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UFOs in History»
originally published in Fortean Times 200 (2005)
The West Wales flap of 1977 is second only to the Warminster “Thing” in British UFO history. Documents released in 2005 have revealed how a secret military investigation was launched into claims that alien craft and their tall humanoid occupants were taking a particular interest in the Welsh coastline. DAVID CLARKE investigates.
The death in 2003 of veteran Welsh UFOlogist Randall Jones Pugh passed without notice within the UK UFO community. But less than three decades ago Pugh, a retired vet, was a leading spokesman for the subject and the key promoter of Britain’s hottest new UFO “flap”. This was focussed upon a strip of rugged coastline within the Pembroke National Park near Pugh’s home which became, for a short time in 1977, the scene of strange encounters which made national headlines.
Earlier in the year Pugh, in an interview for a local paper, discussed sightings in 1976 and predicted there soon would be a spate of similar events in West Wales. But even he was not prepared for what happened next. During lunchtime on 4 February 15 schoolchildren at Broad Haven Primary School said they watched a silver cigar-shaped UFO in fields behind their school. Some of the group, aged from nine to 11 years, claimed they saw a silver man with pointed ears emerge from the craft. Their stories were dismissed as fantasy but the children were so adamant they had seen something unusual they handed in a petition to the police station. Their head teacher later asked them to draw the UFO and was amazed at how similar their pictures were.
Randall Pugh was instrumental in bringing the story to the attention of the media and it became an overnight sensation. Journalists and TV crews flocked to the Welsh coast from all corners of the UK. Flying saucers were soon the main topic of conversation in the principality. By May straightforward lights in the sky had been replaced by stories of giant humanoid figures in spacesuits, similar to those used by astronauts, seen prowling around remote countryside late at night.
A whole gamut of Fortean phenomena appeared to cluster around the Coombs family at Ripperston Farm. Here a dairyman, Billy Coombs, his wife Pauline and their five children told of repeated close encounters with UFOs and their occupants which left a trail of burned out cars and TV sets and spiralling electricity bills. Pauline had a sighting almost every month and one occasion the car she was using to drive her children along a country lane was pursued by a fiery object shaped like a rugby football. Later the couple claimed a herd of cows were inexplicably teleported from a locked field into to an adjacent farmyard. But the most terrifying incident of all happened in the early hours of 23 April as the couple watched a late movie. Suddenly they were terrified by the appearance of a 7ft tall figure in a spacesuit, whose blank face was framed in the window of their sitting room. While later investigators were sceptical of some of the more sensational claims, others were impressed by the genuine terror displayed by the couple at the time. Indeed the policeman who responded to their 999 call said in 1996 that in all his 26 years service “that was the most frightened family I have ever been to see.” There was no doubt the couple had seen something unusual, but what?
The weird events at Ripperston Farm were chronicled in three books one of which, The Welsh Triangle by Peter Paget had been partly inspired by The Sun headline “Spaceman Mystery of the Terror Triangle.” What exactly constituted the Welsh version of the Bermuda Triangle was never entirely clear, but it included most of the southeast corner of St Bride’s Bay along with the towns of Milford Haven and Haverfordwest. The third and last book to chronicle the Welsh weirdness was The Dyfed Enigma, produced by Pugh in collaboration with cryptozoologist Ted Holliday, which linked the UFO stories with Welsh fairy folklore and ley-lines.
Journalist Hugh Turnbull, who chronicled the events for the local weekly, Western Telegraph, told me his pet theory was that “something military” lay behind the sightings. A more extreme version, favoured by Paget, was that aliens had established an underground base beneath the Stack Rocks in St Bride’s Bay, where UFOs had been seen to hover and disappear. This form of speculation – shared by some local people - was founded on the fact that within a 20 mile radius of Broad Haven, where many of the reports were concentrated, there were a range of military bases. To the north was the top secret rocket testing station at Aberporth while Brawdy, near St David’s, trained pilots on Hawker Hunters and housed both a Tactical Weapons Unit and a US Navy underwater research station – in reality a unit which tracked the movements of Soviet submarines using a network of microphones. »