The Phoenix Lights

One of the biggest mass sighting events of recent time.
Authentic Phoenix Lights UFO photograph
Photograph of the historic event over Phoenix

For decades the series of sightings known as the “Phoenix Lights” have puzzled many to turn their heads skyward and wonder about extraterrestrial life in the universe. The phenomenon took place in southern Arizona, as a reported 1 mile wide array of amber lights silently glided North to South over downtown Phoenix and neighboring cities.

While there were several official explanations given to the media, many agree that it was an unsuccessful attempt at covering up an unprecedented demonstration of extraterrestrial craft. Experts and witnesses in commercial aviation, civilian military, air traffic control, local police and many other walks of life have yet to classify the craft they witnessed.

The Phoenix Lights

Many citizens of Arizona were already out of their homes waiting to catch a rare glimpse of the recently discovered Hale-Bopp Comet as it approached its closest distance to Earth. The comet would be visible right after sundown and was the premier spectacle of the stargazing audience creating an enormous availability of witnesses for the mass sighting to take place. Tim Ley and his family were in their driveway that evening and got to live an experience many have only seen in theaters.

Tim Ley relives the Phoenix Lights UFO incident

We were standing right in my front yard and watched this Alpha pattern of five bright white lights come directly at us for probably about 15 minutes altogether before it reached us…

And now this object was almost upon us and we still didn’t hear anything. At this point, especially because of its apparent immense size and slow speed, it began to dawn upon us that this was not anything we were even remotely familiar with.

It was not an airplane or a balloon or helicopters or anything else we had ever seen before. It was a real UFO.” – Tim Ley. UFO Witness

Within minutes of the first sightings, telephone reports tied up the phone lines of the National UFO Reporting Center, Luke Airforce Base, local police and media offices. Witnesses described a large V-shaped craft with 5-7 bright lights gliding at low altitude moving at “blimp speed” with 1-2 lights freely flying in tow. Many were completely stifled by the sheer size and presence of the craft.

The reports would continue through the night and into the weeks ahead. In the reports that followed, one in particular would provide detailed information regarding the nearby military installment, Luke Air Force Base. Nearly 8 hours after the initial sighting, an alleged Airman stationed at the base phoned into the National UFO Reporting Center.   

“Caller: …two F-15’s that we keep on “Ready Alert”…They’re part of the Air Force One and Air Force Two “Protection Group”… to protect ‘em when they come west of the Rockies, whenever the President or any dignitary is on board.

They were launched because…all Hell broke loose, basically.  Apparently, we got a call from, ah, Prescott Valley Airport, a small airport, um,  north of us…I’m sorry, northwest.  And reporting an object that had a near miss with a small Cessna…aircraft.

…Approximately 8:32, uh, from my understanding, that they encountered something over the sky, …over Phoenix, Arizona, over the area of 7th Avenue and Indian School Road.
They don’t know what it was.  The description that the pilot…one of the pilots stated that they had a visual on it, they’ve got gun camera film of it, they have no radar tape of it.  It scared the hell out of them.²

The Media Responds

During the following months local news outlets scrambled to get a story, and to report to an ardent audience an explanation. A small news team encountered Councilwoman and Vice Mayor, Frances Barwood on her way into a City Hall meeting. Barwood previously unaware of the event took it upon herself to bring the issue forward in the meeting.

Counsilwoman Frances Barwood

“When it was my turn to speak I said, “There were some reporters outside that had asked some questions about the lights that appeared March 13th, could we find out what it was?” It was like this silence, and I felt kind of uneasy… and they went on.

After the meeting was over, one of the assistant city managers came up to me and said, “You shouldn’t have asked that question… It’s something that they don’t want to deal with. The mayor’s office had already issued a statement…”

I thought this was so unusual. Something flies over our airspace, flies over our airports airspace, and they are afraid for me to bring up this question…” -Frances Barwood.

Barwood’s comments in the meeting were ridiculed in the following press releases, but the criticism turned over a positive development. Several thousand phone calls were made to the offices of Barwood and her colleagues in office leaving messages describing their personal accounts in detail prompting Barwood to write a letter to then Senator John McCain asking for a larger investigation. Senator McCain responded in a sarcastic tone, filing his response with the National Archives where there was no further correspondence.

phoenix lights press conference

Symington jokes about the lights

Citizens had their curiosity further scorned as Governor Fife Symington sought to quell the building hysteria surrounding the events of March 13th. Symington called an unscheduled press conference where he announced the mystery had been solved.

