Police say reported sighting of aircraft coming down near Thetford most likely the result of military exercise
Smoke and bright lights spotted in the sky over the Norfolk/Suffolk border – first reported as a downed aircraft – were most likely the result of a military training exercise.
Around 30 emergency vehicles including fire engines, police units and ambulance crews gathered in Barnham, near Thetford after receiving reports that an aircraft had come down near the village.
But claims of a smoking helicopter or small plane falling from the sky turned out to be nothing but hot air after a two and a half hour search of the area turned up 'nothing untoward'.
A spokesperson for Suffolk police said: 'A co-ordinated thorough search of the area was undertaken close to the A134 and A11, lasting two and a half hours. Through conducting extensive enquiries, it is believed that the timing of this sighting correlates with a military aircraft landing safely at a local air base.'
Inspector Stuart Grimsey said that while it was unlikely the definite cause of the reported sighting would ever be known, there were two possibilities – the use of a flare during a military training exercise in the area, or the safe landing of a military aircraft at nearby RAF Mildenhall.
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He said: 'We made enquiries at Norwich airport whose radar covers that area and nothing was reported to them.
'Nothing was found during our search, which included the police helicopter.
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'We were satisfied from everything that we did not have an aircraft which had gone down.'
After receiving reports of the incident from a member of the public at 10am on Saturday, police units and fire units from Norfolk and Suffolk and the police helicopter were involved in a search for 'a potential site' where the aircraft might have come down.
A search was conducted near the Barnham crossroads and police made contact with nearby RAF bases to check for any training exercises which may have been carried out that morning.
The convoy moved on to Thetford fire station at around 11.45am, where discussions took place between fire service and police representatives about the investigation's next steps.
An hour later all fire units and attending ambulance crews, as well as the Suffolk Accident Rescue Service (SARS), had been stood down.
A spokesperson for Suffolk police later confirmed no aircraft had been discovered.
'A search was undertaken in an area close to the A134 and A11 and nothing untoward was found.'
Meanwhile a Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service spokesman said there had been a 'multi agency decision to stand down from the incident'.
Keith Mindham, 58, from Thetford, was driving when he saw a 'bright light like a flare'.
He said the object was 'falling down like a parachute'.
Inspector Grimsey added: 'The members of the public did the right thing in reporting it, but it turned out to be much less serious than we had first thought.'
Barnham emergency services operation timeline
10am: Police receive call from a member of the public in their vehicle near Barnham crossroads who believes they saw a helicopter or small plane come down
10am-11.30am: Emergency vehicles gather at Barnham Village Hall – police units and fire units from Norfolk and Suffolk and ambulance crews attend, lowland search and rescue teams and (Suffolk Accident Rescue Service (SARS) also called in. Searches of immediate area near Barnham crossroads (close to A134 and A11) takes place
11.45am: Convoy of emergency vehicles moves from Barnham to Thetford fire station, where discussions continue between police and fire service about plan of action
12pm-12.30pm: Fire units from Thetford and one from Harling remain at station while other Norfolk and Suffolk crews are stood down
12.30pm: Daily Mail Online reports that a major emergency services incident is taking place after a reported aircraft crash in Barnham, West Sussex
12.40pm: All emergency services units are stood down
12.45pm: Team from Sky News arrives at Thetford fire station
2.30pm: Suffolk police spokesman confirms nothing was found during searches and sightings coincided with landing of military aircraft
3.30pm: Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service spokesman says a 'multi agency decision' was taken to stand down from the incident