The Phoenix Lights: An In-Depth Look at Arizona’s Most Famous UFO Sightning

Phoenix Lights

For generations, the question of whether we are alone or not in the universe has captivated our collective curiosity. Are aliens real? Are we alone in the universe?

While the topic of aliens and UFOs has been a bit taboo in the media until recently, there has been no shortage of unexplainable occurrences with unidentified flying objects over the years. One of those events includes the Phoenix Lights incident of 1997.

For those unfamiliar with the event, the Phoenix Lights incident was a series of sightings of strange formations of lights in the sky in the US. The lights were seen by a large group of people between 7:30 P.M. to 10:30 P.M. 

The incident has since fueled conspiracy theories, adding to speculation about life outside Earth. It has also inspired several films, books, and documentaries.

The Event Known as the Phoenix Lights

One of the early reports of the event came from a witness in Henderson, Nevada, who reported seeing a large, v-shaped object in the sky. The object was traveling southeast. At 8:15 p.m., a former police officer in Arizona also reported seeing reddish-orange lights disappear over the southern horizon. Not long after, more reports of lights were seen over the Prescott Valley in Arizona.

As documented in UFOs, Chemtrails, and Aliens: What Science Says, Tim Ley, his wife Bobbi, their son Hal, and grandson Damien Turnidge first saw the lights when they were around 105 kilometers away. The lights initially appeared to be moving toward them. Over the next 10 minutes, the lights seemed to move closer, and the distance between the lights increased. They soon formed the shape of an upside-down V. When the lights eventually were several miles away. They said they could see a shape resembling a carpenter’s square with five lights, one in front and two on each side.

The object with the lights soon moved toward them again, around 100 to 150 feet above them and traveling slowly. It gave the impression that it was hovering over them before going through a V opening in the peaks of the mountain range. The object looked like it was heading toward the Piestewa Peak Mountain and the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

In Glendale, Phoenix, between 8:30 and 8:45 PM, witnesses in the suburb said they saw the lights pass overhead. The lights looked high enough that they could be obscured by the clouds.

However, by 10 PM, a large group of people in the Phoenix area said they saw “a row of brilliant lights hovering in the sky or slowly falling.”

Kurt Russell and the Phoenix Lights

It was actually actor Kurt Russell who first reported the incident. He was in the air with his son, Oliver, at the time of the encounter. Russell admits he didn’t think much of the incident until two years later, when his longtime partner Goldie Hawn was watching a show about it. Russell compared it to Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He had completely forgotten about his encounter, and that to him was the oddest part of it.

Russell spoke about the Phoenix Lights in a 2017 interview with the BBC while doing press for Guardians of the Galaxy.

“I was flying [his son Oliver] to go see his girlfriend, and we were on approach,” Russell explained during the interview. “I saw six lights over the airport in absolute uniform in a V shape. Oliver said to me — I was just looking at him, I was coming in, we’re maybe a half a mile out — and Oliver said, ‘Pa, what are those lights?’

“Then I kind of came out of my reverie, and I said, ‘I don’t know what they are.’ He said, ‘Are we okay here?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna call in,’ and I reported it.” Russell added.

The Government Response

Following the incident, the then-governor of Arizona, Fife Symington III, held a press conference. Symington joked that “they found who was responsible” and revealed an aide dressed in an alien costume. In 2007, Symington reportedly claimed that he had a personal encounter with an alien spacecraft but didn’t say anything as “he didn’t want to panic the populace.”

Symington added, “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.”

Investigations and Claims

According to amateur astronomer Mitch Stanley from Scottsdale, Arizona, he also saw the lights “flying in formation” through his telescope. Stanley said the lights were individual airplanes. Author Robert Sheaffer also weighed in on the photographs and videos taken of the Phoenix Lights. Sheaffer said it was “perhaps the most widely witnessed UFO event in history.”

Sheaffer claimed that the Phoenix Lights incident of 1997 is made up of “two unrelated incidents, although both were the result of activities of the same organization.” The organization, Sheaffer said, was Operation Snowbird, a pilot training program by the Air National Guard from the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson.

Astronomer and retired Air Force pilot James McGaha also appeared to echo Sheaffer’s explanation. McGaha said that he also looked into the two separate sightings and traced them back to an A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft that flew in formation at a high altitude.

The first incident, described as a “flying triangle” by witnesses, was due to five A-10 jets from Operation Snowbird. The jets were following an assigned air traffic corridor and were adhering to visual flight rules.

The second incident of the Phoenix Lights, described as a “row of brilliant lights hovering in the sky or slowly falling,” was because of a flare drop exercise by A-10 jets from the Maryland Air National Guard. They were also operating out of the Davis-Monthan AFB under Operation Snowbird.

The US Air Force said the exercise utilized slow-falling, long-burning LUU-2B/B illumination flares by a flight of four A-10 aircraft on a training exercise. The flares would have been visible in Phoenix.

The Phoenix Lights in Pop Culture

Since the 1997 incidents, the Phoenix Lights have become the subject of books, documentaries, and films. A documentary, The Phoenix Lights…We Are Not Alone, was executive produced by Lynne D. Kitei. It was based on the book, The Phoenix Lights…A Skeptic’s Discovery That We Are Not Alone, which features astronaut Edgar Mitchell and Symington.

Daniel Pace directed the 2008 film The Appearance of a Man, a mystery-thriller about the Phoenix Lights. It starred Tom Basham, Scott Dillon, Richard Glover, and Slade Hall. The year before, in 2007, the horror film Night Skies was based on the incident. It starred Jason Connery, AJ Cook, and Ashley Peldon.

A science-fiction film, They Came From Outer Space, whose original title was Phoenix Lights The Movie, was also based on the incident. It starred Ossie Beck, Mackenzie Firgens, Yvette Rachelle, Matt Mercer, Terin Alba, Courtney Gains, Mark Arnold, Michael LeMelle, Aaron Mills, and Luke Amsden.

In 2015, the science-fiction conspiracy horror film The Phoenix Incident was also released, followed by Phoenix Forgotten in 2017.

Now, 26 years after the Phoenix Lights incident, the truth remains unknown. The events that unfolded in the skies that night continue to puzzle both skeptics and believers alike. Despite numerous investigations and theories, we are no closer to a definitive answer.

What were those mysterious lights? Alien spacecraft, military flares, or an optical illusion? For now, the Phoenix Lights remain one of the most compelling unsolved mysteries of our lives, a testament to the enduring allure of the unknown that keeps us looking up at the stars with wonder and anticipation.

What do you think was in the skies over Phoenix on March 13, 1997? Sound off in our comment section below.


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