The Rendlesham Forest Incident

Marcus Lowth
Published Date
December 30, 2018
Last Updated
October 13, 2021
Estimated Reading Time
17 min read
Posted in
UFOs, Cover-Ups

Of the many thousands of UFO encounters to have unfolded over the United Kingdom alone, the incidents following Christmas 1980 in Suffolk in the south of England are largely regarded as the most significant.

The strange activity in and around Rendlesham Forest, which sits right in the middle of two American Air Force bases, no less, was witnessed over several nights during the Christmas week.

A depiction of the craft that landed at Rendlesham Forest

A depiction of the craft that landed at Rendlesham Forest

However, it is the events that took place in the early hours of the 26th December that is often referred to as “Britain’s Roswell”. As one of the UK’s leading UFO researchers, Nick Pope would state:

This was not some vague lights in the sky sighting. The UFO actually landed!

And what’s more, there were multiple witnesses to the incident, all with military training and experience in assessing just what is going on around, often in the most intense and pressured situations.

Even more intriguing is there appears to have been some advanced and telepathic communication taking place between one of the main witnesses and the apparent occupants of this strange craft. And even more eyebrow raising are the apparent admission three decades later of “missing files” and “covered up” information.

Perhaps this is the information that some UFO researchers have been voicing for some time. And what, as we will examine as we go, should we make of the claims that the occupants of this bizarre and futuristic crafts were not alien, but human?

Before we examine the events of Rendlesham Forest in detail, we will start with a sighting, also witnessed by several people around two weeks previously. One of these witnesses was author and leading UFO researcher, Timothy Good. As we will see, in light of events in Suffolk a fortnight later, the apparent similarities can’t be ignored.

The Kent UFO Sighting, 15th December 1980

In the book Above Top Secret, Timothy Good relays the account of 15th December 1980, [1] when he himself witnessed a strange “aerial display” while walking to his flat in the Bromley area of London. It was just after 4 pm (4.07 pm to be exact) when Good noticed a “motionless bright star-like object in the cloudless sky”.

At first, Good thought the light was Venus, its bright glow shining in the early evening sky. However, a quick calculation in his mind and he realized that our cosmic neighbor was in the wrong place. In short, this bright light wasn’t Venus, nor a star.

Reasoning that it could be a commercial airliner or even a hot air balloon “reflecting the last rays of the Sun” he still rushed to his flat to obtain his telescope, so he might get a closer look. By the time he had done so, however, the object was no longer there.

The time was now 4:15 pm. Disappointed Good would forget the incident. That was until the following day when a reporter, Russel Bowie, from The Kentish Times telephoned him.

Bowie wished to know if Good had any information on any UFO sightings the previous day. Especially around 4 pm. The only incident he knew of was his own, which he relayed to Bowie. In response, Bowie would inform him that at 3 pm the previous day, at the Orpington Hospital redevelopment site, over forty people witnessed a UFO for over an hour.

The craft hovered for a time, before moving slowly, at first, and then “shooting across the sky”. Then, in a detail that would leap out at Good when he viewed the report on the Rendlesham Incident, the craft “divided” into several different parts before “disappearing vertically” at great speed.

Axis Turns And Splitting Of A Physical Airborne Object!

One of the main witnesses was Lovell (Southern) Ltd employee, Peter McSherry. He would state to Good that after noticing the object at 3 pm, it remained perfectly still. Simply hovering in the air at an approximate altitude of 50,000 feet. Several moments later, a plane passed by below of the object. This seemingly caused it to move a little, in a slow calm motion, before stopping once more.

It would “release a puff of vapor” before moving to the east a little more. It then remained motionless once again. The object would “turn on its own axis” shortly after. And again at 3:20 pm and 3:35 pm. Then, it would shoot off “towards the Moon at fantastic speed”. A short time later it returned and remained motionless once more.

At just after 4 pm, the object would turn on its axis once again, and accelerate back to its original position above the development site. Then, at 4:15 pm, with “the nose” pointing upwards, it would split into two separate objects and then shoot off directly upwards at incomprehensible speed. The sighting at 4 pm is likely the object that Good saw on his way home. And if we remember, by the time he returned from collecting his telescope at 4:15 pm, the object was no longer there.

