which offers some insight either way on spatial misperception by pilots and what the limitations are for overcoming this (A link to a PDF file download http://tinyurl.com/ylsdnq). Observational accuracy by any subset of witnesses depends upon circumstance and a willingness to apply useful pragmatic means to recording observations at the time and on some understanding of limitations.
To employ Nick Pope’s own words from the ‘UFO Visits UK?’ official document, before he became the non-official UFO personality he now is :- ‘Some of the witnesses quoted dimensions and altitudes. How do you estimate the height of a light of unknown size at night, with nothing with which to compare it? Also the estimates are not necessarily independent for example, Sgt XXXXXXX estimated an altitude of 1000ft. However, he filed his report after interviewing another witness who also gave that figure.’
The C5 documentary featured the Naval Ocean Surveillance Systems (NOSS) satellites as an explanation that was ruled out. Indeed the NOSS satellites have been blamed for UFO reports before. However, the NOSS triplets lose some of their closed formation and equilateral lights appearance and charm and are not particularly bright. The triplets are now being replaced by a new generation of high-tech doublets. Tony Eccles, a competent investigator of BUFORA and Merseyside Anomalies Research Association (MARA) investigated a series of sightings in 1999 that were probably NOSS from determining distinctive features. The NOSS satellites not being very striking would not normally come close to the kind of visual display produced by either a rocket booster re-entry or low flying helicopter.
There are a few reports remaining that cannot be explained.
Particularly curious are the glass-bottomed object with two rows of lights reported from Penistone, the triangle above the horizon from Bradway, sighting from the Quantock Hills and the Shawbury sighting. (See sighting 5, 7, 2, and 29 though 2 might be explained by the Yeovilton helicopter activity and 29 might be explained by a police helicopter).
When someone makes a statement like ‘the high level sightings are explained but many others are harder to explain’ paraphrasing, we need to consider an assumption like this can be invalid, as we have hopefully shown ‘most’ of the sightings are explicable. Various phrases on the C5 documentary are dependent upon selective interpretation and arguably, unbalanced, non-objective and exaggerative. Phrases like the ‘greatest UFO mystery’ and ‘they were seeing these lights on the underside of a triangular craft’ and ‘expert witness statements were precise’ are completely unfounded.
It is truly difficult to apply judgement in useful terms of altitude, distance, shapes, size and other fundamental details of objects seen at night by multiple witness without pragmatic application, even by official observers like police and military. Beyond stating UFOs were seen by competent or ‘trained observers’ there is no pragmatic application mentioned in any of the official files for altitudes, shapes, distance or size for any of the sightings beyond a report form. This latter fact applies to the official examination and the C5 feature.
It’s incumbent on the reader to decide what they personally think relevant among all the sightings that still may retain the title UFO. The MoD have now proactively released all the government files on March 30/31,1993 sightings and they are available for scrutiny under the MoD’s publication scheme. In sharing this information, we hope to have journeyed a small distance in convincing the reader that most of the UK UFO sightings from 30/31 March are explicable. Perhaps collectively these should no longer be referred to as a large UFO wave, but in part as a large IFO wave. *3 .
We acknowledge any useful references that more adequately suppose an alternative to fallacious reasoning, no matter how late that is in arriving. Perhaps herein lies the heart of the mystery, it’s enduring confusion found in the purview of a false belief that has been perpetuated. It’s time to learn from it, quantify the remainder and move on.
A Summary Of The Main Points.
We hope we have been fair in presenting relevant information, asking additional necessary questions and positing some basic reasoning. We are willing to engage in any useful discussion of these sightings and are open to suggestions to adjust this web page accordingly to accommodate any relevant or necessary changes in the light of new or better information and in correcting any mistakes.
Though it’s thirteen years since these sightings, we’d like to hear from other witnesses, please email or express an opinion, feedback is appreciated.
Email Gary Anthony or Chris Fowler at email@example.com
An update will be added to this page in due course.
Joe McGonagle is developing a more analytical website on the Cosford UFOs at:-
*1 The MoD communication to ACAS does not mention space debris.
*2 Open Skies, Closed Minds, Nick Pope. Simon & Schuster 1996 pp – 134-141. [From page 132 relates 1990 Belgium sighting. Influence?]
*3.Space debris component often missing in Nick Pope’s media renditions of the 1993 March UFOs. My own filming of Nick Pope at the Newcastle Science Festival in March 2005, also supported by a compilation of over twenty TV appearances of Nick Pope.
* 4 There are plenty of online references for Julian Time but to see how these are applied, see various explanatory links at http://www.satobs.org/seesat/seesatindex.html
*5 Bernard Delair’s data for the 1978 Cosmos debris reports, also reproduced in BUFORA Journal Volume 10 No 1. Feb 1981 pp 11- 21.
*6 ‘UFO Study’ – A Handbook For Enthusiasts’ Jenny Randles, HALE 1981 p 78 and illus.
*7 TNA File DEFE24/1212.
*8 Fortean Times, 195 Jenny Randles ‘Casebook’
*9 –22586- debris fragmentation note [large PDF catalogue]
*10 Smartgroups list, 24 October 2006. Ufology UK Mailing List –
*11 The UFO Mystery, Stranger Than Fiction’ TV documentary for UK Channel 5, Wednesday 1 November, 2006.
*`12 See the Condign PDF downloads.
*13 Northern UFO News, 160, dated April 1993.
*14 ‘Something in the Air,’ Jenny Randles, Robert Hale, London, 1998 pp 175 –9.
*15 various email correspondence Jenny Randles 07.11.06.
For a complete breakdown of all the official files sighting reports see Joe McGonagle’s developing analytical Cosford UFO 1993 web page at:-
And for discussion of the March 1993 UFOs see the new Ufology UK Mailing List.
The last 22856 satellite element data set can be pasted into a text file from http://www.space-track.org/perl/login.pl after approved membership, for anyone wanting to calculate the final orbit for themselves. Tracking software downloads are available at David H Ransom’s website at http://www.dransom.com/stsplus.html and elsewhere.
Or contact me for alternative methods of obtaining the data.
For those interested in keeping tabs on the latest decays and re-entries see:
http://www.satobs.org/seesat/seesatindex.html -- also see this site links for FAQs and information on satellite tracking and explanation of elements and calculation methods.
UFO articles that are pertinent to the 1993, sightings and space debris re-entries, not embedded in the text.
Satellite tracking software and data URLs
© Gary Anthony & Chris Fowler 2006.