Strange lights reported over Phoenix, Arizona
On March 13, 1997, one of the most massively witnessed UFO sightings occurred in the skies over and around Phoenix, Arizona. Witnessed by thousands of people and photographed by hundreds, there is no doubt that something was seen over the skies of Phoenix that night. The question remains – what did they see?
The strange lights, which would come to be called The Phoenix Lights (or Lights over Phoenix) were sighted during a three hour period between 7:30 pm and 10:30 pm on March 13. They covered a 300 mile corridor from the Nevada line through Phoenix to the northern edge of Tucson. Since thousands of witnesses called local Air Force bases, news stations (including the infamous Coast to Coast radio show), and UFO organizations with their reports, researchers are able to determine the exact route that the mysterious object took across the area.
Initial reports of mysterious lights over Phoenix
One of the first reports came from Henderson, Nevada from a former Police Officer and his family. Witnesses noted the object moving in a southeast direction over their city. The object was described as “V” shaped, somewhat like a boomerang or wedge in shape. The object then passed over Paulden, Arizona. At this point the “V” shaped array of lights were described as being blue-white to yellow-white in color.
All witnesses agreed on several common characteristics – the object was huge, triangular or “V” shaped, had several bright lights on it, and moved silently through the nighttime skies. Some stated that the object seemed to “glide” through the air and that they had “strained their ears” trying to detect a sound emanating from the object. It was perfectly silent.
Some indicated the object was so large you could have landed a 747 on its back. Measurements from 900 feet to 2 miles in width and over a mile in length were reported. The estimated altitude of the object ranged (at various points in its trek) from 1,000 to 10,500 feet.
Lights move over Prescott Valley
From Paulden, the object moved to Prescott Valley, Arizona. In a little over a minute the object had moved thirty miles to the south. In Prescott Valley, witnesses noted that the object was seen as a single craft, equal in size to five 747 airplanes flying in a perfectly locked formation and moving silently through the sky. Reports from Prescott Valley cast doubt on the theories that the object may have been several planes flying in formation or flares fired by the Air Force. Prescott Valley witnesses noted that the object passed directly overhead and that the object was definitely solid because it blocked out much of the starry sky as it passed over. It’s interesting to note too that several witnesses in Prescott Valley witnessed the object through binoculars. The National UFO Reporting Center received the following report:
[He was] standing outside with his wife and sons in Prescott Valley, when they noticed a cluster of lights to in the west-northwest of their position. The lights formed a triangular pattern, but all of them appeared to be red, with the exception of the light at the nose of the object, which was distinctly white. The object, or objects, which had been observed for approximately 2-3 minutes with binoculars, then passed directly overhead the observers, they were seen to “bank to the right,” and they then disappeared in the night sky to the southeast of Prescott Valley.
The object was next sighted 10 miles south over the town of Dewey, Arizona. It was here that witnesses reported seeing a huge object or formation of lights moving silently about 1000 feet above the ground.
Five adults and youth were driving north on Highway 69 to an appointment in Prescott, when they witnessed a very large cluster of lights, which formed a “V” shape in the sky. The driver pulled off the road into a grocery store parking lot, and all the occupants got out of their car in order to get a better look at the object. By this time, the object was directly above them, where it appeared to hover for several minutes.
Calls continued to arrive from Chino Valley, Tempe, and Glendale. Then the object made its infamous appearance over Phoenix, Arizona…
Lights arrive in Phoenix
In Phoenix the object was said to hover for 4-5 minutes over the intersection of Indian School Road and 7th Avenue. It was at this point that the many widely publicized videos and photographs were taken. A private pilot landing in Phoenix reported the lights to authorities upon landing (Note: in 2017, it was revealed that this pilot was actor Kurt Russell – see note below). One amateur astronomer in Phoenix noted that he felt the objects were a formation of planes and nothing at all out of the ordinary. But Bill Greiner (51), a cement driver hauling a load down a mountain North of Phoenix, felt differently. He stated:
I’ll never be the same. Before this, if anybody had told me they saw a UFO, I would’ve said, ‘Yeah, and I believe in the tooth fairy’. Now I’ve got a whole new view. I may be just a dumb truck driver, but I’ve seen something that don’t belong here.”
After leaving Phoenix, the object continued on its southeasterly path towards Tucson, Arizona following Interstate 10 at a slow rate of speed. During this trek the lights were reported as being amber in color. One car on the Interstate noted that the enormous object hovered over their car, which was moving at 65 MPH. Next the object was reported over Oracle where it was described as having a reddish-orange color. Witnesses said the object split up and each of the bright lights moved in a separate direction along the edges of the Tucson area. The last report came from the Kingston area where a man stopped his vehicle and called from a payphone to report the incident. “[The] young man, en route to Los Angeles, called from a phone booth to report having seen a large and bizarre cluster of lights moving slowly in the northern sky”.
