THE PHOENIX LIGHTS – March 13, 1997
Video Link: www.cnn.com...
Like many, I was fascinated with this case back in 1997 soon after it occurred and I first saw the story on CNN and USA Today. Here was a major UFO
sighting on a massive scale, captured on video, and showed on major media outlets! Wow!
There is no question that mysterious lights appeared in the sky…they were seen by thousands, even videoed by numerous witnesses.
But, soon my elation turned to disappointment after seeing the flares explanation marvelously illustrated on television documentaries, etc. So, like
many others, I filed this case into the neat, but explained category. Little did I know how much, much more there was to the story…
First and most importantly, after looking more deeply into this case, the lights in the videos (yes, there were many videos of the lights) were
neither the first nor the only sightings that evening. Sightings began hours earlier, were reported through official channels at the time, and have
remarkable similarities. While this doesn’t prove much, I did find it intriguing enough to delve a bit deeper into the case.
Secondly, while the flare explanation and the lights disappearing behind the mountain wowed many of us, this same explanation fails to explain the
accounts and video (yes, video) of the first sighting hours earlier…so what was seen then?
Between 7:30pm and 10:30pm MST, lights of varying descriptions were seen by thousands of witnesses over a path of around 300 miles long… For the
flares explanation to be valid for all sightings, this would have had to have been a massive exercise and multiple flare drops, and so far, no such
claim has been made by the military, beyond Operation Snowbird and the one event flares seen over Phoenix.
Was this a case of an actual unidentified craft (whether spaceship or top secret design), or was this all just a massive flare exercise? Was it both,
with a craft initially, and then a cover-up by dropping flares? Was it a combination of planes and flares? Hopefully, the thorough investigation that
follows will provide enough information to allow people to decide for themselves.
I’ll caution that like some of my other threads such as Roswell
, etc., this will be a long read, but hopefully you will find the
information worth it. I’ll present the timeline of events, compiled from numerous sources, and strive to present as much information about each
sighting as possible.
6:55 PM Thursday, March 13, 1997
There’s no place to start like the beginning, so with that we’ll begin with the first commonly regarded sighting. A young man in Henderson, NV (in
a report to NUFORC, the National UFO Reporting Center) witnessed what he described as a V-shaped object with 6 large lights on its leading edge,
approach from the northwest and pass overhead. He described it as large, about the “size of a (Boeing) 747” and said it sounded like “rushing
wind”. It continued in a southeasterly direction and then vanished (Peter Davenport, Director of NUFORC)
From the actual report itself, I’m assuming the witness was younger than a “young man”, but one can decide for themselves by seeing the original
Initial sightings over Superstitious Mountains, east of Phoenix.
A former police officer in Paulden, AZ left his home and was driving north when he saw a cluster of 5 reddish or orange lights. 4 of the lights were
together, with the 5th trailing the other 4. Each individual light appeared to consist of two separate point sources of orange light. He heard no
The witness returned home, grabbed his binoculars, and then observed the lights for another two minutes, before out of his sight.
(Peter Davenport, Director of NUFORC)
Video of first event!
These stills are from the only video I found of the first event (i.e. it takes place prior to the 10pm sightings). Unfortunately, this was from a
documentary on the Travel Channel, that I cannot seem to find a reference to (and it has since deleted from my DVR). I believe it was simply called
“The Phoenix Lights” and aired in Feb. of this year. The stills are from screenshots I took then of the documentary. On the 2nd, I drew in the
lines to see the dots in question (which were much more evident on the video, and moving fast across the sky, about jet speed, though difficult to
tell as few references in the vid.) It’s an excellent special, if you ever see it, or it makes its way to YouTube.
A Mr. Kelley and his wife witness the sighting from the west end of the valley in Glendale, AZ.
