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


However, Supt Burbeary’s opposite number in the Derbyshire Police operations room, Inspector Andy Howard, took a completely different view. He said he had maintained from the outset that a search of 40 to 50 square miles of moor based upon the directions given at the time was “a complete waste of time and money.”

“I was skeptical about it right from the word go...Derbyshire just would not believe it. We received three reports from people in the Strines area about a possible plane crash. I did not take them seriously after making checks with Manchester Airport and West Drayton and finding there were no aircraft missing. That’s why we decided to pull out early on; South Yorkshire did take it seriously and they decided to launch a very costly search. Afterwards I was carpeted by the Assistant Chief Constable for not taking it seriously but I believe subsequent events prove I was 100 percent correct in my assesment of the situation; and this officer had to admit I had taken the right decision in the end. The search of the moors was a complete waste of time and public money because nothing crashed. We in the Derbyshire force are continually receiving reports from the public of this kind and we are aware of how easily people misperceive objects in the sky. Only recently [in June 1998] during the meteor shower we had people ringing in saying they had seen an aeroplane crashing and on fire. People see something odd in the sky and their imagination does the rest.”

And Insp Howard added an interesting anecdote to his statement:

“I have seen the claims in one of those UFO magazines [Alien Encounters] which one of my PCs brought into the office, claiming there was a cover-up over this case. The theories these people are putting forward are so far-fetched they are hilarious. The guy who wrote the article was saying ‘why would they have sent two helicopters to search for something if nothing had happened’; but if had my way, we would not have sent any helicopters out. Just because helicopters are sent out and search teams are scrambled, it doesn’t mean to say that something must have happened. You make the decision based upon the information you have at the time. I decided the reports were not reliable so we stood down and let South Yorkshire carry on.”

Similarly, the Station Officer in charge of the South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service operation on the night of March 24 was equally skeptical. Tankersley Fire Station Station Officer Mick Fretwell said:

“We were ordered out by the control room after they had received a message from the police saying there had been a possible air crash. Appliances from five stations in South Yorkshire and Derbyshire were committed to the scene, and we were among the first emergency services to arrive, between 10.30 and 11pm. We rendezvoued in two groups. one at the Strines Inn, the other at the top of the moors at Bar Dyke. We were not involved in any search of the moors as we did not have the equipment and we left that to the Mountain Rescue service. It seemed to us the reports about crashed aircraft were just speculative, and we heard rumours about drug-runners, IRA, etc. There was no wreckage, but there was talk about something crashing into one of the reservoirs, but we saw no evidence of that. If something had crashed we would have seen some trace of it. The West Yorkshire helicopter came over while we were on stand-by; its heat-seeker is so sensitive it could have picked out someone smoking a cigarette on those moors - but it found nothing. Our role was simply to stand-by until the police and mountain rescue reached the scene. But I can confirm there was no military presence or military personnel at the scene while we were there.”

Inspector Jack Clarkson of Ecclesfield Police Division, was involved in the search and rescue operation in command of a Task Force team which assisted the MRS search of the moors. He said:

“The control room at Ecclesfield Police Station received several calls from members of the public indicating that a low flying aircraft had been seen travelling from Sheffield, had disappeared over the moors, and an explosion had been heard together with an orange glow. That was enough to instigate a search for a crashed aircraft. There is always a chance there are survivors. On that particular night there was a ground frost; it was extremely cold and there was an extreme wind-chill factor which could kill people off from hypothermia.

“I think it was probably caused by a low-flying aircraft which belonged to the RAF. I think one phone call to us could have prevented the search. RAF Leconfield sent a Sea King but it was pulled off the next day and there was no real urgency. You have to reach your own conclusions and I have just got to conclude that if it was a “real” plane crash there would have been a lot more fuss. I think it was a military aircraft or an experimental aircraft of some description. They would not need to tell us if that was the case as there is no duty on them to let the police know. They could even allow us to send out the helicopters and search teams just to cover their backs.”

His conclusions were echoed by PC Mick Hague, the community police constable assigned to the Bradfield Moors area, who knows the region and its people well. He said:

“I was off duty when I received a call from the local control room who told me there had been a plane crash on the moor. I volunteered my services and went out and liaised with a few of the local people including in particular Mick Ellison, the local gamekeeper. I stayed on duty all night and did not get back into bed until 7 am the following morning. About 11 am I phoned back in and reported back on duty and was told that nothing had been found at all. Search parties had been out, and there was no indication whatsoever. It was a pretty long night for all the officers concerned. As time has gone on I have had plenty of time to reflect on that night and what happened. I’m not decrying anyone - I’m sure that someone saw something. But the fact that no answers have come back to us makes me think that a lot of people wasted a lot of time looking for something that was never there in the first place.” »

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