Air Patrols confirm sightings
As persons on the ground were reporting the strange array of lights, persons in the air were seeing a similar phenomena. The object passed over the Sky Harbor Airport where air traffic controllers visually observed the object but were puzzled as to why it did not show up on their radar. At least one commercial pilot also saw the objects from the air as he passed over them. Radioing the Sky Harbor Airport, the American West pilot requested information on what “those nine lights were”.
The Air Force responds – nothing to see here…
Meanwhile, as usually seems to be the case in these types of unusual airborne events, conflicting information arrived from the local Air Force authorities. Witnesses who called the Luke Air Force Base with reports noted that the female operator stated that they were being flooded with calls. Days later, on March 14, 1997, the same Luke Air Force personnel were quoted as stating they had received no calls concerning the matter. This statements was straightforwardly disproved by a local UFO researcher who produced phone records showing that he himself had called the base to report the lights on more than one occasion that night.
The National UFO Reporting Center also noted that reports were pouring in from the Phoenix area. One man, who claimed he was a airman at the Luke Air Force Base, stated that the US Air Force had launched two F-15 fighters and that one of the F-15s had intercepted the object over Phoenix. Although cursory research on the inventory of F-15s at Luke Air Force base has proved inconclusive, this account was further collaborated by a truck driver who was delivering materials to a plant near the Luke base. He stated that he had watched the UFOs as he drove down Interstate 17. Upon arriving at his destination, he climbed on top of a pile of materials while the crew unloaded his truck. He stated that he was observing the strange amber lights when suddenly two F-16s (not F-15s) followed by a third “blasted out of Luke with their afterburners on full”. He detailed how the planes banked sharply and headed straight towards the UFO which then shot straight upwards and disappeared in an instant. He noted that the aircraft passed right through the spot where the object had been. The man’s story was somewhat collaborated by a UFO researcher’s Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA) to the US Air Force. The Air Force ultimately admitted that they had indeed dispatched F-16s at that time but noted that the aircraft were on a “routine training mission” and had no involvement with the strange lights being reported all over the area.
Air Force issues their official explanation
After denying that they had heard of the incident, the Air Force released their official explanation of the sightings – military flares. They stated that military flares had been released from a USAF A-10 over the Gila Bend Bombing Range (located 60-80 miles southwest of Phoenix, on the other side of the bordering mountain range). They explained that the A-10 had released the flares at about 6,000 feet and that the flares had ignited at around 3,000 feet. They completely burnt out at around 500 feet.
The Air Force stated that the A-10s were on a special training mission.
They left David-Monthan AFB in Tucson at 8:15 pm and returned at 10:00 pm. They were authorized to use the Goldwater range which is near Gila Bend. After their flare exercise they were returning when they realized they had more flares on board. Base regulations forbid plans from landing with flares so the were jettisoned as the planes approached the base.
Researchers point out discrepancies in Air Force’s explanation
UFO researchers scratched their heads over the Air Force’s explanation. Although highly unlikely, it may have explained the reports of lights over Phoenix, but it still left many unanswered questions. They quickly pointed out that the time the Air Force gave for the flares jettison was 42 minutes after the reported Phoenix sightings. They also noted that the flares explanation did nothing to explain the sights all over the Nevada and Arizona surrounding areas. How could the flares have been seen traveling over such a wide range of areas by so many people who claimed flatly that the object had passed directly over them.
One witness, who lives under the customary A-10 flight path, noted that no A-10s landed or took off around 10:00PM that night. He knew this because he was in the habit of going outside whenever he heard the A-10s (to watch them land). He states that he definitely heard no A-10s landing during the time of the sightings. UFO researchers have filed FOIA requests with the US Air Force, requesting logs of departures and arrivals of A-10s during the night of March 13 – the USAF has yet to comply with their requests.
Mike Fortson of Changler, Arizona further argues against the USAF flares explanation. Mike, a local witness of the extraordinary occurrence, states that he saw the object fly directly overhead and that he clearly saw a “solid object”. He claimed that a 737 disappeared as it passed above the object (the American West airline?). Mike recounted that the object was over a mile wide and flew about 30-35 MPH at around 1500 to 2000 feet above the ground.
Furthermore, the flare explanation does not coincide with the calculated speed of the moving object. The National UFO Reporting Centers notes that:
The object apparently was capable of very rapid flight, probably even supersonic flight, although few witnesses reported any sound emanating from it. The object was reported heading generally to the southeast over Henderson, NV, at 1855 hrs. (Pacific), and was next reported heading to the south in the vicinity of Paulden, AZ, approximately 22 minutes later at 2017 hrs. (Mountain). Within approximately one minute of the sighting in Paulden, the object was reported from the vicinity of Prescott Valley, AZ, roughly 30 miles to the south. The object then appeared over Phoenix, where it is reported to have hovered for 4-5 minutes in the vicinity of the intersection of Indian School Road and 7th Avenue.