According to Good, two nights later on the evening of 17th December, a short section of footage taken by a family of onlookers was broadcast of the Kent incident of two nights previously. According to the London Weather Centre and the Civil Aviation Authority, nothing unusual had been picked up on radar. Of course, whether those statements were entirely accurate is perhaps open to debate.

Symbols drawn by Penniston

Symbols drawn by Penniston

The RAF Neatishead Incident

Whether there is a further connection or not is perhaps open to debate. However, an incident that occurred in early-November 1980 (possibly late-October) may also share connections to the eventual encounter in Rendlesham Forest two months later. This incident would involve two F-4 Phantom jets on night-flying exercises when an unidentified object was picked up on military radar.

The radar operator in question, Malcolm Scurrah, would recall how the aerial anomaly first appeared at around 5,000 feet. However, it would quickly “jump up several thousand feet on the radarscope” until it reached 90,000 feet. From there it vanished from the screens. However, Scurrah would discreetly learn later that higher-ranking officers were watching the UFO on the larger radar screens.

They would issue orders to cease the night-flying operations and immediately investigate the strange craft. According to the information he would pass on, Scurrah claimed one of the fighter jets approached a “very bright light” only to watch it zip directly upwards and vanish in a second. Whether this craft disappeared “as one” or had split into two separate objects is not known.

The following day, at least according to Scurrah, several mystery high-ranking military types arrived at the base. They would take all of the radar tapes and logs from the previous evening. Perhaps even more suspicious was the sudden posting of another “high-ranking RAF personnel” to the base.

Might the incident share a connection to the one witnessed by Good and at least forty other people at the development site at Orpington Hospital? And if so, and of more importance to us right now, might each of these share a connection to the fascinating, mind-bending events that would unfold during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve 1980?

Christmas, 1980, Suffolk, England

At around 3 am, in the early hours of the 26th December 1980, only several hours removed from the Christmas festivities, John Burroughs and Jim Penniston were on patrol duty at RAF Woodbridge, an American air base in the United Kingdom. They would suddenly notice a strange light in the skies over the woodland next to the base. [2]

Believing a small plane or a helicopter had made an emergency landing, or even crashed, they would seek permission from their superior to investigate, which was duly granted. Both Burroughs, Penniston, and Airman First Class Cabansag would take to their military-style jeep and ventured into the trees to find out what this strange light was. As the terrain of the woodland became more and more unforgiving, though, the three-man unit would abandon their vehicle.

According to the report of Charles Halt, the men would report witnessing a “strange glowing object” that was “metallic in appearance and triangular in shape”. Their estimates would suggest the object was around two meters high and between two-to-three meters across. The white light from the object “illuminated the entire forest”. On the top of the craft was a “pulsing red light” while underneath was a “bank of blue lights”.

The brightness was so intense that none of the men could tell for certain if the object was hovering or if it sat on legs. The closer they got the more interference they experienced on the communications radios. Unsure entirely what to do, Penniston would order Cabansag to head back to the jeep slightly behind them. There, he could act as a “communications relay” between them and the base control. When the pair were within around fifty meters of the craft, the detail available to them was astonishing.

A Black, Glass-Like Surface With Raised Symbols

By this stage, Burroughs appeared to be overwhelmed with the situation and appeared to be “going through the motions” rather than actively taking in and processing details. Penniston, on the other hand, was entirely in the moment. He would recall how the air itself had a “static feel” to it, even causing his hair to “stand on end”.

Penniston continued on to less than twenty meters. He could see how smooth and shiny the black surface of the triangular craft was. Penniston would later describe it as “almost like glass”. While the red and blue lights flashed alternatively, a constant white light emerged from the top and bottom of the craft.

It was then that Penniston removed a camera from his person and began snapping pictures of the craft’s exterior. As he did so, he circled the craft slowly, taking in as much detail as possible from all sides and angles. The exterior was extremely smooth, with no sight whatsoever of any seams or rivets. As if the craft was fashioned from the one piece of material (a detail replicated in numerous UFO reports).

Nor could he see any “visible signs of propulsion”. Taking a breath, he reached forward and placed his hands on the smooth, black surface of the craft. He would later recall how, despite the freezing conditions of the English December night, the craft itself had a warmth to it.

