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Incident at RAF Binbrook
September 8th 1970

by Sam Willey

Posted: 19:00 December 11, 2006

On September 8th, 1970, at around 10:00 p.m. a single Lightning Jet Fighter departed from RAF Binbrook located in North Lincolnshire near Grimsby. The ground staff were used to Lightning Fighters being scrambled in a hurry at any time day or night. RAF Binbrook was a front-line fighter station and its aircraft shared QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) duty with other east coast airfields to provide cover should an unknown aircraft appear on radar. The pilot of the Jet was Captain William Schaffner of the US Air Force who was on his second tour of duty as an exchange pilot with the Royal Air Force. Schaffner was a well experiences fighter pilot with combat experience in Vietnam he has been stationed at RAF Binbrook for some time and his wife was living on the base with him. The aircraft was an XS894 Lightning F6 of 5 squadron, whose call-sign on the night in question was Foxtrot 94. The jet tumbled into the North Sea and disappeared leaving a mystery.

Very early the next morning a recovery effort was made but no trace of Captain Schaffner's plane could be seen. Over one month later the wreckage of the aircraft was found on the seabed by Royal Navy divers however there was no sign of Captain Schaffner.

The events which ultimately led right to the crash of the fighter jet starts at a radar station called Saxa Vord whose task was to spot unknown aircraft approaching the north sea, or the Iceland Gap. The cold war was at its height in 1970 and Russian aircraft made regular trips into the North Atlantic and along the British Coast to test the reaction of fighters. On the night of the crash a radar operator at Saxa Vord picked up the blip of an unknown aircraft over the North sea halfway between the Shetlands and the Alesund in Norway. The craft was monitored for several minutes at a speed of 630MPH at 37,000ft in altitude and on a south-westerly heading. Saxa Vord noted that the unknown was turning through 30 degrees to head south at this point it increased its speed to 900MPH and claimed to an altitude of 44,000ft.

Radar operators at Saxa Vord sent a scramble message to the ORA flight at the nearest NATO airfield which was RAF Leuchers located on the east coast of Scotland not to far from Dundee. At Leuchers two Lightning intercept aircraft who were prepared for such a message scrambled and within minutes were in the air and heading out over the North sea after checking the position of their tanker, a Victor K1A, the two fighters were guided north by Saxa Vord but it was then that radar operators on the Shetland Islands saw something on their radar screens which they thought to be impossible. The unknown they had been tracking at speeds and altitudes consistent with modern Russian warplanes, turned through 180 degrees on a north heading and within a couple of seconds vanished off their screens. Later they predicted that for this to be possible the unknowns speed must have been at an astonishing speed of 17,400MPH. Within the hour, the mystery aircraft reappeared several times, approaching from the north and on each occasion the interceptors were sent north to check out the unknown aircraft showing up on radar and again the unknown turned around and vanished from radar screens.

At this point two F4 Phantoms from the US Air Force had been scrambled from an American base at Keflavik, Iceland. They had much more advanced radar than the British Lightning's however when they tried to get close enough to identify the mystery they found they were just as useless as the Lightning's. The alert has reached such an alarming level that the contact was being monitored at the Ballistic Missile Earling Warning System at Fylingdales. The information they were collection was then passed on to the North American Air Defence Command at Cheyenne Mountain and the US Detection and Tracking Centre in Colorado Springs. RAF staff at Fylingdales heard that the Strategic Air Command Headquarters at Omaha, Nebraska was ordering its B-52 bombers into the air. This order could have only come from the very highest level of command and what had started as a ordinary sighting of what was thought to be a Russian aircraft had now been passed on to the White House and President Nixon himself. At around 9:45pm a request was made from a high level within the North American Air Defence thought strike Command's at UK headquarters at High Wycombe, for RAF Binbrook to send Captain Schaffner to join the Lightning's to look for the mysterious craft.

The NATO forces were at full alert because of the mysterious object picked up by radar over the North sea. The object had at first been a normal Russian aircraft out to test the reaction of Allied air forces but the strange craft had began to behave in a way that left Radar operators lost for answers. At approximately 10:06pm Captain Schaffner took off from Binbrook's main runway and shot off into the night sky. At this point the mystery now involved five lightning aircraft, two phantoms, three tankers, the president of the United States being informed and a Shakleton being scrambled over the North sea. The mysterious craft was now flying parallel to the East Coast 90 miles each of Whitby at 530MPH and at an altitude of 6,100ft which was a most ideal course for an interception by a Binbrook Lightning. The following is an official transcript of the conversation between Captain Schaffner and the Radar station at Staxton Wold:

Schaffner: I have visual contact, repeat visual contact. Over.

Staxton: Can you identify aircraft type?

Schaffner: Negative, nothing recognisable, no clear outlines. There is ... bluish light. Hell that's bright ... very bright.

Staxton: Are your instruments functioning, 94? Check compass. Over.

Schaffner: Affirmative, GCI (ground control). I'm alongside it now, maybe 600ft off my ... Jeeze, that's bright, it hurts my eyes to look at it for more than a few seconds.

Staxton: How close are you now?

Schaffner: About 400ft, he's still in my three o' clock. Hey wait ... there's something else. It's like a large soccer ball. It's like it's made of glass.

Staxton: Is it part of the object or independant? Over.

Schaffner: It ... no, it's separate from the main body ... the conical shape ... it's at the back end, the sharp end of the shape. It's like bobbing up and down and going from side to side slowly. It maybe the power source. There's no sign of ballistics.

Staxtion: Is there any sign of occupation? Over.

Story continues on Page 2.

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