The Secret Files»
UFOs in History»
Two X-files were opened on the case the MoD called “The Cosford Incident.” The original was compiled by Nick Pope who copied his work to his opposite number in DI55, a branch of the defence intelligence staff. Quite early in the investigation, RAF Fylingdales – which tracks satellites and ballistic missiles – told Pope that a Russian rocket had re-entered the atmosphere around the relevant time. The file reveals they initially believed this occurred shortly after midnight, i.e. one hour before the main cluster of sightings. But after a BUFORA investigator updated Pope on the Russian satellite theory, he contacted Fylingdales again. This time they reported back that the Tsyklon rocket had re-entered at 2.20am local “with an error margin of an hour either way.” In hindsight, we now know from the catalogue of space debris maintained by US Space Command and NASA that the correct time for the decay was in fact 1.15am local time, leaving no doubt this indeed was the source of the UFO flap.
On 7 May 1993 Nick Pope wrote to DI55 with the comment: “Whilst the decay…might explain some of the high altitude sightings, it does not explain the low level sightings. It also fails to explain [the] report of a low hum, or the report from Mr Elliott, the Met Officer at RAF Shawbury. The spread of timings and bearings of the sightings also argues against this decay explaining all of them.”
But do the facts bear out this claim? The sighting by the Meteorological Officer, Wayne Elliott, made a big impression on Nick Pope, coming as it did from a credible witness with considerable experience as an observer of military aircraft. In his 2005 re-telling of the story Pope implies that Elliott’s sighting occurred shortly after the sighting of the “two bright lights” by the police patrol at RAF Cosford at 1.15 am (now clearly identified as the Russian rocket decay).
However, the file released under the FOIA reveals that Elliott’s sighting actually took place at 2.40 am – one hour and thirty minutes later - after he left his office to take his weather observations. 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 originated. 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 kms away before moving across the airfield at a speed estimated at hundreds of miles per hour. As it passed over 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.”
Clearly the object seen by Wayne Elliott wasn’t the Russian Tsyklon rocket. What else carries red lights, moves erratically at low altitude and uses a beam of light to search the ground late at night? The 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.”
How could a meteorologist – a trained observer – be so mistaken? When I put this new evidence to Mr Elliott, now a senior figure in the Met Office, his reply was equally surprising. Elliott confirmed that it was indeed the MoD police at Cosford who, 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. Basic details of his sighting were passed by Cosford to Whitehall and Nick Pope rang to quiz him. Elliott said he was assured that checks had ruled out military or civilian aircraft. But had 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.
“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.” And he added: “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.”
This case has quickly become a classic in the UFO literature thanks to the publicity Nick Pope gave it in his book, Open Skies Closed Minds, that was published in 1996 after he “came out” as UFOlogist. In the book he ponders on the significance of the date of the Cosford sightings. The Belgian flap involving triangular shaped UFOs had taken place on the same date in 1990. In that case was it just a coincidence that newspapers were likely to print reports of the UK sightings on 1 April – when many carry April Fool jokes? Could it be, he asked, that the date of the UFO visit had been “deliberately chosen and planned” by “an intelligence fully familiar with human frailties?”
The Cosford UFO stands revealed as an Identified Flying Object but has recently become a “classic case” entirely as a result of its promotion by Nick Pope. In fact it was a classic case of misinterpretation, both of an initial phenomenon by the witnesses and later by a UFOlogist with a will to believe.