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UFO Casefile: The Phoenix Lights

On the evening of March 13th, 1997, something strange and mysterious crossed silently in the skies over Phoenix, Arizona. This event has since become one of the most well known, witnessed and documented UFO event in history. While there are some potential and accepted explanations as to one part of this event, there are still unanswered questions as to what this thing was. Was it a military test? Or was this a genuine UFO sighting over a heavily populated area? This is the story of the Phoenix Lights…

There are two separate events that comprise the Phoenix Lights, so we’ll start with the first. Between 7:30pm and 10:30pm multiple witnesses reported seeing strange lights in the skies over Arizona. The earliest report at 7:55pm was from a man in Henderson, Nevada, who claimed to see a V-shaped object the size of a Boeing 747. He described the object has having 6 lights on its leading edge and it made a “rushing wind” like sound and it was heading in a Southeast direction towards the Phoenix metropolitan area. The next sighting came in from a former police officer from Paulden, AZ twenty minutes later at 8:15pm. This officer reported that he had left his house ad began driving North. While he drove he started to notice five “reddish to orange lights” in the Northwestern sky. He stated that four of the lights were lined up together with the fifth light trailing behind. Interestingly he also said that the lights seemed to have “two separate point sources of orange light.”

Now here’s where things started to get crazy. Within minutes of the sighting in Paulden, switchboards across Nevada and Arizona began lighting up with telephone operators at national UFO reporting centers receiving a massive onslaught of calls reporting a UFO that was seen flying over these two states, along with other UFO groups, police departments, local news & media outlets and even Luke Air Force Base. These calls continued for several hours, but even after March 13th, calls would still trickle in with people wanting to tell their story. While reports varied on the appearance of the UFO people had been seeing, most people asserted that the lights belonged to a solid structured craft which blocked out parts of the clear night sky above.

On witness, John Kaiser made a notable report while he, his wife and two sons noticed a cluster of lights to the West-Northwest of their Prescott, AZ home. Kaiser stated that the lights were in a triangular formation and that the lights were all red, except for the leading light on the “nose”, which was clearly white. The Kaiser family observed this object with binoculars for almost 3 minutes and at one point this object passed directly over them. This strange craft then “banked to the right” and disappeared over the Southeast horizon. While they couldn’t determine the altitude of the object, they noted that it was completely silent.

Other reports from Prescott Valley shared sightings of similar light formations in the triangle or V-shape that evening, though some reported the lights as being yellow-white instead of red or orange. Some researchers believe there may have been multiple craft witnessed that night, but there is no way to tell if that was the case, or it just appeared differently to people, or if the lights slowly changed color. While reports kept piling in, one constant similarity between them was the fact that this object made no noise whatsoever, with many witnesses stressing this fact. It was also mostly reported that the lights on this craft were I delta formation, or “V-Shaped,” “Triangular” and “Wedge-shaped”.

As the object continued on, it started to be seen in the Phoenix, AZ area. One witness report came from a mother who was driving with her four daughters near Camelback Mountain, just north of Phoenix. The mother described seeing an object that was in the shape of “sergeant’s strips” that came into view. The mother also noted that this object blocked out a huge portion of the sky. It also seemed to hover over them for around five minutes. And perhaps most disturbing, it actually fired a beam of light down at the ground, which caused its other lights to appear dim. Shortly after that, it continued on towards the city. The next notable sighting came from Tim Ley and his wife Bobbi, son, Hal and grandson, Damien. They reported seeing five distinct lights in an arc-shape, likening it to the top of an inflated balloon, however they realized the lights were headed in their direction. The object moved very slowly, but sure enough, it kept getting closer. Eventually they could make out that it was shaped more like a carpenters square, which is essentially a V-shape. At one point, the object appeared like it was only 100-150 above their location, coming down their street. Just like other witness reports it was completely silent. The craft then headed towards Squaw Peak Mountain in the direction of the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Sightings of this object were reported all the way to Tuscon before it disappeared.

