Byline: DAVID DERBYSHIRE
A SPECTACULAR meteor shower sent hundreds of anxious onlookers scurrying to phone the emergency services, convinced aliens were about to land.
Police and coastguards were inundated with calls when the skies above Southern Britain lit up with stunning flashes and smoke trails and echoed to rumbling explosions.
Many mistook the shooting stars for distress flares from a ship in trouble, while others believed they were seeing UFOs.
In fact, the light show signalled the return of a group of meteoroids called the Virginids, which reach the Earth every spring. Experts say they will be around for weeks. Sunday night's dis-
play was particularly spectacular because of the nearly full moon and crystal-clear skies.
Emergency services across the South and West said yesterday they had taken hundreds of calls.
Police were also alerted, but soon learned the lights were shooting stars after checking with weather experts.
The Brixham Coastguard in South Devon said it took up to 30 calls reporting red distress flares in an area from Exmouth to beyond Plymouth.
'It was obviously quite a severe meteorite shower,' a spokesman said.
'We actually saw one over our own coastguard station. There was a bright flash of white light with a bang and some smoke. It was like a very big, very high firework.' Meteorologist Dr Richard Porter, from Kingsbridge, South Devon, told
how he saw a trail of light across the sky.
'It was like a rocket which broke up into five or six pieces and disappeared but there was a smoke cloud which remained for ten minutes. …