The lights were seen at around 5.15pm, a mile or so out over the millpond sea near Hastings Pier, against a backdrop of a purple band from the sunset on the horizon.
A jogger running along the promenade spotted the lights and stopped to take a photo. She was soon joined by a couple of passers-by who wanted to know what the lights were. They also pulled out their phones and zoomed in to take photos. A few other people joined them and one of them - a man in his 30s - said, “It’s not a flying saucer is it?” He appeared to be serious.
They all stared at the hovering lights for several minutes, with suggestions including a sea rescue, a tall yacht with its mast lit up, a helicopter, or perhaps “some sort of naval exercise”.
The mystery was cleared up later that night when Hastings RNLI crew tweeted a video of them taking part in a training exercise a few hours earlier. It shows the crew standing on the Hastings lifeboat with an HM Coastguard helicopter hovering overhead, its red and amber lights flashing away.
One person, an amateur naturalist whose Twitter handle is @arnoldtortoise, replied: “Aha, was wondering what was going on when you went past. Thought something awful must have happened. Glad to know it was a training exercise. Looked impressive from terra firma.”
Another person pointed out that it is HM Coastguard’s 200th birthday tomorrow (January 15).