"It's very easy to be dismissive of people who believe," Gumbel says, "but it's probably easier to believe in a UFO than it is to believe that we're the only intelligent life in the universe.
"It's easy to laugh at such people and think they're people who pick up the National Enquirer and believe the toaster produces aliens. But some of the people you meet who claim to have seen some things are reasonable people. They're people who, at some point in their lives, saw something they can't quite explain."
This is the third in a series of specials -- under the "Sci Fi Declassified" banner -- that look at specific UFO incidents, with Gumbel as host, narrator and correspondent. The first examined probably the most famous, the 1947 incident near the Army Air Force base at Roswell, N.M.; the second looked at a less widely known event, in Kecksburg, Pa., in 1965.
The events in Rendlesham Forest took place during two nights in late December, near a pair of Royal Air Force bases, Bentwaters and Woodbridge, being operated by the U.S. Air Force as part of NATO's front-line defenses. U.S. servicemen reported strange, moving lights in the forest and took photos of a possible landing site.
The deputy base commander, Lt. Col. Charles Halt, even sent a memo to Britain's Ministry of Defence (MoD) about the sightings. Rumors of a cover-up by U.S. and U.K. officials have persisted ever since.
Gumbel talks to some of the U.S. servicemen involved; also included are interviews with high-ranking U.K. officials. There is also documentation, much of it released by MoD in December 2002.
What makes Rendlesham interesting to Sci Fi and to the show's production team is the opportunity to use scientific means to seek trace evidence, and especially the availability of witnesses.
"It's not exactly a good career move to talk about UFOs if you're in the Air Force," says executive producer Jim Milio, "so the reason this one was not heard about for a long time -- although it made pretty good press in England in 1984, when the Halt memo came out -- is because these guys certainly didn't want to talk about it until they were retired.
"They didn't want to risk their pensions. Even now, there's a lot of ridicule. But to this day, they would like to get some answers."
"They still have some degree of reticence when you speak to them," Gumbel says. "They're not anxious to do things that cross a line with which they're not comfortable."
Whether the lights seen at Rendlesham were alien visitors, aircraft, a lighthouse or a tractor (as some reports have suggested), the unwillingness of governments and the military to be open inevitably leads to talk of conspiracy.
"It's just easier for big operations," Gumbel says, "whether they be governments or corporations or whatever, to just not answer, say a simple `no comment' and move on."
But, as Milio points out, "When you have the defense departments of two governments talking about the same thing, there must be an issue there."
Although Gumbel puts himself squarely in the skeptics' corner, he does find Rendlesham compelling.
"For a nonbeliever," he says, "and I probably put most Americans into that category, the Rendlesham one will probably leave them feeling the most ambivalent. These are people whose job was -- it sounds like an oxymoron -- military intelligence, to begin with, so they're not people who, as a rule, see things that go bump in the night."
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Not so much an invasion as it's projected ... but a definite 'UFO & Nuclear Weapons Base' kind of a connection where UFOs are often seen over these top secret government facilities and rarely reported since most of these places are in hidden remote locations around the American landscape ... One such incident happened at the Edwards Air Force Base when a UFO was seen over the facility for a few minutes before it disarmed a whole lot of nuclear missiles and was gone in a flash ... Clearly, there is no threat of invasion but a clear indication of the peaceful intention of these intelligences ...
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