Prescott Valley sightings
“They saw a perfect V-shaped formation of 7 lights, a lead light with 3 trailing lights on each side of the V formation. He pulled the car off of
67th and shut off his motor so that they could exit the car and watch the formation more closely. It was difficult for Kelley to determine whether
they were watching one object or a flight of smaller objects. They watched the event for several minutes. Kelley and his wife are both ex-Air Force
and were well acquainted with aircraft and their characteristics. There were no navigation lights visible and no engine sounds detectable.”
[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
Among the witnesses, Dr. X (at first an unidentified doctor, but later identified as Dr. Lynne Kitei) is one who has put her reputation on the line by
talking about her views on what the lights were or weren’t.
Dr. Kitei’s bio can be found here (for those wanting her credentials): www.psitalk.com...
amongst many other sources. She’s a
medical doctor, health educator, and specialist in disease prevention.
She has stated (and photographed, videoed) seeing strange lights both before and after the event with very similar properties, and has authored a book
on the Phoenix Lights case.
Video link: www.youtube.com...
Dewey, AZ sightings
Five adults and a 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.
Blocked Out the Stars: Among the most reliable witnesses of the craft's movements that first night were two airplane pilots, one retired from an
airline, and another from Vietnam, who was also a U. S. Marshall. Though seeing the object at different times and places, both men described a craft
of "immense size," measuring up to a mile long. The Marshall could also see the city lights of Phoenix reflecting from the bottom of the massive
object, while it "blocked out the stars."
Shortly after 8:00 PM, no exact time given
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."
Ley Family sighting in Phoenix
"When it finally got here and we realized this thing was coming right over us, we really started getting antsy," Ley said. Then, said he and his son
Hal, it went directly overhead in complete silence.
Tim Ley said that when the right side of what appeared to be a giant V-shaped craft directly over him, the left side was a couple of blocks away.
His wife, Bobbi, who also saw the aerial light show, said the size of the craft they saw was overwhelming. But, she said, "It didn't seem
threatening. ... When it was right overhead and we couldn't hear a sound, it was like you're just awestruck."Please visit the link provided for the complete story.
Artist Conception of Ley description.
While nobody knows for sure what the Leys and hundreds of others saw, Tim Ley is sure his family will never forget that night. He said it has
changed his outlook on the UFO movement, turning him from a "polite skeptic" to someone quite open to the experiences of UFO believers.Please visit the link provided for the complete story.
Link to audio of Tim Ley: www.cnn.com...
Much longer account of the Ley family sighting: www.ufoevidence.org...
Just before 10:00 PM
Sightings in the Gila River area, object of six to eight lights with another light following the formation, and moving in unison.
Fairly thorough listing of the FIRST EVENT sightings witnesses (including names where applicable, and reported sighting, note, many are anonymous):
THE SECOND EVENT (Likely Flare Solution?)
The second event was the one most often featured. This is where we get the videos, and largest number of witnesses due to its proximity to Phoenix.
The videos include those taken by the following:
Mike Krysten’s video still.
Chuck Rairden’s video still.
There are at least two other main videos of the event given to researchers for analysis, and all are from different vantage points, allowing for a
fairly decent triangulating of the objects and comprehensive analysis. As this occurred near Phoenix, there are almost too many sightings of this
event to count, but the NUFORC registry (and those at or after 22:00) could be checked if one wanted to see a sampling of the reports. As numerous
video footage of this event exists however, it isn’t necessary to duplicate the accounts here.
Another vantage point video
Jim Dilettoso, a name familiar to most researchers analyzed the footage and concluded the objects shown were over Phoenix, not the mountains, and that
the signature did not match that of a flare. However, other researchers and labs have refuted this claim through their own research.
An interesting discussion of his analysis methods can be found here:
Lenny Rudin of Cognitech concluded that the flares in the videos are behind the mountain. In the now infamous footage done for the Discovery Channel
(and the one I mentioned in my intro), you can clearly see the flares disappear behind the mountain one-by-one, when superimposing daylight footage
with the nighttime flare footage.