Some have theorized that flares were indeed dropped – *after* the object was reported and Air Force personnel dispatched to investigate. In such an instance, flares could be dropped from above in an attempt to illuminate the unknown object.
Some theorized that the objects were man-made and possibly built from crashed UFO technology. They explain how such a test flight would be highly beneficial to the US government in testing the reaction of the public. Phoenix, being a large city but not so densely populated, would make a excellent choice of locations to test fly the object over. Any public problems that could have occurred in Phoenix would have been much easier to control than larger and more populated areas such as Los Angeles or New York.
Another possible explanation is that there were two distinct incidents that night and that they were related. The first wave of sightings, involving the large, silent gliding object that blocked the view of the stars in the sky, was truly an unidentified flying object. In response to that incident, the United States Airforce scrambled jets to investigate and dropped flairs in a vain attempt to light up the sky, expose the unidentified object, and attempt to turn its flight path away from the city.
Arizona Governor confirms he witnessed the “otherworldly” lights
Shortly after the lights erupted in national news, Arizona Governor Fife Symington III held a press conference, stating that “they found who was responsible”. He proceeded to make light of the situation by bringing his aide on stage dressed in an alien costume. But in March 2007, Symington said that he had witnessed one of the “crafts of unknown origin” during the 1997 event, although he did not go public with the information. In an interview with The Daily Courier in Prescott, Arizona, Symington said,
“I’m a pilot and I know just about every machine that flies. It was bigger than anything that I’ve ever seen. It remains a great mystery. Other people saw it, responsible people. I don’t know why people would ridicule it.”
Symington continued, saying,
“It was enormous and inexplicable. Who knows where it came from? A lot of people saw it, and I saw it too. It was dramatic. And it couldn’t have been flares because it was too symmetrical. It had a geometric outline, a constant shape.”
Symington also confirmed that he had requested information from the commander of Luke Air Force Base, the general of the National Guard, and the head of the Arizona Department of Public Safety. But none of the officials he contacted had an answer for what had happened, and were also perplexed.
Update: 12/31/12: We received the following personal account from Elizabeth Kistner via Facebook. Very interesting description of the events that took place that night.
If you’d like a personal experience of the so called “Phoenix Lights” I can provide you with one. My mother, father, grandmother, 2 younger sisters, my 3 younger cousins, my aunt, uncle, and a few neighbors all living in KINGMAN, ARIZONA- around the same day in 1997, saw strange patterns of lights above a giant patch of desert in front of where we lived. (3549 northern drive). They hardly moved- rather- they just sat there. They were of red, yellow-white, and blue color. You know how “close” the moon usually is to us? Well- these lights were about half the distance from us than the moon was. It was like we could touch them. They were there for hours.I was about 6 or 7 or so, but I remember us all being scared a little bit. My family and neighbors DID call the police. We asked them what was going on and that the electricity was flickering quite a bit. They simply said that a lot of panic was happening all over the state and that while we think we saw something they can’t really help us. My mom was on the phone for quite some time. The lights never moved- they just sat there in the sky. Our neighbors kept questioning the police but we got no answers.After about an hour of standing round outside; looking up, we went inside. My youngest cousins and youngest sister went to bed. But, me, my sister and my younger cousin sat up looking outside off and on. The lights were there still when we finally went to sleep.I’m not saying if it was or wasn’t a UFO but I know it wasn’t lights from the ground or just stars. There was only one street light in that area. The air port was to the left of that area a ways away. These lights weren’t in a triangular form. They were semi jumbled. They flashed in a pattern- however. And I do remember there being 2 blue lights and 1 red while the rest were white. My mom clearly remembered the shape. I remember going to school the next day and telling people about what I remembered. My teacher said she saw something, and so did some others. But, some said they only heard their parent’s accounts. Whatever it was- I believe there was a multitude of sightings that were overlooked in other places not including Tuscon or Phoenix. But I will not take flares or land lights as an answer.
It is revealed that actor Kurt Russell was the pilot who first reported seeing the lights
“I was just looking at them and I was coming in, we were maybe a half mile out,” Russell continued, and his son asked him what the lights were. “I kind of came out of my reverie,” Russell admitted, “and I said, ‘I don’t know what they are.’ [Oliver] said, ‘Are we okay here?’ I said ‘I’m gonna call,’ and I reported it. They said…‘We don’t show anything.’”