21 September 2010


Andy Roberts. UFO Down: the Berwyn Mountain UFO Crash. Fortean Words, 2010.-- Reviewed by John Rimmer

This slim volume must be just about the perfect example of how mysteries can be explained by careful study of documentation and careful interviewing of people who were in a position to know what happened, even years after the events themselves.
The Berwyn case has been talked about as 'Britain's Roswell', and this phrase in itself gives a clue to a lot of the mythology that has surrounded it over the last 36 years. On 23 January 1974 two unusual things coincided over and under a moderately remote mountainside in North Wales: a very bright meteor and an earthquake. Not surprisingly this caused a great deal of confusion and brought a number of agencies into play, including local police, mountain rescue, and the RAF. The first, not unreasonable, assumption was that a plane had crashed. This area of North Wales is close to locations that are often used for low altitude pilot training.

Roberts has examined the records of all these groups in detail, and has spoken to many of the people involved. Of course the lapse of time will have allowed memories to mutate to some extent, but not enough to introduce a significant distortion, and the contemporary records allow him to produce an almost minute-by-minute account of exactly what happened that night.

This revealed another coincidence: at about the same time as the earthquake and meteor there were a group of poachers out on the mountainside with bright light. So we've got booms, crashes, quakes, and bright lights all in the one place at the same time. Too much of a coincidence, surely?

Well no, because at first that's exactly how it was reported and accepted. Local and national papers ran with stories of earthquakes and meteors, and reported how astronomers and geologists visited the area to investigate. And the paper-trail that records these visits is clearly explained in this book. In doing this the author has produced just about the perfect 'after the fact' UFO investigation, a clear example of how mysteries can be explained by careful study of documentation and careful interviewing of people who are in a position to know what happened.

But perhaps the more important part of this book is the examination of what happened in the thirty years after, the development of the 'legend of the Berwyn Mountain crash.'

Many British ufologists have felt themselves to be under the shadow of American ufology, it seemed that all the really big cases happened in America: Arnold, Roswell, Socorro, The Hills. Of course, there was Rendlesham, but that was sort of American anyway, with all the direct participants being US military. There was no real 'British Roswell'. But all the time Berwyn was waiting there to be discovered.

Although there is a brief mention of a possible UFO link in Flying Saucer Review Case Histories in 1974, the story first entered the Fortean milieu through the semi-mysterious APEN 'UFO investigation' organisation (or pseudo-organisation, as it was almost certainly the work of just one person) which sent out some letters to ufologists making bizarre claims about the incident, quoting an alleged anonymous witness who said he saw an Adamski-style 'scout ship' on the mountain. After this, interest faded until the events entered into discussion of 'earthlights' were they were used a possible example of the phenomenon in Paul Devereux's book of that title published in 1980.

The case came back into the world of ufology with the publication of Jenny Randles' UFO Reality, where it got linked with Rendlesham and other UFO crash claims; and further promoted in the same author's UFO Retrievals. At this point Berwyn became an integral part of the UFO mythology, with mystery witnesses, local rumours and even APEN letters resurfacing.

Soon other figures entered to muddy the waters. Margaret Fry, a London ufologist who had moved to North Wales spoke to some local people, but as her interviews were not recorded, either on tape or even in a notebook, even more distortions were introduced into the story. It fitted well into the 'X-Files' enthusiasm of the times.

By now the story was growing rapidly. There were stories of bodies recovered from crashed saucers being take to the Government's biological research unit at Porton Down, rumours of an accidentally dropped nuclear warhead (because of a perceived 'silence' Jenny Randles felt at the mention of Berwyn to a group of RAF officers!), and of course the usual claims of government secrecy and Men in Black. (Andy discovered that there actually were Men in Black: investigators from the British Geological Survey interviewing witnesses in the small villages around Berwyn stood out incongruously in their dark business suits!)