Further to his surprise was the “raised etchings”, like sandpaper in texture, of strange symbols, almost Egyptian-style hieroglyphics in their appearance. Each was about three inches tall and covered a range of around three feet in the side of the craft. Even stranger, when he did make contact with the symbols:

…everything became a brilliant, bright white color!

Memorandum written by Holt

Memorandum written by Holt

“Technology Far Beyond What We Could Engineer!”

When this bright white light took over, he could “neither hear nor see”. It was as if the reaction was under its own control. In fact, at one stage Penniston believed the object was about to explode and so backed away from it in a defensive, shielding position.

The object immediately rose into the air and vanished into the trees. All the while, on a nearby farmyard, various animals “went into a frenzy”. As it moved away, a beautiful wash of red and blue, tempered by the white light bathed the forest below.

Penniston would later recall how, despite not seeing any physical occupants inside the craft, he had the bizarre “feeling” that something alive was very much inside it. And that something was very much intelligent. Throughout the entire episode, Penniston would make notes in his logbook. It is an item that he still has in his possession today and allows us to appreciate just what was taking place in Sussex over the Christmas holiday in 1980. He would recall, as he made notes of the sheer speed of the craft that:

In that moment, I knew this craft’s technology was far beyond what we could engineer!

The unit returned to base, however, a further brief sighting occurred around an hour later shortly after 4 am. A bright object was witnessed right outside the back gate of the base. During that time, both Burroughs and Penniston were “debriefed”.

Part of that debriefing was to inform them that they should “forget they had ever seen anything”. Suspecting, correctly it would appear, that a cover-up was already in motion, Burroughs and Penniston would make their way discreetly back to the site of the encounter.

A Cover-Up Immediately In Motion!

As soon as daylight claimed the forest grounds as its own for the day, the two witnesses made their way to the area to examine the scene. Amazingly, where the men claimed to have witnessed the object before their approach, was “three depressions” in a very specific formation. This would suggest, then, that the object was indeed stood on legs as opposed to hovering. Penniston would ultimately make plaster cast molds of the indents.

However, once he was back in his room, strange visions began to force their way into his mind. A series of 1’s and 0’s. These digits would literally flood his mind and force him to write down the sequences in the exact order they were coming to him. It didn’t take him long to realize he was viewing and indeed “recalling” binary code. Following the decoding of this binary message by expert, Joe Luciano, the apparent results were fascinating.

The message read:

…Exploration of Humanity 666 8100 – Continuous For Planetary Advan (cement?) (Advancement?)… [3]

It would then list the coordinates of several well-known and historically significant locations around the world. These would include such destinations as the Pyramids of Giza, the Nazca Lines, the Temple of Apollo in Greece, Tai Shan Qu in China, and Sedona in Arizona.

Even more bizarre was the apparent message that read “Eyes Of Your Eyes”. Furthermore, the “Origin Year” was 8100. Might this mean then that the “aliens” were not aliens but humans like us (eyes of your eyes). And that they didn’t hail from another planet or part of the cosmos, but from another place in time. If interpretation of the year is correct, over 6,000 years in the future.

An example of the Binary written by the witnesses

An example of the Binary written by the witnesses

The Importance Of Charles Halt’s Sighting And Memorandum

Furthermore, upon Charles Halt’s arrival at the base the following day, the area would show a significant increase in radiation levels. Even more intriguing, a nearby tree showed signs of increased radiation, but only on the side that was facing towards where the object stood.

It was during this visit by Halt that a second sighting occurred. On the night of the 28th December, while attending a party on the base, an officer would seek Halt out to inform him “the UFO’s back”.

Halt was in the presence of higher-ranking officers at the time. He would receive discreet orders to “investigate” the incident. However, in between the lines, he was under no illusion that his superiors wished him to discredit the incident regardless of his findings.

We should note Halt’s conduct, his openness and even his use of words in his report have all contributed to the incident being as well-documented as it is.

However, as he was investigating the area, a “glowing red object” appeared. And it was moving at a considerable pace through the woodland. It was at this time that Halt pressed record on a small tape recorder he had brought with him. The recording would eventually find its way to the public.

It is an excellent peek into, not only the authenticity of the incident, but the genuine anxiety and occasional fear of the men involved in the encounter. And what’s more, Halt’s dialogue certainly does nothing to “discredit” the incident. And furthermore, it was during this encounter that the object rose into the air and “broke into five separate white objects and disappeared”. Much like, if we will recall, how the craft over Kent did two weeks previously. In what is already a bizarre incident, coincidence surely can’t be considered a serious explanation.

