#20 - The Phoenix Lights of 1997


Phoenix. The capital city of the great state of Arizona.

With average summer high temperatures reaching 105 degrees Fahrenheit, or 40 Celsius, Phoenix is widely considered to be hotter than Satan’s ballsack. Surrounded by nothing but a landscape of distant mountains, cacti, and various shrubberies, it feels kinda like that one Smashmouth song where they sing about walking on the sun.

Peggy Hill said it best: “This city should not exist. It is a monument to man’s arrogance.”

But in this great, yet unparalleled city of arrogance, a peculiar event took place in 1997, an event so shocking, that it left thousands of local residents bewildered as they stared up into the night sky in disbelief.

In a time where the Hale-Bopp comet was passing over the skies of the Southwestern United States, and the Heaven’s Gate Cult was preparing to “evacuate the earth” by committing ritualistic mass suicide while all wearing the same pair of Nike tennis shoes, a different, more shocking aerial event took place in the skies over this desert paradise.


World renowned actor and pillar of the Hollywood community, Kurt Russell, (friend of the show) who is a licensed pilot, had been flying his small plane into Phoenix on the evening of March 13, 1997 along with his step son Oliver Hudson, and became the first known person to report the phenomenon to any authority. Kurt had been flying Oliver in to Phoenix to see his girlfriend, by his own account.

As the two flew over Phoenix preparing to land, the two spotted strange lights over the airport.

“I saw 6 lights over the airport in absolute uniform in a V-Shape” he would later describe in an interview.

His son Oliver would ask him what they were, to which Kurt would respond with an honest “I don’t know”, before reporting the lights to the tower at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, making him the first person to report the sightings.

However, the tower responded back that they showed nothing on their radars.

“I was feeling like Richard Dreyfus in Close Encounters of the Third Kind” he would later say.


At 8:10 PM, local Arizona resident Ross Nickle and his family were driving on highway 89, outside Chino Valley, 90 miles North of Phoenix.

“I looked out the window and I saw some lights in a very small pattern, and what they really looked like at that point was some – just dim stars, several of them, in a very tight pattern.”

“They were white like stars when they were coming towards us. And at that point, they changed colors and went from white to red. They were just overhead at that point, and they were in my estimation not very high off the ground, I’m guessing 1,000 feet. And there was absolutely no sound, during the whole time from the start to the finish, there was absolutely no sound.”

“There was definitely 5 of them, they were basically on a flight pattern of some kind that was fairly uniform.”

“We saw them travel over a distance of probably 70-80 miles over about 12 to 13 minutes. No flares that I know can do that.”


10 minutes later at 8:30PM, 90 miles south, a commercial airline pilot and his wife were driving home from dinner. The pilot agreed to tell his story to the show Unsolved Mysteries on condition of anonymity.

“I’ve been flying for 29 years, now, and I’m not used to looking up in the sky and not being able to figure out what I’m seeing. I looked at it then and tried to make it into an airliner. I realized again, god, it’s going too slow, and oh, by the way, there’s no noise at all. And then the next thing that struck me is that yeah, and why would his landing lights be pointed straight down? Because the lights appeared to be about five lights arrayed in this V formation with landing lights pointed straight down.”


14 miles southeast of the pilot’s sighting, a woman by the name of Ozma Linderman and her boyfriend had their very own sighting. She told Unsolved Mysteries the following:

“It was very clear in my mind that it was one solid craft. The lights were traveling too perfectly spaced apart, and that there was a void clearly between the lights that blacked out the stars when it came down.”

“The whole thing just slowed – I don’t know, maybe to a stop or it hovered for a second, and then what looked like one solid red oval object, it just turned red and shot straight up and disappeared – gone. Completely gone.”

“I’m certain that the lights that I saw were not aerial flares as used by the military. I’ve seen them from the ground, I’ve seen them from the air, and these weren’t flares. And probably the major reason why that these were almost certainly not flares dropped by the military was that they’re dangerous, so they would never ever be dropped over a population center.”


