It was the night of September 8th 1970, at the height of the Cold War, when the RAF kept a watchful eye over the North Sea for any unidentified aircraft. RAF Stations on the east coast of the UK had fighter aircraft ready to intercept any intruders at a moments notice. Soviet aircraft were frequently deployed to the North sea to test the reaction of NATO fighters.|
This particular night an unknown contact was detected by a radar operator at Saxa Vord heading south-west over the North Sea at 37,000ft and 630mph. The contact then turned south at 44,000ft and 900mph. Two Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) Lightning aircraft were scrambled from RAF Leuchars in Fife, Scotland to intercept the contact. They refueled with a Victor K1A tanker aircraft and were then guided to the contact. It was then that the contact suddenly turned to the north and quickly disappeared off the radar screens at an estimated speed of 17,400mph.
The contact appeared again several times from the north over the next hour and each time Lightnings were scrambled to intercept but the contact would just disappear to the north again. Two USAF Phantoms were also scrambled from Keflavik, Iceland but they were also unable to close on the contact.
The contact reappeared again and flew parallel to the east coast at 6,100ft and 530mph which brought it into intercept range of RAF Binbrook, Lincolnshire, which scrambled a Lightning F6 (XS894) piloted by a USAF exchange officer, Captain William Schaffner of 5 Squadron. Schaffner was able to make visual contact with the UFO which he described as a very bright bluish light and he also saw an object like a large soccer ball which looked like it was made of glass and seperate to the main body which he described as a conical shape. Schaffner was flying about 400ft from the object which was now in his three o'clock. He then told controllers that it was turning, heading straight for him and then controllers on the ground lost contact with him.
The radar operators saw the 2 blips of Schaffner's Lightning and the UFO merge on their screen and decrease in speed until the single blip came to a halt. Soon afterwards the single blip began to move and separated into 2 blips again. One blip heading south between 600mph - 630mph and the other blip heading north-west at about 20,400mph.
Contact was then re-established between the ground controllers and Captain Schaffner. He reported that he felt dizzy and that he had probably blacked-out for a few seconds also that his compass was not working but otherwise the aircraft was in good shape. Despite the fact that Captain Schaffner could of brought his aircraft back to RAF Binbrook he was asked to ditch his aircraft into the sea off Flamborough. An RAF Shackleton reconnaissance aircraft was in the area and a search and Rescue Whirlwind helicopter was scrambled from Leconfield. The Shackleton crew saw the Lightning ditch into the sea and on its next pass they saw that the Lightning was intact, floating and with its canopy up but they couldn't see the pilot. On the next pass they reported the canopy being closed and that the lightning was sinking but there was still no sign of a pilot or a distress signal.
The Whirlwind helicopter searched the area and was later joined by lifeboats but they found nothing. The weather worsened but the search continued well into the next day but no pilot was found or even the automatic transmissions from beacons that are carried by the pilot and the aircraft.
Three weeks later the aircraft was located by Royal Navy divers who said that Captain Schaffner's body was still in the cockpit. However when the aircraft was brought to the surface and returned to Binbrook there was no trace of a body. The ejection seat was also intact and hadn't been used. Some of the aircraft's instruments were also missing and the investigation team were promised that they would be returned but they never were. The investigation team at Binbrook were told that nothing useful had been discovered and that their job was over. They were also told not to discuss the incident with anyone for reasons of national security.
Information on the Lightning aircraft.