An increase in public awareness about aliens and UFOs likely contributed to the record number of sightings reported to Britain's Defence Ministry in 1996, according to Britain's National Archives UFO consultant, David Clarke.

The National Archives released 14 files from the Defence Ministry on Monday related to UFO sightings between 1981 and 1996.

The files contained more than 4,000 pages documenting 800 alleged encounters with UFOs and aliens.

The most sightings were reported in 1996 when 609 UFOs were reported to the Ministry of Defence, according to the documents in the archives.

'Obviously films and TV programs raise public awareness of UFOs and it's fascinating to see how that appears to lead more people to report what they see to the authorities.' —David Clarke, UFO expert

It is the largest number of UFO sightings currently on record, Clarke said.

"The larger increase in number reported during 1996 may reflect increased public awareness of UFOs and aliens due to the popularity of the TV series The X-Files... and the release of the movie Independence Day," Clarke said.

There appears to be a connection between media coverage and popular reference to UFOs and the number of reported sightings, Clarke said.

Previously, 1978 — the year the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind was released — held the record for most reported sightings.

"Obviously films and TV programs raise public awareness of UFOs and it's fascinating to see how that appears to lead more people to report what they see to the authorities," Clarke said.

4th batch of files

Britain has recorded UFO sightings since 1950, and the Ministry of Defence has been gradually releasing previously secret documents related to UFO sightings after facing Freedom of Information requests.

All the files will be released during the three-project, which is scheduled to continue through 2010.

Among the documented sightings in fourth batch of UFO is an incident recorded in the Rendlesham Forest, which became known as Britain's Roswell.

In late-December 1980, American airmen stationed at RAF Woodbridge in eastern England reportedly saw mysterious lights and a triangular shape in the forest outside the perimeter fence and went to investigate.

The airmen found ground indentations and detected strange radiation readings.

The file related to Rendlesham contains a first-hand account of the incident from U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Charles Halt, which the Defence Ministry dismissed as "insignificant," and an investigation by the government that urged defence officials to take UFOs more seriously.

'Vulnerable to unwarranted intrusion'

"If the [USAF] report…is accurate, there is evidence that British airspace and territory are vulnerable to unwarranted intrusion to a disturbing degree. If, on the other hand, [Halt's report] must be dismissed, then we have evidence — no less disturbing, I suggest — that a sizeable number of USAF personnel at an important base in British territory are capable of serious misperception, the consequences of which might be grave in military terms," said a document from Lord Peter Hill-Norton, the former chief of defence's office.

Among the solved cases in the files are sightings that turned out to be a new car advertising campaign and a Russian rocket re-entering the atmosphere.

There are also briefing notes related to 1993 sightings suspected to be U.S. spy planes, alleged alien abduction attempts and parliamentary debate about crop circles.

With files from The Associated Press