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Is the truth out there? Historic UFO sightings across Aberdeen and the north

Mulder and Scully from hit 90s sci-fi TV series the X-Files and evidence of apparent UFO sightings in the north. Supplied by DCT Archive/Shutterstock/PA/Chris Donnan

People from Peterhead to Perth could have been forgiven for thinking they had witnessed a ‘UFO’ when a strange, triangular light appeared in the sky last week.

What hundreds of people along the east coast had actually seen was part of the Atlas V rocket launch from California putting the Landsat-9 observation satellite into orbit.

Around 10pm UK time, a strange, stellar sight appeared in the clear night sky leaving many people wondering if they had seen a comet or experienced an alien encounter.

The satellite seen over Great Yarmouth. Photo by James Docherty

It has since emerged that the light was the rocket’s deorbit burn as it re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere.

However, it wouldn’t be the first time that an unexplained and other-worldly object has been spotted across the north-east.

Have there been UFO sightings in your area?

For centuries, the human race has been fascinated by odd sightings in the sky and, more recently, the idea that as a species we are not alone in the universe.

But the modern-day ‘flying saucer’ UFO phenomenon in the UK dates back to the late 1940s, during a climate of paranoia against the backdrop of the Cold War.

A vintage, post-WW2 depiction of flying saucers around the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Photo by Granger/Shutterstock

Hundreds of UFO sightings have been reported in Aberdeenshire, Moray and the Highlands since the 1950s – with some proving more credible than others.

Any sightings by police officers, the Coastguard, pilots or the military were given much more gravitas than those by the general public, who often seemed to have alien encounters on the way home from the pub.

DC Thomson data content specialist Joely Santa Cruz has created an interactive map of sightings between 1997 and 2009 from declassified Ministry of Defence files held by The National Archives.

Click on each UFO to reveal the location and nature of the reports.

Map data compiled and produced by Joely Santa Cruz, DCT Media

Strange sights first reported over Aberdeen

Often, Aberdeen Journals would be the first port of call for anyone who spotted anything strange, hoping to corroborate their UFO sighting with other eagle-eyed readers.

One afternoon in September 1952, the Smart family reported seeing a bright, white object against the brilliant blue sky above St Swithin Street in Aberdeen.

Mrs Smart said: “It looked like a saucer with a chip out of it. It was flying in a straight line at a great height.

“I was very excited, I immediately went into the house and painted my impression of the object.

“It was moving in the same manner as an aeroplane, but a good bit faster than a jet.”

In November 1954, queries “flew thick and fast” into the Journals’ office on Broad Street when a mysterious silver object passed over the city.

Eyewitnesses said “it glinted in the winter sunshine and appeared to be stationary” – and the claim had a more credibility as Aberdeen Coastguard had also seen it through powerful binoculars.

The Met Office base at the airport dealt with a huge number of queries relating to the sighting, but said it was not visible from their air station and suggested it was perhaps a meteorological balloon.

Dozens witness mysterious lights

It was a good few years before there was another frenzied flurry of UFO sightings around Aberdeen.

On October 27 1967, dozens of Aberdonians reported a potential alien encounter.

The first came from excited eight-year-old James Craib who spotted a golden ball hovering in the sky above the Brimmond area of the city at 7pm.

His aunt was dubious, telling the Evening Express “we didn’t believe he had seen anything, but he was restless for the rest of the evening saying he’d seen a UFO”.

Old photos of alleged UFO sightings in the Aberdeen area.

But he wasn’t the only one.

In Woodend, Mrs Taylor and her daughter were watching the Aberdeen to London plane flying east when they spotted four mysterious lights in the opposite direction.

They were “yellowish white”, with one in the middle and the others forming a semi-circle around it, and she was certain it wasn’t a plane.

The same light formation was reported by George Neaves of Wood Street in Old Torry who was standing at a nearby bus stop.

Both he and a woman saw the peculiar phenomenon in the sky.

He said: “There was one light in front and three others behind in a sort-of semi-circle.

“The one in front kept to its course but the others moved around. It certainly wasn’t a plane.

An example UAP formation of the triangular type of light formation from the official MoD report on UFO sightings.

“There were no navigational lights and there was absolutely no noise… they were moving fast.”