8:45PM, Truck Driver Gary Morris saw the strange lights about 80 miles south of Ozma Linderman.

Truck driver Gary Morris told Unsolved Mysteries “You know, I tried everything I could to explain them away, and I said well, it looks to me like a flock of geese flying down from Iowa with flashlights in their mouth.”

“They didn’t look like floodlights, they didn’t really look like spotlights, there was something different about them that I had never seen before.”

By 9PM, the Phoenix lights had apparently traveled 300 miles and had been seen by hundreds of eyewitnesses. All hell was breaking loose across the city, as people began to peel their sweat-stained T-shirts off the backs of their chairs in order to rush outside and view the spectacle happening over their city.


10PM, that very same night. Local resident Michael Krzyston grabbed his home video camera and began shooting video of strange balls of light floating over the twinkling city of Phoenix.

“And before I know it, an entire display of lights comes on. I got a little excited at that time, and I called my wife, it took her about a minute to get over there, and it was really quite unusual.”

There’s also another video of the incident was shot 15 miles away at the same time from a slightly different angle from an anonymous eyewitness.


Captain Drew Sullins of the Air National Guard told Unsolved Mysteries “The 104th Fighter Squadron of the Maryland Air National Guard’s 175th Wing was conducting a night training exercise in the vicinity of the mysterious lights, and what they were doing was dropping night illumination flares over the north tactical range of Luke Air Force Base, and a lot of people seemed to think that those flares could in fact have been the quote/unquote mysterious lights.”

Later he said “If you lived in Phoenix, these flares, some of them were dropped at 14 and 15,000 feet, they burn very bright, they burn for 5 to 6 minutes, they’re suspended by a parachute, and it’s a large flare. You would be able to see those flares I would imagine for 150, maybe even 200 miles.”


Even some of the most prominent and important people in the country witnessed the event.

Meghan McCain, the daughter of the late Senator John McCain, who was a Senator for the state of Arizona at the time, claims that the event made her a believer in the UFO phenomenon.

When she was just 12 years old, her neighbor called the house, and told Meghan about the strange lights that were up in the sky. Upon hanging up the phone, she told her mom Cindy about the strange objects that were being spotted hovering over the city. And then, all hell broke loose: their phone began ringing off the hook, as their family friends and neighbors began to ask if they were seeing what they were seeing.

“At first, mom wasn't sure how to react. My dad was away in Washington D.C., and she didn't want to terrify a house full of kids, especially, right before bedtime.

Eventually, she allowed me and my brothers to go out to the yard to take a look for ourselves.

And there it was. Giant, bright objects floating in a straight line in the distance.”

According to Meghan, the lights she saw were 9 seemingly stationary lights that hung over the city for hours, before they suddenly disappeared over the horizon, which would conflict with the official military report that these were flares, which would only burn for about 6 minutes each.

Meghan recalls her brothers going up to the roof of their house to watch the lights, and singing the X-Files Theme Song

Although Meghan’s brothers were excited by the so-called Phoenix Lights, they left young Meghan shocked and horrified, by what she saw.


Within days, Tucson Weekly broke the news that the Maryland Air National Guard, in Arizona for winter training, had a squad of A-10 Warthogs flying over the gunnery range that night, and they had dropped flares. An Arizona National Guard public information officer, Captain Eileen Bienz, had determined that the flares had been dropped at 10 p.m. over the North Tac range 30 miles southwest of Phoenix, at an unusually high altitude: 15,000 feet.


During a now infamous press conference which was called shortly after the incident, the Governor of Arizona, Fife Symington, who himself was a former US Air Force pilot that served in the Vietnam war, stood in front of reporters at a podium. He began to address the alleged incident, and shortly into his opening statement, said the following:

“and now I’ll ask officer Stein and his colleagues to escort the accused into the room so that we may all look upon the guilty party.”

His chief of staff then walked in from stage left, wearing a full alien costume and handcuffs.

“Don’t get him too close to me, please.”

