(read part I, UFOs Over Phoenix)
In the wake of the March 13, 1997 sighting by thousands of people of two sets of peculiar lights over Phoenix, AZ, an official explanation gradually emerged. The lights were not alien spacecraft but rather flares, dropped that night by pilots from the Maryland Air National Guard, who were conducting training exercises at the Barry Goldwater Air force Range. Lt. Col Ed Jones, who piloted one of the aircraft, later gave this account to the Arizona Republic.
On the way back to Tucson, not far from Gila Bend, Jones says, he reminded pilots to eject their leftover flares. Since this was their last night on maneuvers, it was more cost-effective to eject the flares than to offload and store the munitions upon returning.
“One of our guys had about 10 or so left, so he started to puke them out, one after another,” Jones says. “So every few seconds or so, when the next flare was ready to go, he hit the button and launched it.”
Jones looked behind him and saw an evenly spaced string of lights over the desert, floating ever so slowly to earth. Each was extremely bright, a “couple million” candle power, Jones knew. They seemed to hover because heat from the flare rose into the parachute, as if each were a tiny hot-air balloon. The planes headed for the base.We know what you are thinking: Ha! That flying saucer crash debris reportedly discovered at Roswell, NM in 1947 was actually just pieces of a weather balloon, too. Indeed, the flare explanation was as tempting of a target for UFOologists as the Warren Commission’s single-bullet theory was to JFK assassination buffs. As Steve Lantz wrote in this UFO Digest manifesto, “The Phoenix Lights—Debunking the Debunkers,” on the 10-year-anniversary of the original sighting:
The big question here is; “If flares are routinely dropped over the Barry Goldwater Range and they have done so for many, many years, wouldn’t it be logical to assume that most Phoenicians would be used to seeing them and that any reports by people (i.e. newcomers and visitors) mistaking them for a UFO would be relatively few and far between? What would prompt thousands of people to suddenly call into local newspapers, police stations, news stations, radio stations and Luke Air Force base, all on the same night and all around the same time? It is plainly obvious that many people saw something very strange (not something as mundane and routine as a flare drop) and felt compelled to report it and find out what it was.
A similar February 6, 2007 sighting of mysterious lights in the Phoenix area, a little less than 10 years after the original incident, didn’t exactly quell UFOologists’ suspicions. This time, the military was quick to claim responsibility, again citing flares as the explanation. But who’s going to buy that, when you have a photo like this? A third sighting on April 21, 2008—this time of four lights in a square shape that eventually became a triangular shape, aroused national attention, especially after the military disclaimed responsibility. The next day, however, a local man disappointed those who were hoping that Phoenix had become an off-ramp on the intergalactic expressway, when he told the Arizona Republic that he had seen his neighbor releasing weather balloons with flares attached.
American Paranormal: UFOs Over Phoenix premieres on Feb. 22 at 9P et/pt.