“It’s Definitely Coming This Way! Pieces Of It Are Shooting Off!”

At one stage Halt states “there is no doubt about it. There is some type of strange flashing red light ahead”. If that wasn’t enough to ensure anyone who would listen to the recording that the experience was genuine, the anxiousness in Halt’s voice is palpable as he blurts:

It’s coming this way. It’s definitely coming this way. Pieces of it are shooting off. There is no doubt about it. This is weird…now we are observing what appears to be a beam coming down to the ground. This is unreal!

As the group led by Halt continued to watch, another glowing object came into view and hovered overhead. Suddenly, it too fired a laser-like beam directly down to the ground. The “impact” point was only several feet in front of them. Then the object made its way to the bunkers along the base.

Here, according to many reports, is the secret base of nuclear weapons. We should note, though, claims of nuclear weapons come from researchers and their “sources” and not from Halt. Although he has not outright denied such weapons residing on the base, his security oath prevents him from commenting more. The UFO systematically “fired” the strange beams down towards each of the bunkers.

In 1983, through a Freedom of Information request, Halt’s memo would find its way into the public domain. Once UFO researchers had examined it for the extremely rich content that it contains, Halt was dragged into the limelight somewhat.

While he, like Penniston and Burroughs have not actively sought attention or the spotlight, nor have they shied away from telling their account where appropriate. And what’s more, their account remains largely unchanged since the Christmas week of 1980.

That recording is below.

Just What Did General Gabriel Remove On His Last-Minute Visit To The Twin-Bases?

Some aspects of the “official” version of events was, to some, very much open to debate. Not least some of the main witnesses themselves. When the Halt Memorandum entered the public arena, there was no doubt whatsoever that at least certain aspects of the incident had not been put across to the public in their fullest.

And that is perhaps being very kind. Of course, the fact that the authorities involved felt the need to downplay and “discredit” the incident, should surely make us question why. As does why key witnesses would have to sign “secrecy oaths” for a period of thirty years. Of course, once the three-decade time period had elapsed, each could speak of their encounter with no threat whatsoever of criminal charges. Or worse. Which is exactly what they did.

And what should we make of the sudden visit to both of the air bases of Woodbridge and Bentwaters by General Gabriel in the aftermath of sightings? Gabriel was one of the most powerful US military officers on the European continent, if not the entire US Air Force.

During his quick visit to the air bases in question, he would “remove several items” of interest in the investigation of the incident. Although there is no record of exactly of these items, it is largely believed they would go to Ramstein in Germany.

That very high-ranking officials in the US military had an immense interest in the activities over southern England in the final days of 1980 is obvious. Why this might have been, however, is less obvious. And while the numerous investigations into the incident over the years since has clearly demonstrated that “something” most definitely took place. Pinning down exactly what that something might be has proven all too elusive.

Reasons Within Reasons To Cover-Up Events!

If there was a cover-up of some kind by the US military, and possibly even the British government and armed forces in sympathy with their American guests, then we have to ask why? Was it merely a case of not wishing to admit that the skies overhead are not as protected as we might think?

Or might the connections prove to be more direct? And darker? Is this an example of some kind of “collusion” between shadow governments and an alien race from another world? We have examined such claims on several occasions. Whatever we might think of them, they are certainly in abundance. And usually with great detail.

Or might the crafts witnessed have been a secret military craft? After all, claims of the TR-3B, a distinct triangular-shaped craft appears to be one that black budget projects of the United States. Perhaps an interested side-thought here is, the idea from Penniston that the occupants of the triangular crafts were not alien but human. And that they were from the future, no less.

Does the fact that we have these triangular shaped experimental crafts right now corroborate that advanced travelers in the future might use them also? Might these TR-3B top-secret vehicles one day in the future become some kind of time machine? Or have time machine capabilities?

Perhaps, as speculative as it is, do they already right now? Might the incident in Rendlesham Forest in December 1980 not be one of alien visitation? But some kind of bizarre time-travel mission for reasons equally unknown? It is certainly an interesting theory, for the obvious reasons.

Not only might such a theory explain the Rendlesham Forest incident, for example, it might also provide an explanation for a large number of UFO sightings, encounters, and incidents.