The same ‘UFO’ was seen by Paul Warren and his brother Colin in Northfield, who reported seeing the bizarre lights high in the sky above Westerton School.

They said it passed over them and out of sight, before it returned from a different direction.

But crews on planes travelling to or from Aberdeen that evening at the time of the supposed UFO activity claimed not to have seen anything out of the ordinary.

Gray Street, Aberdeen, the location of apparent UFO sightings in 1968 and 2009.

The following year in 1968, an Aberdeen paper boy had an unsettling, early morning experience during his round.

Graham Burnett was delivering papers at 7.10am on Gray Street when he claimed “a huge orange, circular light travelling about 40mph” came towards him from the direction of the sea.

After stopping above the road for 10 seconds, the flying saucer zipped off over Broomhill School before disappearing over Auchinyell.

Strangely, in April 2009, Gray Street was again the location of similar paranormal activity and a “UFO warning”, when UFO expert Ian Taylor spotted an orange-red light hovering above homes.

He said: “The light was extremely bright, almost neon-like. It then stopped in its tracks.”

Mysterious northern lights

The reoccurring UFO sightings prompted one Aberdeen man to establish the Aberdeen Unidentified Flying Objects Research Group on April 1 1969 – and it was no April Fool.

Ernest Still of Mastrick sought out odd encounters with UFOs for a magazine to mark the club’s first anniversary in 1970.

Speaking to the Evening Express, he said: “Our object is to investigate all reported sightings of anything unusual in the sky and to try to find out if and how many can be attributed to natural or logical causes, or if there are genuine cases that defy rational explanation and must be classified as unidentified.”

But sightings weren’t limited to the Aberdeen area; in August 1971 10 reports were made of a UFO near Inverness.

The first person to see the unexplained aerial object was 17-year-old Roger Ewen who saw something “changing shape and changing colour”, traversing the sky above Culloden Moor at midnight.

He explained: “It was going up and down and moving back and fore. I rushed next door and got the neighbours out and they watched it too.

“In the distance, it just looked like a star, but, when it got close, it had more of an arrowhead shape. It was lime green for a while, then it changed to red and, when it was over Inverness a bright yellow.

“When my parents came home they watched it and some folk up the road saw it too.

“We phoned the police at Inverness.”

Could the mysterious Culloden Moor have attracted extra-terrestrial life over the years?

Neither RAF Kinloss or Lossiemouth had aircraft flying at the time, however, the Coastguard at Wick observed a bright red light in the sky, although this was said to be Mars which was larger and redder than it had been in years.

A travelling salesman from Aberdeen claimed to have seen a UFO while on business in Wester Ross in September 1988.

Austin Steve was parked in a layby north of Ullapool when he saw a large, bright-coloured object in “two tiers” in the sky featuring a block of “eight to 10 squares, each with a different colour”.

He added: “I can assure you I do not take drugs and was not under the influence.”

Is the truth out there?

But not all sightings remained unexplained; the conscience of one Aberdeen businessman got the better of him in 1989 when he confessed to his part in a hoax.

For 25 years Norman Sim kept quiet about a UFO sighting over Aberdeen Beach in 1964, but revealed it had actually been a powered kite owned by Joss Engineering in Bucksburn.

He said: “I was quite surprised when I read about the fuss the kite had caused. I decided to keep quiet, but now I feel it is time to own up.”

Officials of the Royal Meteorological Society with a weather balloon – which have historically been mistaken for UFOs.

In September 1991, another balloon or kite-like flying object had people in Deeside scratching their heads.

Student Fergus Archibald had witnessed a silver “pill-shaped” UFO about 1,000-ft in the air, but was adamant it was not a weather balloon.

He said: “I dismissed that because it wasn’t fluctuating or deviating from its course.”

It was perhaps no coincidence that a general increase of reported sightings in the 1990s tied in with the launch of hit sci-fi drama series The X-Files.

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson starring as Mulder and Scully in X-files: The Movie in 1998. Photo by Moviestore/Shutterstock

The show captivated a global audience from the moment it first aired in 1993 and certainly inspired those who like Fox Mulder believe “the truth is out there”.

