While doing a radio show a couple of nights ago, I was asked a question that pops up from time to time. It went something like this: “Have any UFOs ever crashed in the U.K.?” Well, I’m hardly a fan of tales of crashed saucers (see my 2017 book, The Roswell UFO Controversy). My view is that the majority of such stories really involve (a) classified, military vehicles; or (b) are the creations of disinformation/counterintelligence personnel. But, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been any intriguing cases in the U.K. There certainly have been some. And here’s one such example.
It was at around 4:00 p.m. on 26 October 1996, near the Isle of Lewis, Scotland, when something strange fell from the skies. “At first, I thought it was a firework,” commented one of the witnesses, a man named Norman MacDonald. He was a joinery contractor at the Port of Ness. MacDonald expanded: “Then I saw three flashes and heard two further bangs. I rushed into a local shop and took the staff and customers outside. They also saw the dense smoke spiral. That was about 4:10 p.m.” The Scotsman newspaper covered the story on November 4, 1996. Over the following few hours, both the Royal Air Force and the local police received numerous telephone calls from anxious Lewis residents, all of whom had either witnessed an aerial explosion or had seen peculiar flashes of light followed by debris plunging into the sea. The response of officialdom was immediate.
In a search that cost the equivalent of nearly $400,000 and that covered an area of 300 square miles, an armada of ships and numerous aircraft were hastily dispatched to the scene. A Royal Air Force Nimrod aircraft packed with sophisticated detection equipment scoured the vicinity for no less than ten hours on two sorties; the Coast Guard helicopter from Stornoway flew two four-and-a-half-hour operations; a Royal Air Force helicopter from Lossiemouth conducted an intensive search; and a flotilla of ships and boats, including the Stornoway-based tug the Portosalvo, numerous lifeboats from Lochinver, and a variety of fishing boats also lent assistance to the military.
In addition, both the Coast Guard and the police mounted shore patrols in Ness, on the Butt of Lewis. Officially, nothing was found. However, officialdom was not discounting the more exotic theories that had been postulated. “We have not ruled out space debris,” said Simon Riley, District Staff Officer for Stornoway Coast Guard. Riley elaborated: “Part of the problem has been to get a fix on where this accident happened. All the people involved in the search have worked very hard, some around the clock, and extensive inquiries have been made, but nothing has been found to give a positive explanation. It is very puzzling.”
The Northern Police Constabulary was equally baffled. “Officers were busily involved in the investigation,” a spokesperson commented. “But it’s a real mystery. It’s very, very odd.” Matters took an even stranger turn only days later when the press revealed that inquiries concerning the nature of the crash had been made to British authorities by the Sandia National Laboratories, New Mexico, USA. Sandia’s interest ran deep––staff at the facility even contacted the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland for assistance––and chiefly centered upon ascertaining the time at which the incident had occurred.
Nick Pope, who investigated UFO reports at an official level for the British Ministry of Defense between 1991 and 1994, stated (in the now-defunct U.K. magazine Sightings): “The [Sandia] facility operates spy satellites, and their line of inquiry strongly suggested that they were trying to search back through spy satellite imagery to see whether the UFO had been captured on film.”
Commenting on the crash report and the subsequent military maneuvers, which involved no fewer than thirty-two warships, seven submarines and eighty aircraft, Nick Pope stated at the time: “Rumors began to circulate that the whole incident might center on the crash and recovery of a top-secret prototype aircraft or unmanned aerial vehicle such as the rumored Aurora or HALO.”
The event was never fully resolved. The final official word went to the Ministry of Defense, who informed journalist Jonathan Dillon: “As you are aware, following reports to the authorities of an alleged explosion in the air, an extensive search of the area was carried out by the RAF and the Coastguard. This search was later called off after it became clear that no aircraft had been reported overdue.” That is where the matter rests today.