This book is a text-book example of how to use publicly available records to produce a forensic account of a supposed UFO case, and an intriguing account of how the UFO rumour mill, fuelled by unfounded speculation and poor first-hand investigation, operates to produce a classic mystery. And it is also a first-class example of an investigator being honest enough to admit that there is still one part of the mystery he has not be able to solve.

A key book for all ufologists and Forteans. -- John Rimmer


  1. I look forward to hearing, hopefully at some point in the not-too-distant future, the real story behind APEN.

    All this reminds me rather forcibly of SCUFORI and Probe and their "mysterious" MIB case nearly 30 years ago now. Whatever happened to Ian Mrzyglod anyway?

  2. Since Rendlesham is known as the British Roswell, perhaps we need to subdivide things:

    Rendlesham = English Roswell
    Berwyn = Welsh Roswell

    The Scottish & Irish Roswells are missing.
    Any suggestions?

  3. Anonymous5.1.11

    Michael Lewendon left daughters house in burghfield heading for tilehurst home, early morning between 6.30 to 8.30, as we approached church lane, I glanced out at the trees on my side of the van we was in, there are bad bends in the road at this point, and... my wife screamed out "WATCH OUT" hit brakes just managed to stop before going in ditch on my left, " whats wrong with you " she said by this time i was looking straight ahead afraid to look again without her confirmation, "have a look out my side window
    ,What does it look like " I said " a spaceship" was her answer drove the van up the road a bit to get a better look, stopped the van and I got out of it to get a better view, WOW PWEW from being scared to death one minute to amazement in heart if thats the feeling, felt privaliged, felt as if i was gifted to see such an event, this craft was hovering over a field no more than 50 yards away about 200 feet in the air it was 100--200 yards across 30 yards deep, looked saturn like in shape, had a set of windows running through the middle all different colours, looked as if they were flashing but maybe it was the rushing clouds inside the craft that gave this impression, the clouds were all small but were different shades, and they looked as if they were thundery, rushing through the ship, It was at this point I decided to tell myself to remember every detail as I was seeing something that was going to get investigated and my information could be of
    signigavance, we watch it for about five minutes no more, the ship moved off in an arc shape to our right going up as it moved, its path took it straight over the atomic research base 500 yards away, then it went parrallel to the M4 motorway towards London, here is where we lost sight of the ship, it dissappeard out of our sight (to far off to see) I drove up the road 500 yards and parked the van to see it thier was any thing that I could add to this ufo sighting, YES the weather it was a bright morning dont think i saw the sun up yet but it was bright moring the best sky ive ever seen all light blue not a cloud in the sky anywhere, none not even a planes energy trail nothing. But thier was two other objects in the sky, the moon looking like this ( in shape although tilted more, under this moon i saw a star shinning as bright as any flickering quite large for a star i thought maybe its the space station, the star or space station was just below it
    about a quarter of an inch between your fingers looking up at it, remembering all the events of that day was going to be easy, or so i thought, we told our family first about the sighting and some were sceptic and others laughed, three days later there was a news article asking if anyone had seen any ufos lately, i was exspecting the press to be full of this siteng but thier was none, it was then i felt as if we were being tested for our integrity or our abilty to be trusted wierd feeling, did nothing about it for 4 years or so, something triggered off my wondering why?

    Started reading up about ufo sighting and people near where i live who i could ask some questions, and i told him all i told you, then he asked me what day it was? forgot the date ? couldn t remember the date ? for over two years couldn t nail down the date? nightmare? then the other week i ask my wife to see when our passports run out? keeps them in a draw with other things birth certificates, insurancecs, etc, she came down the stairs with a piece of paper torn off dated 11th september 2004 and she had written on it SPACEDAY, brilliant as so i thought, easy now to find evidence? EVIDENCE OF THE SPACESHIP? So easy, no chance,
    (1) M4 motorway cams must have recorded it, the traffic police, and the BBC, have access to these road cams, no reply?
    (2) weather photos of that morning sky again BBC and weather stations have this evidence no reply?
    (3) Google earth must have evidence of the spaceship that day where is it?no reply?