In 1994, Ethel Morrison was driving to Cove from Newtonhill when she saw an odd light in the sky.

She stopped her car and watched for 10 minutes, saying: “There were white lights moving within it, going left and then right while opening and closing.

“It couldn’t have been a helicopter because there was no sound.

“I called the Met Office, but they couldn’t offer an explanation.”

Ethel Morrison who saw a UFO near Loirston Loch in 1994.

In 1996, Aberdeen woman Anne Marnie saw a UFO hovering with a vapour trail over Bridge of Don.

She said: “It was flying far too low and far too slowly to be a large plane as has been suggested.

“I live on the airport flight path so I’m used to the sight and sound of planes and helicopters passing overhead.”

UFOs explained?

Certainly dozens of people thought they had seen evidence the truth was out there after a number of UFO sightings around Inverness in February 1996.

On February 5, the MOD’s UFO desk received a number of reports about a bright light hovering over the Beauly Firth, including from air traffic controllers at Dalcross who were considered credible witnesses.

Pauline Mackay on the Black Isle saw a Christmas-tree shaped light in the sky twice in as many days, a sighting backed up by airport staff and pilots.

And the local Moray Firth Radio station was swamped by calls from listeners, including one Inverness woman who said she had been receiving telepathic messages from an alien.

A vintage depiction of a flying saucer UFO.

A sighting in the Western Isles the following week left sci-fi fanatics disappointed when it turned out to be an escaped promotional balloon from the Loch Ness film premiere in Inverness.

And scorn was poured upon an alleged UFO spotted by two Ross-shire Highland Council roadworkers in March.

The men had been gritting roads in Sutherland when they saw “a strange light performing manoeuvres in the sky”.

But the lights were also witnessed by road colleagues in Sutherland, one of whom was Ricky Standlick, who said: “The difference between our sighting and theirs is that, being Sutherland employees, and therefore not given to flights of fancy, we identified the UFO as a helicopter involved with recent naval exercises.

“Our advice to the crew is to take less on a Sunday and remember that a still mouth is a wise head.”

There have been reported sightings of UFOs around the Kessock Bridge at Inverness over the years.

And it seemed the screening of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace in July 1999 also got people wondering if the Force was with them when UFOs were spotted over Inverness.

Not wanting to be named, a man from Lochardil reported seeing a hovering, missile-like aircraft with bright lights over the city.

Another said he saw the same phenomenon over the Kessock Bridge, but the police were inclined to put the sightings down to overactive imaginations.

MoD UFO desk closed down

But the sheer number of sightings in Scotland, and particularly the Highlands, wasn’t completely dismissed.

In fact, in 1999 it was suggested the glens housed a top-secret military base to hide UFOs – Scotland’s very own Area 51.

Stirling University academic Ron Halliday had written a book about close alien encounters and believed the village Machrihanish was perfect for concealing UFO activity.

The mysterious former RAF base at Machrihanish, near Campbeltown.

He said: “Extra-terrestrial flying discs could be stored here as geographically we’re in a good situation for communication with London, the US and Western Europe.

“Machrihanish would be an ideal spot from which to operate aircraft technology that the government wanted to keep secret, including devices allegedly developed from captured alien discs.”

But the suggestion was welcomed less enthusiastically by locals in the village who said: “I doubt this is happening. There are no aliens here.”

It was a view echoed by the MoD who added: “We do not have have any such bases.”

Drawings of UFOs released by the MoD. National Archives/PA Wire

In fact, the reporting of UFOs to the MoD was reaching such levels that the decision was taken to close down the official UFO desk in 2009.

At the time, the MoD recommended the defence services “should seek to reduce very significantly the UFO task which is consuming increasing resource, but produces no valuable defence output”.

And added: “In more than 50 years, no UFO sighting reported (to MoD) has ever revealed anything to suggest an extra-terrestrial presence or military threat to the UK, and there is no defence benefit in MoD recording, collating, analysing or investigating UFO sightings.”

UFO fanatics accused the MoD of a cover-up, and the decision was made to release declassified UFO files in 2013, leaving the public to decide if the truth really is out there…

Undated photo issued by the MoD/The National Archives of an eyewitness account of a UFO sighting in Chasetown, Staffordshire.

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