The Phoenix Lights (sometimes referred to as the “lights over Phoenix”) were a series of widely sighted optical phenomena (generally unidentified flying objects) that occurred in the skies over the U.S. states of Arizona and Nevada, and the Mexican state of Sonora on March 13, 1997. A repeat of the lights occurred February 6, 2007, and was filmed by the local Fox News TV station.
A similar incident occurred April 21, 2008. This incident was later revealed to be prank–flares attached to helium balloons.
Lights of varying descriptions were seen by thousands of people between 19:30 and 22:30 MST, in a space of about 300 miles, from the Nevada line, through Phoenix, to the edge of Tucson. There were two distinct events involved in the incident: a triangular formation of lights seen to pass over the state, and a series of stationary lights seen in the Phoenix area. The United States Air Force (USAF) identified the second group of lights as flares dropped by A-10 Warthog aircraft which were on training exercises at the Barry Goldwater Range in southwest Arizona. Witnesses claim to have observed a huge carpenter’s square-shaped UFO, containing lights or possibly light-emitting engines. Fife Symington, the governor at the time, was one witness to this incident.
At about 18:55 PST (6:55 PM PST), (19:55 MST [7:55 PM MST]), a man reported seeing a V-shaped object above Henderson, Nevada. He said it was about the “size of a (Boeing) 747”, sounded like “rushing wind”, and had six lights on its leading edge. The lights reportedly traversed northwest to the southeast.
An unidentified former police officer from Paulden, Arizona is claimed to have been the next person to report a sighting after leaving his house at about 20:15 MST (8:15 PM MST). As he was driving north, he reputedly saw a cluster of reddish or orange lights in the sky, comprising four lights together and a fifth light trailing them. Each of the individual lights in the formation appeared to the witness to consist of two separate point sources of orange light. He returned home and through binoculars watched the lights until they disappeared south over the horizon.
Prescott and Prescott Valley
Lights were also reportedly seen in the areas of Prescott and Prescott Valley. At approximately 20:17 MST, callers began reporting the object was definitely solid because it blocked out much of the starry sky as it passed over.
John Kaiser was standing outside with his wife and sons in Prescott Valley, when they noticed a cluster of lights to the west-northwest of their position. The lights formed a triangular pattern, but all of them appeared to be red, except 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 altitude could not be determined, however it was fairly low and made no sound whatsoever.
The National UFO Reporting Center received the following report from the Prescott area:
“While doing astrophotography I observed five yellow-white lights in a “V” formation moving slowly from the northwest, across the sky to the northeast, then turn almost due south and continue until out of sight. The point of the “V” was in the direction of movement. The first three lights were in a fairly tight “V” while two of the lights were further back along the lines of the “V”‘s legs. During the NW-NE transit one of the trailing lights moved up and joined the three and then dropped back to the trailing position. I estimated the three light “V” to cover about 0.5 degrees of sky and the whole group of five lights to cover about 1 degree of sky.”
At the town of Dewey, 10 miles south of Prescott, Arizona, six people saw a large cluster of lights while driving northbound on Highway 69. The five adults and a youth stopped their car to observe the lights which were directly overhead when they exited the car.
The lights appeared to hover for several minutes. The caller, who was an experienced flyer, said that the object was so large that he could clench his fist and hold it at arm’s length and still not completely cover the light. He estimated the object to be not over 1,000 feet above the ground and that it was moving at a considerably slower pace than an aircraft would fly. Calls to the UFO centre were also received from Chino Valley, Tempe, and Glendale.
First sighting from Phoenix
Tim Ley and his wife Bobbi, his son Hal and his grandson Damien Turnidge first saw the lights when they were above Prescott Valley about 65 miles away from them. At first they appeared to them as five separate and distinct lights in an arc shape like they were on top of a balloon, but they soon realized the lights appeared to be moving towards them. Over the next ten or so minutes they appeared to be coming closer and the distance between the lights increased and they took on the shape of an upside down V. Eventually when the lights appeared to be a couple of miles away the witnesses could make out a shape that looked like a carpenter’s square with the five lights set into it, with one at the front and two on each side. Soon the lights appeared to be coming right down the street where they lived about 100 to 150 feet above them, traveling so slowly it appeared to hover and was silent. The lights then seemed to pass over their heads and went through a V opening in the peaks of the mountain range towards Squaw Peak Mountain and toward the direction of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
Arriving in Phoenix
When the triangular formation entered the Phoenix area, Mitch Stanley, an amateur astronomer, observed the lights using a Dobsonian telescope outfitted with a TELEVUE 32mm Plössl eyepiece, which produces 43x magnification. After observing the lights, he told his mother, who was present at the time, that the lights were aircraft.
