What Were the Phoenix Lights?
The Phoenix Lights. Source: (theblackvault.com)
The 1997 event known as the Phoenix Lights has gone down in history as one of the largest UFO sightings ever. While many consider the rumors of extraterrestrial origin to have been debunked, accepting the explanation that the lights were flares, others insist there is more to the story and many link the Phoenix lights to the Hale-Bopp comet which passed the Earth that year.
The sighting occurred on March 13, 1997, and has been described as “a slanting line of bright lights” which appeared one at a time in the sky over Phoenix, Arizona, before disappearing over the Sierra Estrella mountains. Over the next few weeks, witnesses from all over the state, as far away as Henderson, Nevada, reported seeing the lights. These witness accounts were backed by hundreds of photos and videos, making the Phoenix Lights not only one of the largest, but also one of the most documented UFO sightings in history.
However, not all of the witness accounts are the same. In fact, many of them posit that there were actually two incidents that night. The first occurred around 7 pm. A large craft was allegedly seen passing overhead in northwestern Arizona. The first phone call to the National UFO Reporting Center was made by a retired police officer in Paulden who claimed to have seen a “cluster of red-orange lights arranged in a V-formation.” The phone call was followed by numerous reports from cities south of Paulden. While some details varied, all of the reports stated that it was an enormous craft moving slowly and silently, occasionally stopping to hover. The second event, which occurred around 10 pm, was the one to appear in the photos and videos. Rather than a V-formation, this one was an arc which consisted of blinking orbs.
One of the reasons so many people witnessed the Phoenix Lights was that they were already watching the skies hoping to see the Hale-Bopp comet which was approaching its closest pass to the sun. Members of the UFO cult, Heaven’s Gate, believed the comet to be accompanied by an extraterrestrial craft, and later that month, 39 of them committed suicide in an attempt to join the craft. While the Phoenix Lights and the Heaven’s Gate suicides were unrelated events, the two were linked in the 2016 film, The Phoenix Incident.
The official explanation for the lights is that four A-10 ground attack aircraft from Luke Air Force Base were releasing leftover illumination flares over the Barry M. Goldwater Range. However, this explanation is not universally accepted. Many argue that it would only explain the second incident and not the first. This argument is backed by a spokesperson for the National Guard who allegedly stated that the planes which dropped the flares never flew north of Phoenix. According to UFO advocate, Jim Dilletos, who analyzed the photos and videos of the second incident, the lights could not have been caused by any known earthly source, thus dismissing the possibility that either incident was caused by flares. However, his credibility has been called into question by skeptics.
Dilletos wasn’t the only one who didn’t buy the flare explanation. A Phoenix-area physician by the name of Lynne Kitei abandoned her medical career for four years to investigate the Phoenix Lights and continues to promote her account of the events. She produced a full-length documentary and maintains the Phoenix Lights Network. Another witness, by the name of Jan Markham, claims to have seen the flares that night, a sight which was familiar to her husband, as well as the V-formation. Former Arizona governor, Fife Symington, who witnessed the event and once ridiculed the extraterrestrial claims by having someone dress up as an alien during a press conference in which he claimed to have found who was responsible for the Phoenix Lights, later admitted that despite his years as a pilot and his thorough knowledge of flying machines, he had no idea what he saw that night.
The debate over the origin of the Phoenix Lights continues to this day. Videos can be found on YouTube in which the lights appear unmoving for a full minute rather than falling as flares would do. While not everyone makes the jump from UFO to extraterrestrial, there are quite a number of people who feel the incident has yet to be explained.