Flares footage to compare to Phoenix Lights footage:
A local news station took the above footage (still photo from a video shown on various Phoenix Lights specials) of a flare exercise and also noted the
similarity in how long the spheres lasted, in addition to the appearance.
Bruce Maccabee’s Analysis
Bruce Maccabee also examined the various footage taken, and also concluded the flares were behind the mountain range. The link below contains a VERY
lengthy analysis of this, for those interested in the scientific analysis. But, otherwise, his conclusion was as follows:
The preceding analysis shows that, at the very least, the triangulation data suggest flares at high altitude and great distance. These cannot
be ruled out as likely sources for the lights unless there are some very convincing data of some other sort not available to this author. In fact, the
most pars ominous explanation for these lights is that they were flares (as so stated for the March 13, 1997 lights by the Maryland National Guard).
This analysis is therefore consistent with that of the Cognitech Corporation (Dr. Leonid Rudin) done for the Discovery Channel documentary
(November, 1997). It is also consistent with the analysis of Dr. Paul Scowen, professor of astronomy at ASU, as reported by author Tony Ortega in the
Phoenix "New Times" newspaper, March 5-11, 1998, which showed that the lights were farther away than the mountain peaks in the K video. In that
newspaper article the author also reported that an "Arizona National Guard public information officer, Captain Eileen Benz, had determined that the
flares had been dropped at 10 P.M. over the North Tac Range 30 miles southwest of Phoenix at an unusually high altitude of 15,000 ft." Except for the
stated distance, which should be more like 60 miles (and up to 100 miles away) this statement is consistent with the analysis presented here.
ANSWERS FROM THE MILITARY
Meanwhile, as usually seems to be the case in these types of unusual airborne events, conflicting information initially 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. A day later, on March 14, 1997, the same Luke Air Force personnel were quoted as stating they had received no calls concerning the matter. Mr.
Davenport of NUFORC produced phone records showing that he himself had called the base to report the lights on more than one occasion that night
straightforwardly disproved these statements.
Peter Davenport - NUFORC
Phone records showing call to the base and duration
The National UFO Reporting Center also noted that reports were pouring in from the Phoenix area, and in fact many callers claimed they too called the
Air Force base.
For NUFORC reports, see following link, for 3/13/1997 prior to 22:00 (as that time or later would be the second event).
One man, who claimed he was a airman at the Luke Air Force Base, stated (in a NUFORC report) that the US Air Force had launched 2 F-15C fighters
(later clarified by Luke AFB as F-16s, so this claim is somewhat suspect as coming from an airman…more likely (imho) a witness trying to add
credibility to their statement) and that one of the fighters had intercepted the object over Phoenix.
This account was further collaborated by a truck driver (identified as the formerly mentioned Bill Greiner) who was delivering materials to a plant
near the Luke base. He stated that he had watched the UFOs intently 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 2 F-16s 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 upward and disappeared in an instant. He noted that the aircraft passed right through the spot where the object had been.
Greiner's story was somewhat collaborated by a UFO researcher's Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA) to the US Air Force. The Air Force
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. This claim is entirely possible, as the flares were dropped by the visiting National Guard,
not the Air Force.
There are other reports of scrambled aircraft also, provided here for the reader.
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 8:15pm and returned near 10:30pm. They were authorized to use the Goldwater/North Tac 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.
A-10 Warthog and same type of plane dropping flares.
“The LUU-2 has a burn time of approximately 5 minutes while suspended from a parachute. The pyrotechnic candle consumes the flare housing, reducing
flare weight which in turn slows the rate of fall during the last 2 minutes of burn time. At candle burnout an explosive bolt is fired, releasing one
parachute support cable which causes the parachute to collapse. While unburned flares falling from high altitude could be dangerous, burned flares are
much less dangerous since they are designed to burn up during the fall (even the aluminum casing is burned).”
More details about the LUU-2 flares dropped during Operation Snowbird: www.fas.org...
