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


Chairman of the Peak District Mountain Rescue Association, Mike France, co-ordinated the seven mountain rescue teams during the search operation, said:

“An operation like this does cost a lot of money - they had police, fire, ambulance, etc and a chief inspector was in charge, The Sea King helicopter came from RAF Leconfield, and the search was co-ordinated from the Air Sea Rescue base at RAF Kinloss which covers the whole of northern Britain. The Sea King arrived at around midnight and performed two searches, landing at around 2 or 3am at the Hepshaw Farm base for a debriefing. We then asked them to do another sweep of the moors as daylight broke. The West Yorkshire police helicopter did a massive overflight over the area first from early on after 10pm using its heat-seeking equipment but found nothing. That’s when we wondered if it had gone into a reservoir, and we asked them to have a look. There were 141 civilians in all involved in the search, then there was the Search and Rescue Dog Association teams, seven or eight of them, from 11pm until 1pm the next day.

“The Dangerous Flying Zone was standard procedure; it was placed because of all the helicopters that were flying around the area, and it was also to stop the Press or TV camera crews flying over and obstructing the search. At the time it was imposed we still had an “unknown quantity” so it was justified at that time. It covered a 10 mile radius centres upon the Howden Reservoir. During that time they did warn aircraft going into Manchester Airport as they have a stacking system for the airliners. We were being pushed by the police to scale this operation up early on in the morning around 4.15am. That’s when we had to call in over a hundred more civilians even though we had no solid evidence anything had crashed. There was nothing missing from radar according to Manchester Airport, and no evidence of any crash. It does not surprise me to hear it was caused by a secret military operation. If it was nothing secret, then why didn’t they admit it. If that’s true then one arm of the RAF was not talking to the other arm, as surely they would not have deployed an airsea rescue helicopter if they had known. It was a waste of resources, but if it was caused by a secret military operation I can understand why no one is owning up to it.

“The first question we always ask in situations of this kind is: ‘Is it anything civilian?’ and then we ask ‘Is it anything military?’ The RAF would not tell us if it was, but they would tell the police. However, on this occasion we were told ‘no, it’s not military’ on many occasions during the course of the night. The military knew we had aircraft flying for over five hours - why did Kinloss not find out what was going on when they checked? No one has ever come back to me and told me ‘this is what really happened’ and I have even heard Chief Insp Burbeary saying it is still a mystery. As far as we are concerned it is still on the cards as an unexplained mystery. The military play around this area all the time. If someone saw a low-flying aircraft that could have been a covert operation. We believe there was a military operation going on and a low-flying operation too. People saw both and that’s what has caused the confusion. The people who saw the plane from the Bolsterstone area were adamant it was a light aircraft, not a military jet. It went up the valley and over the trees at the top, and it would have been extremely low. Then there was a boom and a flash. I think it was too separate things that were tied together. The light aircraft could have been involved in a drugs drop - Manchester is the second biggest city in the UK and very near the English coast; a plane could easily have made it from Holland flying low and staying out of the reach of radar.”

Peak National Park ranger Brian Jones, based at Fairholmes Visitors Centre in the Derwent Valley, said he was convinced the incident was caused by a drugs-run, as were the police and mountain rescue. He has 30 years experience of working in the area, and was the first National Park ranger to live in his patch. He said at dusk on March 24 he had been watching Hale-Bopp when he heard “an horrendous noise” over the Snake Road and saw an old two-seater type helicopter travelling low above the Ladybower Reservoir towards Glossop. It was displaying both red and white lights and travelling very slowly. The next morning he heard about the search and rescue operation, and he said of that:

“Search and rescue teams are called out on average two or three times every year in the Peak District following reports from members of the public about aircraft in distress or apparently about to crash. What they don’t realise is that the whole area is an MOD training ground, as well as being below a major international flight path into Manchester Airport - with the northern Peak being one of the stacking areas for airlines descending into Manchester. Most of the reports come from people who are strangers to the area and happen at night when landing lights come on unexpectedly. When these reports are received we have always gone through the normal procedures and it takes awhile before it registers we are not looking for a crashed aircraft, only the possibility of a crashed aircraft. So the tendency is to get the search dogs in fast and back it up with search personnel. It takes awhile to realise we are not looking for a crashed aircraft but one flying very very low. By that time the police will have checked with air traffic controllers who will have said that nothing has been reported missing. What has been reported is a phenomena. The people who have reported these things are very genuine people and usually they are in trauma. They have seen these things, they can’t understand it and why should I disagree with them? I honestly believe that they believe they have seen these things. and the last thing we want to do is to refuse to turn out and an incident has actually occurred.”

Referring specifically to the Howden Moors incident, Mr Jones said:

“I see no reason not to think it was not an illicit drug run as there was absolutely no reason why a civilian aircraft would be flying at that time of night as low and hill-hopping as it was.”

Glossop Mountain Rescue Team Commander Phil Shaw broadly agreed. He said:

“There was a lot of evidence at first which made us put a full scale search and rescue operation into swing. We have speculated on various theories including that someone was using a light aircraft to smuggle drugs or explosives into the region using a small plane. There is no hard evidence to support these theories and what actually happened remains a mystery.”

Yorkshire Water’s Langsett Reservoir management Team Leader John Beever made the following statement:

“We were asked midway the following morning by the police to have a look to see if any pollution or debris were present in any of the reservoirs. We checked three reservoirs, I think these includes the Strines and Broomhead, looking for oil slicks or surface debris. Then mid-morning on March 25 we were told by the police to stand down. They told me the RAF had admitted there was a plane doing a night-time exercise and it 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 the search, Police inquiries at first were told “no exercise” but it is my understanding that afterwards the military admitted there had been one.”

Strines Inn landlord Stan Stanish account of the night and subsequent events runs:

“We had just closed for the night and were watching a film. The first thing we heard was the throb of a helicopter right above the pub and I looked out and not only did I see a helicopter but three fire engines turning into the carpark. They told me there had been a plane crash on the moors. That was it - the helicopter was looking for the plane crash, the firemen were stood around waiting to respond to anything that might be found. I made them a load of hot chocolate.

“We do have a lot of military aircraft around here generally and we were snowed under with fruitbats for a few weeks asking questions about UFOs and one said to me that I had been paid off by Naval Intelligence not to say anything (because I had been in the Navy) but he went on to say I must have been paid off because so many people heard things and ‘why didn’t we?’

“Something definitely flew over, that’s the opinion of the local people. But the feeling round here was that it was just a low-flying plane that did not crash. We hear a lot of low flying aircraft around here, and the feeling is that it could have been a drugs drop. We did not hear any explosion, and none of the other families or gamekeepers who live around here heard anything either. The only people who said they did were the Ellisons.” »

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