Hidden Messages And The Revelations Of Clifford Stone

Also of interest is the coordinates of the binary codes. What is the reason for such a list of locations? Let’s examine the idea of technologically advanced civilizations in antiquity. One theory is that such site as the Giza Pyramids or the Nazca Lines, could be markers of “natural energy lines”. Indeed, multiple such ancient sites – take Stonehenge, for example – reside on these energy lines.

The revelations of Clifford Stone are also worth examining somewhat. If only as they also appear to confirm that something of significance was taking place. Stone at one time worked for military intelligence.

He would offer, during an interview in 1994, that even among senior officers, there was a “total blackout” of information. Certain people would know only certain “parts” of the story. However, of all the hastily arranged unscheduled visits to the two air bases in Sussex, everything was on a need-to-know basis.

Stone would continue, that many of these unscheduled visits would contain different specialists in different fields. Each one would conduct his or her specific assignments and give their findings. They would then go back to their previous duties. Very likely hearing nothing more of the incident or their part in it.

All of these individual reports and results would go towards a final report. Official, and largely internal for certain eyes only. According to Clifford Stone, the final report for the Rendlesham Forest incident makes for interesting reading. For example, it would find that witnesses very much saw “real objects”. That were the “result of highly evolved advanced technology”.

So advanced, in fact, that they “cannot to this day replicate it”. Furthermore, it was the conclusion of “intelligence” behind the strange visitation. And furthermore, “that intelligence did not originate on Earth”.

RAF Woodbridge East Gate

RAF Woodbridge

Missing Files!

That there was a cover-up regarding the true events of the Rendlesham Forest incident is, at least in UFO circles, beyond any reasonable doubt. The amount of whistle-blower testimony. The Halt Memorandum. And such information as that volunteered by Clifford Stone would all point to such a cover-up.

In 2011 the National Archives would announce that several files relating to the Rendlesham incident were missing. [4] Files due for public release no less. It was, to some, a classic, if blatantly obvious of a suppressing of information.

Perhaps what made this “admission” even more shocking, at least to some, is that no one could recall when the files were lost or on whose authorization. Nor did there appear to be even the slightest inkling of where the missing information might be. To say such a move was red rag to a bull to some in the UFO and conspiracy world would be an understatement.

Furthermore, in 2015, Halt would claim that he was in possession of new evidence and witness statements [5] that would prove the events at Rendlesham were a genuine contact encounter. One was seriously damning to the official story. And one that “seriously undermined” it, was the testimony of radar operators. One of whom would state that they witnessed a craft “go across their sixty-mile scope in two or three seconds”. Just to put that in perspective, this would require a speed of “thousands of miles per hour” to achieve.

Suddenly, the claims that the incident was nothing more than the reflection of the searchlight from Orford Ness lighthouse seem less and less likely. As would further finds when a movie was filmed on location with the incident as part of its backstory.

Strange, Stone Hatches In The Woods Of Rendlesham

In 2014, came the found-footage-style movie, The Rendlesham UFO Incident. The plot revolves around a group of UFO enthusiasts and filmmakers. Who venture into the woodland hoping to capture footage of a UFO. It is shot on location in Rendlesham Forest, [6] and while the film is obviously a work of fiction, the director, Daniel Simpson, would have some interesting things to say following the film’s completion. You can check out the trailer to the film in question below.

Of the forest itself, he would claim it to have “a very strong atmosphere of something strange”. This would take on perhaps even more significance when he discovered several strange, stone hatches that were equally “mysterious”. So much so, that Simpson would even contact the Forestry Commission to request they investigate the strange artificial opening. They would remove one of these stone hatches for investigation. With Simpson being present throughout, there was a ladder going straight down into the darkness below. Simpson would recall:

…they will tell you that those are drainage systems for the airfield. But it’s a very elaborate drainage system!

Simpson would conduct his own research into these “drainage systems”. According to him, and other researchers, they are likely a complex series of tunnels that connect RAF Woodbridge and RAF Bentwaters.

The fact that nuclear weapons resided here only makes this more likely due to the need for underground storing. We have also examined previously the underground bases that reside under Rudloe Manor which were, incidentally, denied for a number of years.

Cables From 1980 Far In Advance Of What We Have Now!