Nervous and hesitant laughter can be heard in the room, before he goes on to say:

“This just goes to show that you guys are entirely too serious” before stronger laughter erupts in the room.


Fife Symington was widely criticized and skewered publicly for treating such a serious event as a joke, particularly by Ufologists and UFO believers. He ended up leaving office later that year, 1997, after being indicted on 21 federal counts of extortion, making false financial statements, and bank fraud, and subsequently being convicted on 7 of those counts, resigning from his governorship the following day.

In the years since leaving politics, he has changed his tune on the story, and treats it as less of a laughing matter, and has expressed his dissatisfaction with the air force’s explanation that these were flares. Although he accepts that flares may have been dropped that night, he believes that the Phoenix Lights were something completely separate.


To Dr. Lynne Kitei, a medical doctor and a witness to the event, and author of the book Phoenix Lights: A Skeptic’s Discovery That We Are Not Alone, the military’s explanation is complete bullshit.

“I don’t know what they were, but I know that they were… it was a mile-wide formation of these orbs, and I caught them head-on turning into a V.”

Dr. Kitei cites eyewitnesses who claim to have seen an actual craft, not just lights, flying over Arizona on that night, black or gunmetal in color.

However, Ty Groh, a former F-16 pilot, refutes this, and believes the flare explanation to be entirely plausible, explaining that flares react like hot-air balloons, going where the wind takes them, meaning that a steady breeze can carry them all in the same direction, causing them to all move in unison with each other at a constant distance.

He went on to further explain that extremely bright objects, such as flares, can appear closer than they really are, and experienced it himself while flying F-16’s.

“You’ll be looking at airliners that look like they’re 10 miles away and they’re really 400 miles away” he said.


As you have probably gathered by now, despite thousands of people witnessing the same event, nobody can seem to agree on what it was.

The year following the Phoenix lights, in a 1998 article in New Times written by Tony Ortega, he wrote of a man by the name of Mitch Stanley who witnessed the lights through a large Dobsonian telescope. He wrote:

“It was plain to see, [Mitch] Stanley says. Under magnification, Stanley could clearly see that each light split into pairs, one each on the tips of squarish wings. Even under the telescope's power, the planes appeared small, indicating that they were flying high. Stanley says he followed the planes for about a minute, then turned his telescope to more interesting objects.

"They were planes. There's no way I could have mistaken that," he says.”

(end of article)


Aftermath and Conclusion

So as the story of the Phoenix Lights grew in fame, the story itself began to evolve, and it’s become difficult to separate fact from fiction, and as the years and decades have passed, the story has become one giant game of telephone. Some have accepted the official explanation that these were just flares that were dropped at high altitude by military aircraft, but some witnesses INSIST that they saw not just lights in the sky, but a giant, V-Shaped craft that the lights were attached to, which blocked out the stars in the night sky as it passed slowly and silently overhead.

Allegedly, the so-called Phoenix Lights were first spotted over Henderson, Nevada, before heading in a Southeasterly direction, and then after passing over Phoenix, they were then allegedly spotted later in Mexico.

"We call it the Phoenix Lights, but it's really not completely accurate," said Richard Dolan, referencing the sightings hours earlier in Nevada. "... You're talking about two distinctive types of events. Could be related. Could be the same thing. Could be something different."

To muddy the waters even more, the Phoenix lights were being spotted at around 8PM on that night, while the military claims that they were dropping flares between 9PM and 10PM on that night, causing a huge discrepancy. If these really were flares, then either the eyewitnesses, or the military, (or both), are reporting the wrong time.

Furthermore, if these were flares, they would burn out after about 5-6 minutes, but these were being reported as lights that hung in the sky for hours. Were the eyewitnesses really seeing lights that hung in the sky for hours, or were these just flares that were being deployed again and again over the night sky by the military?

Was this all a misunderstanding? A game of telephone that spiraled out of control? Or was the city of Phoenix Arizona visited by a strange craft from another world?