One can note that the flares typically burn for 5 minutes and often can have an amber color due to the flare consuming the aluminum container.
Capt. Eileen Bienz of the Arizona National Guard is credited with discovering that Operation Snowbird may be the cause of the 10pm sighting.
“She learned that on March 13, when area authorities were inundated by
callers questioning the origin of a boomerang formation of lights over
the Phoenix valley, the Maryland Air National Guard was running an
exercise called Operation Snowbird along the Barry Goldwater Gunnery
Range to the southwest.=20
She also learned that the Maryland force flew eight A-10s and dropped
high-intensity flares on the way back to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base
Arizona military bases had said they had nothing in the air that would
have caused the lights. They found otherwise when, under urging by
Bienz, they checked into visiting aircraft.=20
Operation Snowbird brings aircraft from bases in the northern United
States into Arizona from November to April.=20
A Davis-Monthan flight schedule shows a squadron of Operation Snowbird
planes left at 8:15 p.m. on March 13 and returned at 10:30 p.m.=20
A spokesman for Luke Air Force Base confirmed that the Maryland planes
were authorized to use the Goldwater range from 9:30 to 10 that night.=20”
“But Snowbird planes might account for the lights seen near 10 p.m. in
the west, the sightings that provided most of the videotape and
"Our guys did create, while they were up there, an event that this one
colonel told me could be perceived as a hell of a light show," said
Capt. Drew Sullins of the Maryland Guard.=20
Sullins said the planes were probably in a formation, then peeled off
one or two at a time to perform runs during which they would drop
high-intensity flares, called Luu-2, made of either magnesium or
The flares are suspended by a tiny parachute, may be visible for over a
hundred miles and take a long time to drop, Sullins and others said.=20
When the planes had completed their required runs, they still had a
bunch of flares left, and Davis-Monthan doesn't allow planes to land
with flares aboard -- so they jettisoned the remaining flares as they
left the range.=20”
(Same source as previous)
The above was further corroborated by Lt. Col. Tanaka (above) of the Maryland National Guard.
As the citizens demanded answers about the event, Arizona governor Fife Symington stated he ordered an investigation.
But, he then later called reporters to his office to say there had been a break in the case and that they had discovered the source of the lights, and
arrested the guilty party. Needless to say, while amusing to many, to those who honestly seek explanations for what they saw, it was not very amusing
at all when they led in Symington’s aide, wearing a silver suit and alien head mask…
From the witness reports, it would seem that at least two major events took place on March 13, 1997 in the skies of Arizona. The second event, the one
captured on numerous video cameras, photos, etc. seems adequately explained by the flares dropped during Operation Snowbird. The burn times are
consistent with the observed duration, video analysis shows the flares going behind the mountains, and subsequent footage of flares appears identical
to the observed phenomenon.
However, what was the first event? The jury is still out on that one. Personally, I feel it is more likely a combination of untrained observers seeing
the jet formation (that later dropped the flares) and earlier dropped flares (as the military reports two flare drops, the initial use, and then the
dumping of flares). However, the witnesses’ reports cannot be dismissed so easily out of hand. Unfortunately, for the first sighting event, that is
about all we have to go on aside from one very unclear video that is nearly undistinguishable from a jet formation.
The first sighting may remain an enigma, unless more data is obtained perhaps regarding the exact flight path of the A-10s, and the exact times and
formations flown and flares dropped to either explain, or rule out the A-10s role (if any) in the first sighting. Additionally, many of the times and
witness names are not included in the earlier sightings’ reports, making them extremely difficult to include in the analysis (or even assign to the
correct event), as they cannot be corroborated and verified. I’m sure I have not included EVERYTHING here in this initial post, and look forward to
additions, including following up with some of my own further research. My goal here (in this post) was more to include a general, but thorough
overview of the events, and allow the readers to examine the evidence for themselves.
EDITTED to correct broken pic links.
[edit on 29-12-2006 by Gazrok]