The former air base at Bentwaters is now under private ownership. With many of the “units” under lease to other private companies. However, Simpson would speak to a telecommunications engineer who worked at the base in recent years. The company who owned it wished to have up-to-date communications and internet facilities put into the old base. This would mean stripping back all of the old network of wiring that had been there decades.

However, when the engineer began digging down to access this wiring, so he could replace and update them, he was in absolute shock at what he saw. He would explain to Simpson that the cables were “delivering such a powerful Internet connection. But they were from 1980”. He would continue, “they were from 1980 and yet they were so in advance of what we’ve even got now”.

Incidentally, following the making of the film, Simpson would state it was his firm belief that the official story of the Rendlesham case is unlikely to be accurate. He would state that:

I honestly believe something very strange went on there. And I believe that somewhere is the evidence to prove it. I think it’s an extraterrestrial encounter!

As if just to clarify his point he offers:

The lighthouse theory (for example) is rubbish. Lighthouses don’t fly down into forests, split up into five different lights and zap off into space at Mach-3!

Furthermore, how likely is it really that such a light would “get mistaken by up to twenty witnesses. From the United States Air Force”?

The 2015 Rendlesham Sighting

In January 2015 a video appeared online that appeared to show a UFO hovering over the Rendlesham Forest area. The person behind the footage, George Taylor, was walking his dog at the time. He suddenly noticed the aerial anomaly above him. He has not been witness to a UFO sighting in the past. Taylor is more than familiar with the stories of the area.

With this in mind, he immediately reached for his mobile phone. He managed to capture just over thirty seconds of footage. As a point to contemplate, whatever this sighting may be, what if it happened thirty years ago, or even twenty? Chances are, there is no footage. And the rest of the world would know nothing about it.

Upon uploading his clip to YouTube, he would claim he noticed “three balls of light in the sky” while walking. He would also claim to have received a sudden and:

…very weird feeling that I shouldn’t have been there!

The witness wished to know if anyone else in the area had seen the same object. He would further state he was regular to this spot and “have never seen anything as strange as this”.

You can see footage of that sighting below.

Given the upcoming release of the film mentioned above, some, even UFO believers, were suspicious of the footage. They would claim that it was likely some kind of “publicity stunt” to raise interest in the area. And hence, the film.

Whether the recent sighting in January 2015 is authentic or not, the events of late-December 1980 are most certainly one of the most intriguing. And very likely credible encounters on record.

Check out the video below. It looks at this most fascinating incident a little further.


1 Above Top Secret: The Worldwide UFO Cover-up, Timothy Good, ISBN 9780688 092023
2 Rendlesham Forest UFO: Are we any closer to the truth 40 years on?, Nic Rigby, BBC
3 Complete Decoded and Interpreted Message, Binary Decoder
4 UFO files reveal ‘Rendlesham incident’ papers missing, Neil Henderson, BBC, March 3rd, 2011
5 Rendlesham Forest UFO sighting ‘new evidence’ claim, BBC, July 13th, 2015
6 Britain’s Roswell: what really happened in the Rendlesham Forest UFO incident?, Rupert Hawksley, The Telegraph, December 31st, 2018

Marcus Lowth

Marcus Lowth is a writer with a love for UFOs, aliens, and the Ancient Astronaut Theory, to the paranormal, general conspiracies, and unsolved mysteries. He has been writing and researching with over 20 years of experience.

Marcus has been Editor-in-Chief for several years due to his excellent knowledge in these fields. Marcus also regularly appears as an expert on radio talk shows including Troubled Minds and Unexplained Radio discussing these topics.

Read Marcus' full bio.

You can contact Marcus via email.

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  • JohninND says:

    One of the better articles I’ve read on it. One must always note that some events seemed ‘staged’ for the ‘benefit of the observers”, they are done to be seen, experienced. Whatever one believes the source behind them-or sources-to be.

  • Matt Kinard says:

    I’ve been interested in UFO’s since I could read. I was born in 1956 and early on read the Capt. Ruppelt Blue Book book and Frank Edwards Serious Business book.A neighbor and I saw a UFO around Nov. 1969.

  • Bob says:

    I didn’t recall that Penniston took photos of the craft. Is that accurate? There is no other mention of photos in your analysis.

    • JS says:

      He didn’t take photos. He made drawings of it in his notebook.

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