He had his chief of staff dressed in a space alien costume bound in handcuffs as he joked, “This goes to show, you guys are entirely too serious.”

While he believed his attempts of humor would lighten the tension reactions from the public were of contempt. He later promised an investigation into the sighting turning up no additional leads.

The official explanation from the Maryland Air National Guard appeared in the Arizona Republic Newspaper July 25 of that year. Stating they had eight A-10 aircraft running a training exercise in the Goldwater Gunnery Range dropping flares on their way back to Tuscon. While there is account of flares being dropped over the range later that night around 10 pm, the bulk of the witness testimony and dated transcripts from 911 operators clearly place the sighting 2 hours earlier.

“That was just ridiculous. Flares go down, they don’t float across the sky.” -Verlee Nanneman. Veteran 911 Phoenix Police Operator.

Phoenix lights comparison with flares

Flare comparison with Phoenix lights

Many researchers agree the official story was a clever smokescreen to explain away the Phoenix Lights, but to the people who witnessed the phenomenon that evening it was a detestable attempt. The Goldwater Range has been in continuous operation since the 1940’s dropping flares for decades over the valley south of the Estrella Mountains. There is a strong indication that the residents of Phoenix are quite familiar with the appearance of flares in the night sky. However unwaveringly the officials stand by their story, it does not take into account the thousands of witness testimonies that consistently describe a gigantic V-shape craft silently gliding over the downtown Phoenix area.

“It’s plainly obvious that many people saw something very strange, not something as routine as a flare drop, and felt compelled to report it and find out what it was.” -Steve Lantz. Co-Producer of “The Phoenix Lights Documentary”

Setting the Record Straight

March 17, 2007 Former Governor Fife Symington admitted his close encounter. In an exclusive interview he recounted his experience in detail, and apologized to the citizens of Arizona for any unintentional insult. He was among a handful of official American representatives to come forward with an eye witness testimony and publicly criticize the attitude of Federal government in regard to this issue.

phoenix lights : Governor Fife Symington

“In 1997, during my second term as governor of Arizona, I saw something that defied logic and challenged my reality.

I witnessed a massive delta-shaped, craft silently navigate over Squaw Peak, a mountain range in Phoenix, Arizona. It was truly breathtaking.. 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…

I would now like to set the record straight. I never meant to ridicule anyone. My office did make inquiries as to the origin of the craft, but to this day they remain unanswered.

Incidents like these are not going away…What I saw in the Arizona sky goes beyond conventional explanations. When it comes to events of this nature that are still completely unsolved, we deserve more openness in government, especially our own.”

The Energy Endures

Arizona is known for its natural beauty, lush desert landscapes, landmarks, arts, community, and a rich vein of American Indian heritage bringing travelers from all over the world. The Lights seen over Phoenix are still one of the most talked about sightings in history. Phoenix has seen many smaller repeat sightings over the years, and the people who see them do their best to document.

Even today, Arizona residents and tourists alike look to the darkening desert skies for repeat visits of the “Phoenix Lights”. The witnesses who saw the gliding lights that evening are not at all resistant to share their stories, and many say that this event has changed their life in a positive way, expanding their world view and bringing pause to ponder their place in the universe.

“I feel that the event woke-me-up. That I got out of my daily routine… There’s something greater out there. That there’s more out there. Open up your heart, open up your mind, because it’s real.” -Mike Fortson. Former Honor Guard, U.S. Navy


  1. Comet Hale-Bopp.” Stardust. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA. Web. November 26, 2003. Retreived July 30, 2014.
  2. UFO Events Over Arizona.” National UFO Reporting Center Transcript. Web. March 13, 1997. Retrieved July 30, 2014.
  3. Barwood, Frances. “The Phoenix Lights” (2005). Web.  September 11, 2012. Retrieved July 31, 2014. Phoenix Lights Documentary (2005).Dir. Lynne Kitei. Steve Lantz Productions, 2005. Film.
  4. Symington: I saw a UFO in the Arizona sky“ Web. November 9, 2007. Retrieved July 31, 2014.
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Joel is a professional visual effects artist with work in game, television, and film. He is an enthusiastic researcher of the mysterious and paranormal, and the founder of His favorite topics are history, pop culture, UFOs, extraterrestrial lore, and the spirituality that sometimes accompanies them.
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      4 August 2016 at 4:57 am

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