In the Phoenix area that night, local truck driver, Bill Greiner was driving down Route 17 towards a cement plant near Luke Air Force Base when he witnessed a second group of lights that differed from the V-shape object - these were two bright lights hovering in the sky about 1-2 miles from his position. He reported seeing three fighter jets being scrambled from Luke Air Force Base which were headed towards one of the objects. Greiner described them as looking like “hot air balloons without the gondolas, glowing a yellow-orange from within.” When the jets approached the nearest light, it shot upwards at unbelievable speed and disappeared with the jets passing by like nothing was ever there. On the subject of UFO’s Greiner was also quoted as saying, "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 and I may be just a dumb truck driver, but I've seen something that don't belong here."

At this point it was around 10:00pm and this was when people started witnessing the infamous 9 lights appearing one by one behind the Sierra Estrella Mountain Range on the Southern end of Phoenix. While this is the more well known part of the Phoenix Lights, it’s really a second sighting compared to the previous 2.5 hours of hundreds of witnesses seeing a smaller, delta shaped formation of lights. Thousands of people in Phoenix witnessed these lights appear and fade out. Many witnesses took photos and videos of the objects which appeared and remained illuminated for several minutes before going out. UFO researchers claimed these lights were part of a larger craft and were likely a form of “running light.” Other experts estimated the size of this craft was up to a mile long. One UFO advocate by the name of Jim Dilettoso claimed to perform a “spectral analysis” on photographs and videos of this second event where he allegedly proved the light sources could not have been man-made, but it is widely believed that this so-called analysis would be impossible with the software he used, and that electronic mediums like cameras alter spectral signatures significantly.

The military was called to ask if it was theirs, but their initial response was that they had nothing in the sky that night. However, months later, the military came out with an official story that these lights were simply from a military training exercise where A10 Warthog planes were dropping flares over the Barry Goldwater Range. In 2007, one of the A10 pilots, Lt. Colonel Ed Jones who flew in that exercise came forward confirming that the 104th Fighter Squadron that he was part of was responsible for the lights in the sky that night. It has been stated that the lights appeared to hover for some time due to the heat given off from the flare creating a hot air balloon effect for the flares parachutes. This is all fine and good, however it was does account for sightings of actual craft moving silently over city streets, with lights that did not fade out over time. While many videos and photographs were taken, the best and only surviving video can be found on the YouTube channel called hhoforvolts - I believe this is his original video which he cleaned up and it is pretty interesting footage, so go check it out!

After this widely witnessed series of events, then Governor of Arizona, Fife Symington held a press conference in which he poked fun at the idea that this was an alien spacecraft from another world by stating he knew who was responsible and brought out people in alien costumes. While this brought levity to the situation at the time, many advocates still believed there was something being covered up. In 2007, Symington, who was actually a former pilot, changed his tune, apologizing for making a mockery of the situation and came forward with his own story. He claimed that he too witnessed the V-shaped set of lights on that night, but did come forward with that information at the time, likely for political reasons. Symington stated he also reached out to Luke Air Force Base, the National Guard and the head of the Dept. of Public Safety regarding these lights, but none of the officials he spoke with had an answer and were equally perplexed at this phenomena. Other military officials offered “no comment” on the lights. Symington also believe the lights that he witnessed were too symmetrical to be flares and the lights had a constant, geometrical shape to them.

As far as explanations go, the official military explanation of the second and most widely seen event over Phoenix was that the lights were simply military flares from a training exercise. In addition, a local amateur astronomer, Mitch Stanley reported that he observed the lights through his telescope with a 43X magnification and realized they clearly individual planes. During a Discovery Channel Town Hall Meeting with several other witnesses, Stanley was shouted down with his conventional explanation of the lights. It is believed Stanley did see planes, in fact they were the A10’s flying off to drop the flares over the Barry Goldwater Range, but this was not the other enormous delta formation of lights so many others had seen, moving silently and slowly through the night sky.

While this series of events does have some rational and provable explanations to it, there are still many questions that are yet to be answered. What was this huge delta-shaped craft with lights on its leading edge that traveled over Nevada and over the entirety of the state of Arizona. In 2007 and 2008 reports of similar lights started appearing over Phoenix again, though the FAA dismissed the sightings as simply another case of a military flare test. In the end we may never know the full story behind what these lights were. Was this simply the test of an experimental military aircraft, or was it all flares? Or was there something otherworldly, taking a leisurely flight over the American Southwest on that night in 1997?

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