In our article on the Ghost Planes of Derbyshire, we looked a little at the Howden Moor UFO incident of 1997. It is a case not only surrounded by mystery but a certain predetermined murkiness that achieves nothing more than enticing one’s attention. Perhaps the fact the incident happened during the much anticipated “Hale-Bopp” comet appearance ensured there were more pairs of eyes looking upwards than usual. And what’s more, these eyes by and large knew the difference between a meteor, a comet, and a “nuts-and-bolts” craft.  As well as the connections to the phantom plane sightings are accusations of a monumental cover-up, recovered craft, and alien entities. There is even the possibility, as we will look at in due course, that the extraterrestrial claims have provided a shield against top-secret military tests, themselves a conspiracy. As usual, and very likely by design, there is an abundance of detail, all of which is cloudy, unprecise, and conflicting.  Several UFO researchers would investigate the incident, in particular, Max Burns, who was at the scene within hours. A bulk of the timeline, however, comes from the thorough incident log of the events by South Yorkshire Police. There was a meticulous recording of both the action by the police and the reports themselves. That “something” happened that cold March evening in 1997 is beyond doubt. Just what that “something” might be, however, is up for debate.

Sudden Surge of Reports from Bolsterstone
The normally quiet Ecclesfield Police Station would explode into life shortly after 10 pm on Tuesday, 24th March 1997. Reports of a “small plane” flying extremely low to the ground were coming in one after the other. Most of the calls were from residents of the small village of Bolsterstone which overlooks the Howden Moors from the Sheffield/Peak District border. Most worrying was the detail that this small plane had disappeared over the horizon, followed by a “flash and several plumes of smoke”.  Reports would soon flood the switchboards of South Yorkshire and Derbyshire Police. As these reports grew and continued in consistency, South Yorkshire Police mobilized a forty-strong police response team to investigate, with Fire and Ambulance services put on stand-by. All calls to local airports, civilian and military, yielded no results. No-one had a plane in the air over the moors, and furthermore, their radars picked nothing up either.  South Yorkshire Police’s Chief Inspector, Christine Burbeary was in charge of the search. Rightly convinced by the surge of sightings, and with no cooperation from her opposite number in Derbyshire, she would persist with the search efforts.  West Yorkshire Police would deploy their search helicopter to scour the moors on their side of the county border. Despite circling over the area several times, they would report no signs of any crash or disturbance. Shortly after midnight, an RAF Sea King helicopter would join the search. They would also patrol the grounds from the skies above. A full-scale operation was now underway.

Full-Scale Search Effort
The Sea King itself comes up again later in one of the darker claims of this affair, but the fact it was there at all shows there was reason to believe “something” had taken place. Although it set off from the nearby RAF Leconfield, authorization had to come from RAF Kinloss in Scotland who coordinate air and sea rescue operations. Although they, like other airports, found no radar evidence of a craft, they did find from the British Geological Survey that a “sonic boom” of sorts had taken place around the time of the alleged crash.  By this point, sometime shortly after midnight, the operations were treated as an “air crash” and the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield was put on notice to receive “multiple casualties”. Other emergency responders from various Sheffield districts were making their way to the scene with similar expectations.  An area of fifty square miles was identified as the “search area” – a huge expanse of countryside, on a bitterly cold night, no less. As well as the emergency responders, volunteers from several Peak District mountain rescue teams joined the efforts. In total, over 200 people would take part in a search that would last over fifteen hours. These searches would take place not only in the near pitch black of the late winter’s night but over ground with some of the most treacherous footing, putting the searchers themselves at risk of injury.  Along with the emergency responders and rescue volunteers, were many off-duty officers and the Search and Rescue Dog Association. It would ultimately turn into the county’s largest rescue effort for a small aircraft on record.  Unable to cope with the continued volume of phone reports still coming to the switchboards, the police would set up a specialist phoneline. Reports continued throughout the night.


The RAF would eventually admit that military planes were active over South Yorkshire that evening. They would, however, initially deny the “sonic boom” was down to their activities. Nor would they admit that one of their vehicles crashed. If it was a clandestine operation, whether training or live, although they would not reveal the details, they would have informed the police of at least their presence.  Although many are critical and even skeptical of Max Burns, these RAF denials almost inadvertently strengthen his case. Burns believes the military scrambled Jets to intercept a UFO that evening. Furthermore, a battle ensued, resulting in a crash of one of the vehicles, most likely one of the RAF Jets.  For example, Burns claims to have confirmation of a radar sighting from an “insider” at RAF Linton-upon-Ouse. According to Burns, this operator confirmed to him a sighting of an unknown craft at 9;55 pm, which remained for ten minutes before suddenly disappearing. In response, RAF Linton-upon-Ouse would state that their radar facility was not operational that evening. And even if it were, its capability is not enough to be able to track an object over one-hundred-miles away.  Was it an extraterrestrial craft that crashed somewhere on the Howden Moors? The wreckage and possibly the crew retrieved in secrecy while search-teams looked in areas away from the actual crash site? Or might the “low-flying craft” be the result of a test flight of a Remotely Piloted Vehicle (RPV)? The whole area of the Peak District is still in use for military testing.  It all still begs the question of the need for absolute secrecy that appeared to envelop this case.