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The largest mass sighting of a UFO – the Phoenix Lights 22 years later!

Tighten your tin foil hats with me as we deep dive into what happened the night of March 13th 1997 when the Phoenix Lights phenomenon made its first appearance and became one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century.

What is the Phoenix Lights?

The Phoenix Lights was a series of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFO) seen in the night sky between 19:30-22:30 covering approx. 300 miles from the Nevada line through Phoenix and other parts of the Arizona state.

The timeline of sightings

Unlike most reported UFO sightings, what makes the Phoenix Lights so fascinating is the undeniable quantity of witnesses. It is much harder to dispute the possibility of extraterrestrial presence when cities and towns full of people saw similar incidences at the same time.

19:55 – Henderson, Nevada

The first reported sighting came from a man in Henderson who described the UFO as:

“The size of a Boeing 747, which sounded like rushing wind and had six lights on its leading edge.”

20:15 – Paulden, Arizona

Next, a police officer from Paulden called into officials that when leaving his house at 20:15 he noticed a cluster of red/orange lights in the sky, with four of the lights, close together in a V formation and the fifth trailing them.

20:20 – Prescott and Prescott Valley, Arizona

In the Prescott and Prescott Valley area, many witnesses reported seeing a UFO and described it as definitely solid, because it blocked out the stars in the sky as it moved.

In the same area, a family reported that through binoculars they saw lights in the sky for approx. 2-3 minutes and noted:

“The lights formed a triangular pattern, they all appeared to be red, except the light at the nose of the object, which was distinctly white.”

Dewey, Arizona

Nearby, in Dewey, Arizona, five adults and a child were driving on Highway 69 when they saw a very large cluster of lights, which formed a ‘V’ shape in the sky. They pulled over to get a better look at the object and noted that it appeared to be directly above them and hovering for several minutes. The driver specifically stated:

“The object was moving very slowly and was very large. He would estimate the object was not over 1,000 feet above the ground and there was absolutely no sound coming from it. He also could see a small, private aircraft in the vicinity of the object which was heading in the direction of Prescott airport.”

20:30 – Phoenix, Arizona

A family of four in Phoenix first spotted lights in the sky when they were above Prescott Valley, at first they thought they were five separate lights in an arc-shape but once the lights were a few miles away they could make out a shape that looked like a 60-degree carpenter’s square attached to five lights. They estimated that the object was 100 to 150 ft above them as it silently came overhead.

The National UFO Reporting Center went on to receive multiple calls from the areas of Chino Valley, Tempe, Glendale, Phoenix, Kingman and Tuscon across the next few hours. Notably, an amateur astronomer in west Phoenix described seeing an object in the sky that resembled:

“A cluster of solid unblinking lights, which moved in an unwavering procession from the north to south.”

He discerned that each of the individual lights was, in fact, two smaller lights and that there were two aircraft in the vicinity of the object.

Additionally, several witnesses in the Phoenix area reported seeing nine lights in an arc formation and estimate that they hovered over the city for more than two hours around 22:00.

20:45 – Tuscon, Arizona

In Tucson, Arizona, a man reported that he saw lights for approx. 15 minutes between 20:45-21:00, describing them as:

“Having come from the northwestern sky, manoeuvred overhead for 5-10 minutes, and then moved off to the south in ‘nose to tail’ formation, disappearing from sight as they moved over the mountains.”

Kingman, Arizona

The last location to report any sightings of UFO’s that night was in Kingman, Arizona, back towards Nevada. A man travelling to LA used a phone booth to report seeing a large and bizarre cluster of lights moving slowly in the northern sky.

What could have happened?

As you can gather just from these select few witness statements, there are various descriptions as to what exactly was seen by an estimated 10,000 people but the general consensus in the media is that there were two distinct UFO events.

The First Event

This covers the sightings of the ‘V’ light formation attached to a wedge-shaped object that appeared over Northern Arizona and travelled south over the entire state in 106 minutes.

Newspaper article from USA Today

A reporter at the Phoenix New Times proposed that the incident was in fact just aeroplanes and that a phenomenon known as illusory contours caused the human eye to see unconnected lines or dots as a single shape which is why witnesses thought it was one big UFO.

Several believers dispute this conclusion based on the fact that no military or civilian aircraft formations were scheduled to fly that evening. However, there was a classified military mission happening at the time, according to officials the Maryland National Guard jets were on their way to drop the flares at Barry Goldwater Range in Arizona.

For many believers and witnesses, including the then-Governor of Arizona, Fife Symington III, this was not enough evidence to sway them. Symington expressed how he requested 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 no one had an answer for what happened. The military even responded with ‘no comment’ to him despite the fact he was the governor of Arizona at the time.

The Second Event

This focuses on the reports of nine blinking lights in an arc formation appearing to hover over the city of Phoenix and surrounding areas at around 22:00, and then slowly moved towards the Estrella mountain range where it disappeared.

The US Air Force identified the lights as slow-falling, long-burning illumination flares dropped by an A-10 Warthog aircraft whilst performing training exercises at the Barry Goldwater Range.

Of course, many people dispute this explanation again. Dr. Lynne Kitei, a witness to the events on March 17th and author of ‘Phoenix Lights: A Skeptic’s Discovery That We Are Not Alone’ raises the question:

How can flares keep a formation, traverse the entire state and beyond for hours in a rock-solid V?

Former F-16 pilot, Ty Groh, backed the Air Force’s explanation, stating that the flares account does hold merit since they can act like hot-air balloons and a strong gust of wind could propel all the flares in a uniform distance. Also, the brightness of the flares can make them appear closer than they are.

What to make of it?

I guess this all just leaves us pondering whether we will ever know what definitively happened that night on March 13th, 22 years ago? I suppose depending on what you believe you could argue that we already know.

So do you believe that the masses of UFO sightings from that night can be explained by secret military missions or was it extraterrestrials paying us a friendly visit?

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