Even though former Phoenix Councilwomen and Vice Mayor, Frances Emma Barwood, received over 700 reports of mile wide V or boomerang shaped craft and orbs, Mitch Stanley’s report was the only one publicized in the Arizona print media.
In addition to the triangular formation, a separate phenomenon occurred in the Phoenix area. A series of lights appeared, one by one, and then were extinguished one by one. At this point many widely publicized videos and photographs were taken.
Bill Greiner, a cement driver hauling a load down a mountain north of Phoenix, described the second group of lights: “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”. Greiner stated that the lights hovered over the area for in excess of 2 hours.
A report came from a young man in the Kingman area who stopped his car at 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”.
In March 2007, former Arizona Governor Fife Symington III (photo right) said that he had witnessed one of the “crafts of unknown origin” during the 1997 event, but noted that he did not go public with the information. Shortly after the lights, Symington 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. (Dateline, NBC). 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 had earlier said, “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 noted that he requested information from the commander of Luke Air Force Base, the general of the National Guard, and the head of the Department of Public Safety. But none of the officials he contacted had an answer for what had happened, and were also “perplexed”. Later, he responded to an Air Force “explanation” that the lights were flares: “As a pilot and a former Air Force Officer, I can definitively say that this craft did not resemble any man made object I’d ever seen. And it was certainly not high-altitude flares because flares don’t fly in formation”.
Frances Barwood, the 1997 Phoenix city councilwoman who launched an investigation into the event, said that of the over 700 witnesses she interviewed, “The government never interviewed even one”.
Videotapes, still photos
Imagery of the Phoenix Lights falls into two categories: images of the triangular formation seen prior to 10 pm in Prescott and Dewey, and images of the 10 pm Phoenix event. All known images were produced using a variety of commercially available camcorders and cameras. There are no known images taken by equipment designed for scientific analysis, nor are there any known images taken using high powered optics or night vision equipment.
During the Phoenix event, numerous still photographs and videotapes were made, distinctly showing a series of lights appearing at a regular interval, remaining illuminated for several moments and then going out. These images have been repeatedly aired by documentary TV channels such as the Discovery Channel and the History Channel as part of their UFO documentary programming.
The most frequently seen sequence shows what appears to be an arc of lights appearing one by one, then going out one by one. UFO advocates claim that these images show that the lights were some form of “running light” or other aircraft illumination along the leading edge of a large craft (estimated to be as large as a mile in diameter) hovering over the city of Phoenix. Other similar sequences reportedly taken over a half hour period show differing numbers of lights in a V or arrowhead array. Thousands of witnesses throughout Arizona also reported a silent, mile wide V or boomerang shaped craft with varying numbers of huge orbs. A significant number of witnesses reported that the craft was silently gliding directly overhead at low altitude. The first-hand witnesses consistently reported that the lights appeared as “canisters of swimming light”, while the underbelly of the craft was undulating “like looking through water”. However, skeptics claim that the video is evidence that mountains not visible at night partially obstructed views from certain angles, thereby bolstering the claim that the lights were more distant than UFO advocates claim.
UFO advocate Jim Dilettoso claimed to have performed “spectral analysis” of photographs and video imagery that proved the lights could not have been produced by a man-made source. Dilettoso claimed to have used software called “Image Pro Plus” (exact version unknown) to determine the amount of red, green and blue in the various photographic and video images and construct histograms of the data,
which were then compared to several photographs known to be of flares. Several sources have pointed out, however, that it is impossible to determine the spectral signature of a light source based solely on photographic or video imagery, as film and electronics inherently alter the spectral signature of a light source by shifting hue in the visible spectrum, and experts in spectroscopy have dismissed his claims as being scientifically invalid. Normal photographic equipment also eliminates light outside the visible spectrum (e.g., infrared and ultraviolet) that would be necessary for a complete spectral analysis. The maker of “Image Pro Plus”, Media Cybernetic, has stated that its software is incapable of performing spectroscopic analysis.
