Phoenix Lights

The Phoenix Lights, sometimes referred to as "the Lights over Phoenix", is the popular name given to a series of optical phenomena and sightings that took place in the sky over the U.S. states of Arizona and Nevada, and the Mexican state of Sonora on March 13, 1997. 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. Although 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 at Luke Air Force Base, some who observed the events believe differently. Notable among those who reported they had observed a huge carpenter-square shaped UFO, having lights or light emitting engines, is Arizona Republican governor at the time of the incident, Fife Symington.


Initial reports

At about 18:55 PST, (19:55 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. 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 p.m. MST, callers began reporting the object was definitely solid because it blocked out much of the starry sky as it passed over.

One observer 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, 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 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 of the craft when they were above Prescott Valley about 65 miles away from them. At first they appeared to them as five separate and clearly distinct lights in an arc shape like they were on top of a balloon, but they then soon realized that they were moving towards them. Over the next ten or so minutes they kept coming closer and the distance between the lights got further apart and then they took on the shape of an upside down V. Eventually when a couple of miles away they were able to 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 this "craft" was coming right down the street where they lived about 100 to 150 feet above them traveling so slowly it appeared to hover and not making a sound. It then passed over their heads and went on to pass through a V opening in the peaks of the mountain range where they lived and went straight towards Squaw Peak Mountain and beyond toward the direction of Sky Harbor Airport.

Arriving in Phoenix

When the triangular formation entered the Phoenix area, Mitch Stanely, an amateur astronomer, observed the lights using a TELEVUE 32mm Plossl telescope, which produces 43x magnification. After observing the lights, he told his mother, who was present at the time, that the lights were aircraft.

In addition to the triangular formation, a separate phenomena 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."
—Bill Greiner

According to UFO advocates, the lights hovered for about 4-5 minutes over the intersection of Indian School Road and 7th Avenue. Greiner stated that the lights hovered over the area for in excess of 2 hours.

After Phoenix

The lights moved southeast toward Tucson, following Interstate 10 at slow speed. Reports during this period had the lights as being amber in color. A driver on the Interstate noted that a large object hovered over the car, which was moving at about 65 miles per hour.

The object was next reported over Oracle. Here, it was described as having a reddish-orange color. Witnesses claimed that the object split up and each of the bright lights started moving in a separate direction along the edges of Tucson.

Another report came from a young man in the Kingston 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".

The lights were viewed shortly after 11pm MST by at least one person in Yuma, about 180 miles southwest of Phoenix. The lights were described as being bright white and in a perfect "V" formation slowly heading Southeast.



In March 2007, former Arizona Governor Fife Symington III said that he had witnessed one of the "crafts of unknown origin" during the 1997 event, but noted that he didn't go public with the information. Shortly after the lights, Symington held a press conference, stating that "they found who was responsible". However, he quickly changed his mind. In an interview with The Daily Courier in Prescott, 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."
—Fife Symington III

"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."
—Fife Symington III

Symington also noted that he did request 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."
—Fife Symington III

Frances Barwood, who was the former Phoenix city councilwoman in 1997 and who launched an investigation into the event, said that out of the more than 700 witnesses she interviewed, "The government never interviewed even one."


On the Coast To Coast radio show known as The Art Bell Show, broadcast some time after the lights were reported, people claimed to have seen the lights. Other radio shows focusing on the paranormal, such as Jeff Rense's have also taken calls of this nature.

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, the History Channel as part of their UFO Documentary programming. The programming also airs the views of UFO believers, skeptics, and witnesses.

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 at the same time show differing numbers of lights. UFO advocates have claimed that this is evidence that one or more of the videos is fake and possibly part of a conspiracy to discredit those who claim the Phoenix Lights were a UFO. Skeptics have claimed that it 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 Dilletoso 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. Dilletoso 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 flatly 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 publicly stated that their software is incapable of performing spectroscopic analysis. Dilletoso maintains that his methods are valid.

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 affiliate KSAZ, however, 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, subsequently performed a third analysis using daytime imagery overlaid the video shot of the lights and his findings were consistent with Cognitech. The Phoenix New Times subsequently reported the television station had simply overlayed 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 very few known images of the Prescott/Dewey lights. Television station 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.


Skeptics agree with the USAF explanation that the lights were simply slow falling, long burning flares dropped by an A-10 Warthog aircraft on a training exercise over Luke Air Force Base. Proponents of the spacecraft theory stated that the lights were over the city and not beyond the mountain where the Luke AFB was located. However, detailed analysis of the falling flares shows that they were actually beyond the mountain, as investigators discovered the lights vanished in line with the outline of a mountain range located between Phoenix and the Barry Goldwater Range at Luke Air Force Base. An investigation by Luke AFB itself also came to this conclusion and declared the case solved. More recent investigations have come to the same conclusion.

A video illustrating this explanation was broadcast on a special on Fox Television stations about a year after the event. A copy of the original video was used in coordination with a video shot in the daytime from the exact same location. The two videos were merged into one on a frame by frame basis, so that the landmarks (both in the foreground and background) were always perfectly aligned. This allowed analysis of the lights regarding their apparent height above the mountain, and it was easily seen that the lights vanished in line with the outline of the mountain. Military flares such as these can be seen from hundreds of miles with correct environmental conditions. This can explain why the flares were seen from the Nevada state line and Tucson. Later comparisons with known military flare drops were reported on local television stations, showing dramatic 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.

Air National Guard pilot, Lt. Col. Ed Jones, responding to a March 2007 media query, confirmed that he had flown one of the aircraft in 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.


Ufologist and witnesses have dismissed flares as an explanation. UFO proponents have argued that flares do not stay still in mid air, and that flares do not fly in perfect formation. Many also argue that while the flares might be an explanation for the lights seen over Phoenix, it is not a valid explanation for the v-shaped object witnessed during the same night.


Phoenix Lights Video Footage

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