March 13, 1997: The Phoenix Lights Phenomenon


The Phoenix Lights was a [phenomenon on March 13, 1997, where a series of unidentified flying objects were widely sighted over Arizona, Nevada, and some areas in Mexico.

Over the course of 3 hours, thousands of people reported lights with various different descriptions in a space of about 300 miles, from the Nevada line through Phoenix and the edge of Tuscon.

The 2 major sightings consisted of a triangular formation in the sky, and separately, a bunch of singular lights in the Phoenix area.

The United States Air Force claimed that the second group of singular lights were from training exercises, but an FOIA request just last year revealed that the Air Force did not have any exercises going on at that time.


Just around 6:55 PM, a man reported seeing a V-shaped object above him in Henderson, Nevada, about the size of a large airplane with the sound of rushing wind. It had 6 lights on one side.

A former police officer was the next to report a sighting, after leaving his home around 8:00 PM. While driving, he saw a cluster of reddish/orange lights comprising 4 lights together with a 5th trailing behind. He returned home and watched the lights through his binoculars until they disappeared.

In Prescott and Prescott Valley, a few minutes after the former police officer saw the lights, callers began reporting an object flying over the sky, definitely solid because it was blocking out the stars as it traveled across the sky.

Resident John Kaiser and his wife and children were outside when they saw the triangular pattern of the lights, and they saw them for 2-3 minutes before they disappeared, but they could not determine the altitude. The National UFO Reporting Center was alerted.

The town of Dewey, just 10 miles outside of Prescott, had 6 reports of a large cluster of lights while driving north on the highway.

The lights were making their way to Phoenix. Once the triangular formation arrived in Phoenix, a cement driver hauling a load down a mountain noticed the second group of lights. He said: "I'll never be the same again. If anybody had told me they saw a UFO, I would've said, Yeah, and I believe in the tooth fairy." He said he may just be a dumb truck driver, "but I've seen something that don't belong here."

Though this seemed like it could be a one-time phenomenon, there have been similar appearances both in 2007 and 2008, both reported by residents who called in to report the odd lights. However, in 2007, it was determined to be flares dropped by a military aircraft, and the 2008 incident was determined to be a resident who attached flares to a helium balloon and released them.

There is photographic documentation of the event, some of the triangular formation and some of the various lights singularly around the sky.


There is some controversy about what happened that night. Some believe that, due to the various different reports, that there were many different UFOs, each their own "event", but this is largely dismissed. But for the sake of talking about it, the media and investigators have liked to categorize them into only 2 events, the first and second.

The first event was the "V" shaped lights appearing over Arizona and traveling south. Those who support the 2 events theory still really have no explanation for this. Some believe that it was just an aircraft, and "quite clearly" individual airplanes. But do hundreds of people typically call in to report airplanes flying over?

Residents did not believe he was referring to the same event that they saw, and there was no proof that any military or civilian aircraft were flying over the area at that time. But beyond this, there really aren't any plausible explanations.

The second event, the set of 8-9 lights appearing to "hover" over the city around 10 PM, was covered more extensively by the media, mostly due to many images and videos taken of the lights.

The U.S. Air Force explained this event as flairs dropped from a training aircraft during an exercise at the Barry Goldwater Range, which would have rendered the flares visible, and appearing to "hover" due to the rising heat creating a balloon effect. They would have disappeared when they winked out, falling behind a mountain range.

A Maryland Air National Guard confirmed that he had flown one of the aircraft in the formation that dropped flares that night and it was asserted to be true in a 2000s history report about the Maryland Air National Guard. Some analyses proved that the illumination of the flares that would have been used would have fallen within the range of the sightings.

At the time of the incident, there was little coverage besides a local news outlets noting the event. But in June, USA Today ran a front-page story that blew the story open, and resulted in coverage from ABC and NBC television networks, and became a popular staple of UFO-related documentaries.

The explanation of this event seems questionable at best, and to this day, many people who saw the event still don't believe the explanations of what they saw. Maybe the UFOs weren't carrying aliens, but it certainly seems fair to define them as unidentified flying objects, and they were spotted widely 23 years ago today.



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