Cognitech, an independent video laboratory, superimposed video imagery taken of the Phoenix Lights onto video imagery it shot during daytime from the same location. In the composite image, the lights are seen to extinguish at the moment they reach the Estrella mountain range, which is visible in the daytime, but invisible in the footage shot at night. A broadcast by local Fox Broadcasting affiliate KSAZ-TV claimed to have performed a similar test that showed the lights were in front of the mountain range and suggested that the Cognitech data might have been altered. Dr. Paul Scowen, visiting professor of Astronomy at Arizona State University, performed a third analysis using daytime imagery overlaid with video shot of the lights and his findings were consistent with Cognitech. The Phoenix New Times subsequently reported the television station had simply overlaid two video tracks on a video editing machine without using a computer to match the zoom and scale of the two images.
In comparison, there are few known images of the Prescott/Dewey lights. KSAZ reported that an individual named Richard Curtis took a detailed video that purportedly showed the outline of a space craft, but that the video had been lost. The only other known video is of poor quality and shows a group of lights with no craft visible.
Explanations and skepticism
There is some controversy as to how best classify the reports on the night in question. Some are of the opinion that the differing nature of the eyewitness reports indicates that several unidentified objects were in the area, each of which was its own separate ‘event.’ This is largely dismissed by skeptics as an over-extrapolation from standard deviation common in necessarily subjective eye-witness accounts. The media and most skeptical investigators have largely preferred to split the sightings into two distinct classes – a first and second event – for which two separate explanations are offered:
The first event—the “v,” which appeared over northern Arizona and gradually traveled south over nearly the entire length of the state, eventually passing south of Tucson—was the allegedly “wedge-shaped” object reported by then-Governor Symington and many others. This event started at about 8:15 over the Prescott area, and was seen south of Tucson by about 8:45.
The second event was the set of nine lights falling behind the Sierra Estrella, a mountain ridge to the southwest of Phoenix, at around 10pm. This was also observed by numerous people who may have thought they were seeing the same lights as those reported earlier.
Proponents of two separate events propose that the first event still has no provable explanation, but that some evidence exists that the lights were in fact airplanes. According to an article by reporter Janet Gonzales that appeared in the Phoenix New Times, videotape of the v shape shows the lights moving as separate entities, not as a single object; a phenomenon known as illusory contours can cause the human eye to see unconnected lines or dots as forming a single shape. Ortega also spoke with amateur astronomer Mitch Stanley, who was outside that night using a Dobsonian telescope, which yielded a view 60 times the magnification of the human eye.
According to Stanley, the lights were quite clearly individual airplanes; a companion who was with him recalled asking Stanley at the time what the lights were, and he said, “Planes”. However, no pilots have yet been found who admit to flying such a formation that night, and many witnesses continue to insist that they actually saw the entire object blocking the stars.
The second event has been more thoroughly covered by the media, due in part to the military’s backing of the explanation. The USAF explained the second event as slow falling, long burning flares dropped by an A-10 Warthog aircraft on a training exercise over Luke Air Force Base. An investigation by Luke AFB itself also came to this conclusion and declared the case solved.
Air National Guard pilot, Lt. Col. Ed Jones, responding to a March 2007 media query, confirmed that he had flown one of the aircraft n the formation that dropped flares on the night in question. The squadron to which he belonged was in fact in Arizona on a training exercise at the time, according to the Maryland Air National Guard. A history of the Maryland Air National Guard published in 2000 previously asserted that the squadron, the 104th Fighter Squadron, was responsible for the incident. The first reports that members of the Maryland Air National Guard were responsible for the incident were published in The Arizona Republic newspaper in July 1997.
Military flares such as these can be seen from hundreds of miles with correct environmental conditions. Later comparisons with known military flare drops were reported on local television stations, showing similarities between the known military flare drops and the Phoenix Lights. An analysis of the luminosity of LUU-2B/B illumination flares, the type which would have been in use by A-10 aircraft at the time, determined that the luminosity of such flares at a range of approximately 50–70 miles would fall well within the range of the lights viewed from Phoenix. However, this was not brought forward until July 1997, and the flares were reportedly dropped before the sightings took place.
