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Granny's birthday sparks UFO scare

PUBLISHED: 13:38 01 October 2008 | UPDATED: 14:45 07 July 2010

Anthea and her family

Anthea and her family

THE sight of strange lights passing over Dereham has been the talk of the town all week - and the mystery has now been traced to an 80th birthday party for grandmother Anthea Brown.

THE sight of strange lights passing over Dereham has been the talk of the town all week - and the mystery has now been traced to an 80th birthday party for grandmother Anthea Brown.

Theories ranged from aliens from another world watching over Norfolk to a top secret military operation after the noiseless lights were spotted on Sunday night.

But the lights were special lanterns sent in to the sky during the celebrations which caused tongues to wag and heads to be scratched.

Mrs Brown could not believe it when she opened our sister paper the EDP on Tuesday to find a story on the orange lights being spotted - and she realised it was her birthday party in Toftwood which had made the headlines.

Mrs Brown, who lives in Carleton Rode, near Attleborough, said: “The lanterns were marvellous. We had never seen anything like it before.

“We let them off one at a time and watched them fly away. It was a lovely picture and the highlight of the day.

“I did wonder at the time what other people would think. It was quite funny when I saw it in the paper.”

The party was held at the Toftwood home of Kathy Rose, one of Mrs Brown's five children, in Mill Court.

Mrs Brown is not 80 until next March, but the family decided to have an early party because Mrs Brown's son Rob was visiting from Malawi.

Mrs Rose said: “My sister Bex had seen some sky lanterns before and thought they would be a good idea for the party. We let off 16 lanterns, one for mum and one for each of her grandchildren and step-grandchildren. We did joke that people might think they were UFOs. I hope we did not worry anyone.”

Aerial photographer Derek Edwards and two of his neighbours, Fred Mason and Rodney Groom, from Breton Close, Toftwood, were baffled when they saw the strange orange lights at about 7.30pm on Sunday.

Mr Edwards said he had never seen anything quite like it in the 27 years he worked as an aerial photographer - with each light about a quarter of a mile apart from each other, about 1,400ft up in the air and travelling about 100 knots, with no accompanying navigation lights.

And when Norwich International Airport, UEA-based forecasters WeatherQuest, and RAF Marham, RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall could not offer any explanation about the lights, the mystery deepened.

Following Tuesday's story about 20 people contacted us, some puzzled by what they had seen, and others offering theories, most of whom correctly suggested that Chinese lanterns could be the answer.

Sky lanterns are becoming increasingly common at festivals and celebrations in the UK. When lit the flame heats the air inside the lantern causing it to rise, and the lantern remains airborne as long as the flame stays alight.

The lanterns can travel for miles and rise to more than 1,000ft.

It is a tradition that can be traced back nearly 2,000 years to China, when the lanterns were used to warn people of approaching armies. Sky lanterns have gone on to become a common feature of festivals and celebrations in Asia.

Mr Mason, the proprietor of Phoenix Windows, in Dereham, said: “I saw these orange lights, about five or six, not making a sound, and then another four or five lights, and then they disappeared into the cloud.”

Mr Groom, manager of a motor services group, said: “It was strange that they were all at exactly the same height.”

Russell Finney, from Boyd Avenue, in Toftwood, also saw the lights.

He said: “They were like nothing I had ever seen before.

“There were about 12 big yellow globules with white around them.”

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