Image credit: Artists Impression Of V-Shaped Craft by Pinarci on DeviantArt
This Thursday will mark the 17th anniversary of a mass UFO sighting that swept across a whole state and soon became a global legend. Known as The Phoenix Lights, the events of March 13th 1997 consisted of two mass UFO sightings that were witnessed by thousands of people from Phoenix to Tucson. For weeks the event was limited to local folklore, but when USA today ran a front page story on the event, the Phoenix Lights shot to prominence and the events have been a mainstay of UFO documentaries ever since. But what could have prompted so many reports across such a huge area?
The varying witness testimonies have made it difficult to break down the sightings of March 13th 1997, but it is generally agreed that there were 2 distinct events occurring within a few hours of each other. The first came in the form of a V-shaped light formation that was initially witnessed on the Nevada/Arizona border at around 18:55 (PST) before moving south to Tucson at a rapid pace.
The second and more widely reported set of sightings were more localized to the Phoenix area and consisted of a formation estimated to be larger than a football field. This second event would hang in the sky for around 30 minutes and was captured on film by countless witnesses.
Phoenix Lights Timeline :
19:55 (MST) - A group of lights in a V-Shaped formation were witnessed in Henderson, Nevada. Witnesses state the lights were roughly the size of a large passenger jet.
20:15 - Multiple reports of a similar formation come in from Prescott, Arizona, some 200 miles South-East of Henderson. Shortly after, more reports of lights in the sky came in from nearby Dewey, AZ, 10 miles East of Prescott.
20:20 - Reports of the V-shaped formation spread to areas around Phoenix including Tempe and Glendale.
20:30 - A man and his wife witness a light formation above their home in Chandler, 20 miles South-East of Phoenix.
20:45 - A report of lights in the sky is received from a man in Tucson, 100 miles South-East of Phoenix. According to the report the lights were visible for around 10 minutes before disappearing behind the Santa Catalina Mountains.
22:00 - A new, even larger wave of reports come flooding in from Phoenix. Witnesses describe a number of lights hanging in the air above the city for a substantial amount of time. While barely any video or photographic evidence emerged from the previous light formation, this second Phoenix event was captured on film by multiple Phoenicians and as such was covered far more widely in the media.
While the second group of lights received most of the media coverage (and still do), these were arguably the easiest to explain. Shortly after the mystifying events of March 13th 1997, the US Air Force released a statement claiming responsibility for the second group of lights. Air Force officials stated that the lights were flares released by military jets on exercise at the nearby Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range. As the jets were returning to their base near Tucson, the pilots realized they had not released their full payload of flares and because Air Force rules prohibit aircraft to land with loaded flares, the pilots were forced to release their remaining cargo not far from the Phoenix metropolitan area.
For many, this was explanation enough for what had been a wild and frenzied night in the Phoenix area, but others cried foul. While the 10pm event above Phoenix may be easily explained by the air force statement, what of the fast moving lights that swept across the state from Prescott to Tucson some 2 hours earlier? Indeed, it seems strange that when there remained an element of the unexplained, much of the mass media coverage opted to focus on the more debunked and rational portion of these events.
For many, this seemingly large disconnect has been grounds to cry conspiracy. Even to this day, 17 years on, many Ufologists and conspiracy theorists claim that the military flares were released in an effort to dilute the reports of the earlier state-wide sightings. What it was they were trying to cover-up depends on who you listen to, but the theories generally center around alien visitation or top-secret military aircraft testing. However, don't think for one second that these theories are limited to the usual shady characters, because one of the most fascinating aspects of the Phoenix Lights is the interpretation of these events from one high-profile witness....
Vietnam war veteran Fyfe Symington was Governor of Arizona and one of the many Phoenicians who witnessed the now-famous lights. In the years after the event, Symington has gone public with his opinion that the Phoenix lights was, in fact, an extraterrestrial occurrence. In an interview with CNN said this..
"Unless the Defence Department proves us otherwise, it was probably some form of alien spacecraft." Symington continues "In your gut you could just tell it was other-worldly."
Symington remains the most high-profile witness of the Phoenix Lights, but don't forget, he is but one of thousands who witnessed this bizarre event. Whether they think these lights were aliens or simple military flares, many witnesses and commentators do at least agree on one point... The Phoenix Lights is one of the most fascinating UFO events in history.