Case Histories : Howden Moor Incident> [prev ¦ 1 ¦ 2 ¦ 3 ¦ 4 ¦ 5 ¦ 6 ¦ 7 ¦ 8 ¦ 9 ¦ 10 ¦ 11 ¦ 12 ¦ 13 ¦ 14 ¦ 15 ¦ 16 ¦ next]


Theories and Context

This report aims to stick to the known facts with the minimum of speculation in an attempt to reach the truth behind an event which to this day is categorised as “unexplained” by South Yorkshire Police who were the main investigators. Clearly, a real phenomena, or series of phenomena occurred but my contention is that these can be explained rationally without recourse to wild and fantastic theories which have no solid evidence to support them. As is the case with so many reports of Unidentified Flying Objects and other unexplained aerial phenomena, the Howden Moors incident has all the hallmarks of a genuine mystery. Unsolved mysteries create vacuums which are filled by speculation and are ideal breeding grounds for the imaginations of those who are looking for evidence of conspiracies, cover-ups and alien visitors. As a result the Howden Moors incident has been hi-jacked by those whose will to believe or sensationalise has overcome their critical faculties, and others who have sometimes mis-reported and distorted (sometimes deliberately) the evidence, and the testimony of witnesses, for their own ends.

Crucial to the understanding of the Howden Moor Incident are the many other theories about its origin which were promoted both by those who took part in the search and rescue operation, and others who were quoted in the subsequent press coverage.

More detail is provided in a later section of this report where the opinions of those involved are directly quoted. A summary of the theories include the following:


The high, mist-shrouded moors of the Dark Peak have become the graveyard for more than 50 aircraft and cost more than 200 lives since the Second World War. These tragedies have become part and parcel of local folklore, with the lonely wrecks of planes becoming the scene of annual pilgrimages and the setting for eerie stories of ghosts and poltergeists. In the last ten years a local legend has developed about a phantom “ghost flier” or ghost plane - sometimes in the form of a Lancaster bomber and at others a Dakota - which has been seen flying noiselessly above the Derwent and Ladybower reservoirs of the Hope Valley. Since the sightings received local publicity in 1995, a number of local people have come forward with their own experiences of seeing this silent phantom plane, many of whom had contacted the police to report possible aircrashes which have triggered earlier search and rescue operations. Indeed, one Peak Park Ranger states that the Peak District Mountain Rescue Service (MRS) is called out approximately two or three times every year in response to reports of “crashing aircraft” where none are ever found. He suggests the explanation is partly due to optical illusion contributed by the fact that the area lies upon both a major route for civilian air traffic and an RAF training ground. The connection between the Howden Moors incident and the legend of the “ghostplane” was made by the national Press shortly after March 24, and the report was featured in extensive feature articles in both the Daily Mail, Daily Mirror and Daily Express early in 1997, contributing to the folklore which surrounded these sightings.

The toll of lives claimed by the Peak District moors has continued into recent years, and added to the sinister reputation of the area to fliers. In June 1993 for instance, a privately-owned Hawker Hunter jet plunged into the peat bogs on Broomhead Moor after its pilot flew into an electrical storm above the Peak whilst en route to an air show in Blackpool. His 35-year-old plane disappeared from radar screens while he was flying above the Kinder Scout plateau and a loud explosion was heard as his plane impacted at a speed estimated at 450 mph into the moors, scattering smoking debris across the peat and creating a 50 foot wide crater. The body of the pilot, Walter Cubitt, has never been recovered and remains entombed within a 30 foot deep grave in the boggy moors above Bolsterstone. It is from such tragedies that folklore and legend is created.


This explanation was initially favoured by police, senior mountain rescue co-ordinators (Mike France and Phil Shaw), aviation expert Ron Collier and Peak Park ranger Brian Jones, who is based at the Fairholmes centre in the Derwent Valley. The Derbyshire police have certainly investigated claims that both helicopters and light aircraft have been used by both drugs couriers and terrorists in the Peak District and other areas of the British countryside to ferry illegal substances and arms in and out of the mainland by drawing the minimum of attention to their activities. In 1973 and 1974, for instance,seven police forces in the Midlands were investigating sightings of a “mystery helicopter” which flew only at night and at low altitude above the Peak District. The identity of the pilot was never discovered, but rumours suggested the involvement of IRA terrorists or drug-runners. These fears were taken so seriously that Special Branch were called in to investigate the reports early in January 1974. However, no definitve proof of a connection between terrorists or drug-runners has ever emerged in connection with the Howden Moors incident.


This theory was first put forward by Graham Birdsall who suggested a Remotely Piloted Vehicle (RPV), of which prototypes have been developed by the military, may have manfunctioned or crashed. triggering the search. The Peak District is in fact a major training zone for military aircraft who use it for low-flying exercises on a regular basis. The large number of reports describing low-level military aircraft activity shortly before the Howden Moor incident supports the possibility that it was triggered by a covert operation, as does the sonic booms recorded by the British Geological Survey that night. New evidence uncovered by this investigation suggests the incident may indeed have been started by an exercise of this kind, possibly involving an experimental aircraft, RPV or a light military aircraft used for training as part of the exercise. This theory is backed by circumstantial evidence and is supported by one of the senior police officers present during the search operation.


This explanation was first suggested by the Royal Astronomical Association and by the British Geological Survey as an explanation for the sightings of lights in the sky and explosions. There were no other reports describing meteors or spece debris elsewhere that evening, although a meteor shower did take place above the east coast three nights later, on March 27. »

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