At 5pm on Saturday, October 26th, 1996, residents in the Scottish Island of Lewis witnessed explosions
and flashes of light in the sky. Also an object, possibly an aircraft was seen spiralling down into the sea
trailing flames and smoke. A vapour trail had also been seen high in the sky, 15-20 miles out to the west of
Lewis. One witness saw a large aircraft and a smaller one. Another witness heard a couple of loud bangs
and saw debris falling from the sky.|
The incident happened close to the main North Atlantic air route and it was feared that an air collision had taken place so police and ambulance crews rushed to the area in case of any casualties. A massive search took place including an RAF Nimrod, two helicopters, a coastguard vessel and a French fishing boat. The search covered over a 1000 square miles but no wreckage was found.
Air traffic controllers later ruled out an air crash as all civil and military aircraft were accounted for. Space debris was also ruled out as nothing had been detected on radar. The Labour MP for the Western Isles, Calum Macdonald, asked the Defence Secretary, then Michael Portillo, if the military were responsible for the explosion that led to a full search which cost £200,000. Mr Portillo said that there was no evidence the military was in any way involved. The sightings remained unexplained and were described as very puzzling.
In December 1998, part of a military helicopter was dragged up in a French trawler's fishing nets in the same area. The parts consisted of a helicopter rotorhead, four blades, and part of a gearbox. It was thought that this wreckage could explain the incident that had happened two years before. The wreckage was taken to Stornoway. The RAF insisted that there had not been a helicopter reported missing in that area for decades. The RAF did reveal that a serial number on the wreckage indicated that it may have been made by Westland. An RAF spokesman said 'We eliminated all aircraft from UK forces at the time. We even investigated the possibility of secret testing but we drew a blank'.
There were many rumours about this incident. Some believe the military were covering up something. One theory was that a missile had gone wrong and a helicopter was brought down by the military. It was also said that the intensive search was not so much to discover any wreckage but to ensure nothing was ever found. Two days after the incident a NATO training exercise involving 32 ships, 7 submarines, and 80 aircraft began off the Island of Lewis. The American military have also shown interest in this case and have begun their own investigations. The wreckage of the helicopter parts is now probably the responsibility of the aircraft recovery section at RAF St Athan in Wales.