The Event: A craft of unknown origin
Just after Christmas 1980, Staff Sgt. Jim Penniston, on-duty security flight chief at Bentwaters/Woodbridge complex, ventured into the forest to investigate what he thought was an aircraft crash. Instead, he found something that might have been from out of this world. But he knew he had a job to do...
Well, I was doing a complete investigation. At that point in time, obviously, I wasn't going to investigate an aircraft crash. There was none. What I had, a craft of unknown origin. I was awed, confused, perplexed, but I still had my wits about be enough to complete my investigation. I had my notebook. I had my camera. I started to do a 360 inspection of the craft, walking around it, within close proximity -- 1, 2, to 3 feet. I hadn't touched it at that point. Walked around it, not knowing where the front or the back was on it. I, ah, I'm assuming the front was the approach side that we had and as I came around to the craft, that's when I noticed that we had symbols, etching, on the front side of it. Measured about 3 feet long. Lettering or symbols were about 3 to 4 inches high. I took my hand and distinctly remember this, because it was cool. It was like 30, 32 degrees, the air temperature that night. Ran my hand across these symbols knowing that this was of, ah, biblical proportion and not understanding what I was touching.
Were you scared?
...The only thing that got him through the experience, Penniston reports, was the USAF training program. "I went into auto pilot, and documented everything. It's still vividly in my mind," he says.
The craft was triangular in shape -- about nine feet by nine feet by nine feet, says Penniston, and about five to six feet tall. It appeared to be on a tripod, although he couldn't actually see one. While he walked around it, and photographed it, the craft continued to pulsate light, in varying shades and colors, mostly blue, grey and white.
For 20 minutes as Penniston took pictures and notes, he got the sense the craft was in some kind of distress, but that was just a feeling. He had no contact with any kind of lifeform or intelligence -- although the craft did seem, he sensed, to be under some kind of intelligent control. Without warning, it suddenly lifted up, maneuvered away through the trees to another clearing, then lifted higher into the air and shot off. All with no sound.
Penniston's first thought was, 'How am I going to report this?'
Airman John Burroughs, who he had been stationed back behind the treeline, joined Penniston just before the craft took off. Together they inspected the site where the strange object had touched down, then reported back to base for debriefing...
So we gave a quick briefing, after reporting in, investigating an aircraft downing, possible aircraft downing. Investigated it. Observed lights and a craft of unknown origin in the woods. Distinctly, I remember the reaction of the Shift Commander, was sitting at his desk, tapping his pencil on the table. Not saying a word. And, he looks up and looks at me, in the eye. He says, "Gentlemen?" He says, "What we have here" he says, "is an unreportable incident. There's no way to report it." Gave us a small history lesson on Project Blue Book and the closure of it and said, "Some things are best not said." He said, "We'll close it here."
...Penniston didn't mention the symbols on the craft then, nor did he mention that he had actually touched the craft. He didn't want to "sound crazy," as he puts it. Penniston and crew were then given an authorized six-day break.
Since they both lived in Ipswich, Penniston offered to give Burroughs a ride home. "He was still really shaken up by the incident, and I was still trying to put it in some context," Penniston recalls.
Before he left the base, Penniston turned in the roll of film he shot that night. While he cautiously anticipated the results, he assumed the same protocol as always would be followed. That is, he would return in two days, pick up the photographs and then turn them over to OSI.