The “Stealth Blimp” theory
The “giant V shaped object” (right picture: simulation) description also matches the description made by witnesses describing a similar object seen in Lebanon, Illinois, Guernsey, United Kingdom, and Stephenville, Texas. In the case of the Stephenville sighting, there is radar data from the FAA and National Weather Service that correlate to these eyewitness accounts. It is believed this object is a “Stealth Blimp”, which Lockheed Martin proposed building as far back as 1982.
On April 21, 2008, lights were again reported over Phoenix by local residents. These lights appeared to change from square to triangular formation over time.
A resident of Deer Valley in North Phoenix, Tony Toporek videotaped those lights. He was talking to neighbors around 8 p.m. when the lights appeared. Toporek stated, “Four brilliant red lights first formed a vertical or diagonal line, next a U-shape, then as I retrieved my camera and began to roll tape, the lights spread apart and made a diamond or cross shape, similar to the ‘Southern Cross'”.
Another resident reported that shortly after the lights appeared, three jets were seen heading west in the direction of the lights. An official from Luke Air Force Base denied any United States Air Force activity in the area.
Media coverage of the reappearance of the lights was significant, with photos and videos appearing on local and national newspapers, television news broadcasts, and web sites.
On April 22, 2008, a resident of Phoenix told a newspaper that the lights were nothing more than his neighbor releasing helium balloons with flares attached (photo left). This was confirmed by a police helicopter. The following day a Phoenix resident who declined to be identified in news reports stated he had attached flares to helium balloons and released them from his back yard.
Phoenix lights 1997 – Original UFO footage part 2; different angle
Phoenix lights 2007 – Original UFO footage
Triangle UFO Phoenix Arizona March 1997
14th March 2010 update: Phoenix Lights a UFO Sighting, 13 years ago (2010)
September 12, 2010 UPDATE:
‘UFOs’ excerpt: A look at the Phoenix Lights
(by Leslie Kean, the author of the New York Times best-seller “UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go on the Record” – Amazon link / Kindle edition)
It was March 13, 1997, a pleasant spring evening in Arizona, clear and still. Countless families were outside in larger-than-usual numbers gazing at the sky because Comet Hale-Bopp was to be visible that night.
Instead, beginning about 8 p.m, they were provided with an even more astounding aerial spectacle: a series of massive, eerily silent craft gliding overhead.
One central object moved from the north, southeast across the state, traveling about 200 miles from Paulden to Tucson, passing near Phoenix and surrounding communities. It was on display from 8:15 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Many hundreds – more likely thousands – saw it that night.
Police phone lines were jammed, and Luke Air Force Base was overwhelmed with calls. Reports of sightings from around the state flooded the lines at the National UFO Reporting Center, a well-known Seattle-based repository for UFO reports cited in the Federal Aviation Administration manual.
Even so, air-traffic controllers apparently did not register the strange objects on radar. Although descriptions of the array of lights differed, one overriding characteristic prevailed: The craft was massive; it was a solid object, not merely lights; and it often appeared to be low in the sky, blocking out the stars behind it.
No government officials were dispatched to investigate or respond to questions from alarmed and awestruck citizens. To put it bluntly, the federal government failed to react to the presence of something huge and unknown invading restricted airspace over a capital city in the United States.
Phoenix Councilwoman Frances Emma Barwood, responding to pressure from journalists and her constituents, was the only elected official to launch a public investigation.
But she said that she, too, received no information from any level of government. Barwood says she spoke with more than 700 witnesses who called her office, including police officers, pilots and former military personnel, all providing similar descriptions of the objects.
Minimal coverage was provided at the time of the incident by the media, even in Phoenix, with a few local papers and news stations making note but few following up.
Three months later, on June 18, that all changed when USA Today brought the case into the national spotlight with a front-page story. It was further catapulted onto the network evening news when the sightings were covered, although minimally, by ABC and NBC, and became known as the Phoenix Lights.
The next day, on June 19, Gov. Fife Symington announced that he was ordering a full investigation and would make “all the necessary inquiries.”
“We’re going to get to the bottom of this,” he said. “We’re going to find out if it was a UFO.”