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RAF MILDENHALL — U.S. Air Force officials said last week that the reported UFO encountered by fighter jets from the 48th Fighter Wing earlier this year wasn’t either exceptionally unidentified or extraterrestrial.

The floating object seen by pilots in the skies over the United Kingdom on Jan. 12 was part of a weather balloon, 48th Fighter Wing spokeswoman Master Sgt. Renee Kirkland said.

That explanation runs somewhat contrary to the belief of UFO enthusiasts, who claim a recording they have obtained of two U.S. pilots investigating an unknown object in the sky suggests it was something else.

Chris Rolfe from the group UFO Monitors East Kent said that after hearing the recording he had a hard time believing it was something described in the words of a Ministry of Defense official as, “no bigger than a football.”

“We rather doubt that,” Rolfe said. “We’re not saying they’re little green men from Mars — it could be anything.”

Rolfe said he could not reveal the source of the cockpit recording he heard because it could get the person who recorded it in trouble, adding that he couldn’t provide further information that would link it to the Jan. 12 sighting.

Kirkland said she could not verify whether the voices on the tape were the two pilots in the Jan. 12 event without specific information on when and where it had been recorded.

The recording provided by Rolfe, however, clearly contains the voices of two American pilots who repeatedly fly past an unknown object high in the air as they attempt to identify it. A third voice on the recording appears to be a ground controller.

“There was something there. It looked like a, uh … it didn’t look like a bird, it looked like, no kidding, a rock to me,” said one pilot, whose voice is heard most frequently on the tape. “I have no idea what it was, but basically, try to stay away from 17,000 feet … (garbled). … I have no idea what it was.”

The pilot describes attaining and then losing a radar lock on the object before a second voice is heard.

“Dude, I can’t tell. Something small. Very small black object. I had it at seventeen-seven. It just flew right over me,” the second voice says.

The three voices on the tape later talk of trying to ascertain the speed of the object, judging it to be traveling anywhere from between 30 knots and 80 knots to staying stationary, and hovering between 17,000 feet and 18,000 feet. The two pilots appear to arrange several coordinated passes near the object to get a better look at it.

“All right I’m going to, ah, come up slightly here. I’m going to try and look at it and then you follow in behind me if you can,” the first pilot says. Then, seconds later: “Dude, I have no idea what that is.”

The audio file was originally posted on another UFO-centered Web site, www.ufodata.co.uk, but later taken down.

Reports of the UFO encounter in British media appeared nearly simultaneously with the French government’s release of part of its significant cache of documents and files on UFOs, posted at www.cnes.fr on Mar. 22.

Early media reports and text accompanying the audio file on the ufodata site also included a theory that a British military air traffic control tower originally discovered the object and contacted U.S. forces to investigate, a claim the Ministry of Defense has refuted.

“The Ministry of Defence have no record of U.K. military air traffic control tasking USAF aircraft to undertake any such investigation on or around 12th January 2007,” an MOD official wrote in an e-mail to an acquaintance of Rolfe’s forwarded to Stars and Stripes.

Lakenheath is no stranger to claims of UFOs in its backyard. One of the most famous sightings in Britain is a 1956 incident that included radar and visual sightings of a UFO some claim landed in Rendlesham Forest, just east of the base.

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