– Tonight, something strange happened in the skies over Arizona that still hasn’t been fully explained. – [Announcer] An event now known as the Phoenix lights. – [Announcer] It is extraordinary. – [Announcer] No one knows for sure what happened that night in the skies over Arizona in March, but thousands of people saw something. – This week on Buzzfeed Unsolved, we investigate the Phoenix lights, a possible UFO sighting in Phoenix, Arizona. This case is regarded by many to be ^one of the bigger UFO cases of all time, ^mainly because of the amount of witnesses. ^You already look like you’re stoked. – I love it, I love it. (laughs) A lot of times, it’s like ooh, this person saw a lady get abducted by minions, but nobody had a camera. – Well, not today, friend, not today, because spoiler alert, just take a little peek in there. It’s hot.
– You didn’t even look. Ooh, there you go. – There’s so much heat in here. Let’s get into it. – Okay. – (laughs) Okay. ^On March 13th, 1997, around 7 PM, ^a string of about five lights in a V formation ^appeared in the sky above Phoenix, Arizona. The National UFO Reporting Center reported that the first call regarding the lights came in at 8:16 PM from a retired police officer in Paulden, Arizona, which is about two hours north of Phoenix. The retired police officer reported he saw, quote, ^a cluster of red-orange lights ^arranged in a V formation, end quote. The National UFO Reporting Center reportedly began to get a flood of calls from south of Paulden suggesting the lights were moving in a south-eastern direction. Allegedly, there were over 700 witnesses, including pilots, police officers, and military officials that were lighting up the National UFO Reporting Center’s switchboards looking for an explanation. Some describe the lights as orbs, ^others said triangles. ^A large amount of witnesses describe the lights ^as part of a singular massive craft, ^a craft that made no noise. – [Shane] So some people saw a craft, I got a bubble, I got an air bubble in my throat right now, you hear that? You ever get that? This is scary, I don’t sound like myself. – [Ryan] Oh, you sound– – [Shane] I sound like an alien. – [Ryan] You sound alien. – Yeah, I’m like a pod person. (grunts) Okay. Yeah, you know, that’s that thing, you look in the darkness long enough, you’re gonna see something. – Yeah, 700 people are gonna all hallucinate at the same time. – Yeah. – Okay. – I mean, some of them did, some of them didn’t. I mean, it’s not hallucinating, I’m saying some of the people looked up and said– – Misidentified. – Oh, I see something, I’m staring at the darkness, are those all connected, what’s my mind doing? – Here’s a crazy dot– – In March? – Though this may be, I may be going off the deep end here, but if 700 people say they saw something, what if they actually saw something? – No doubt they saw something, but what is that thing? – Don’t, what? – That’s the question. – [Ryan] One man named Terry Proctor captured ^one of the only videos of this event. ^The grainy, low-quality video, which we can’t show you ^due to copyright, seemingly displays five lights in a V-like pattern in the sky. ^Around 10 PM, a second set of as many as nine lights ^appeared in the sky, seemingly hovering in the same spot. ^Whether these lights are related to or are in fact the same ^lights from the seven PM sighting, is unclear. However, it’s this set of lights that comprises most of eyewitness testimony, as it was later in the night after the buzz of the first sighting had people on alert. – [Shane] It seems like not the usual M.O. for aliens, right, to sort of do a little appetizer? – This is a weird case because there’s a possibility that one was legit and one actually was something normal, but was misidentified, so it confuses things. – Curious. – Or they were the same thing. I think either is just as likely. I think it’s possible that aliens knew they were gonna be seen, or didn’t know that they were gonna be seen, one of them fucked up, was asleep at the wheel, forgot to turn on the cloaking device or some crazy shit like that. – It’s just a button. – And now he’s fired and he’s looking for work. His wife divorced him, his little alien kids don’t have income to live off of, it’s a really bad situation for that alien father. – I don’t think aliens have money. – A laser printer technician named Dana Valentine witnessed the craft from his yard in Phoenix. ^Quote, we could see the outline of a mass ^behind the lights, but you couldn’t actually see the mass. ^It was more like a gray distortion of the night sky, wavy. ^I don’t know exactly what it was, ^but I know it’s not a technology the public ^has heard of before, end quote. ^Tim Ley, a management consultant, described the event ^saying, quote, it was astonishing and a little frightening. ^It was so big and so strange. ^You couldn’t actually see the object, all you could see was the outline, ^as though something was blotting out the stars. ^The lights looked like gas. ^There was a distortion on the surface. ^Also, the light didn’t spill out or shine. ^I’ve never seen a light like that, end quote. According to a USA Today article from the time, air traffic controllers could not see the lights on radar, despite seeing them with their own eyes in the sky. That’s pretty significant. – Yeah. – If there are planes, you would see them on the radar. – Yeah. – So it’s not a plane. – Unless it was stealth. – We’ll get into that later. Based off of reports, it appears that the mysterious spacecraft was enormous, made no sound, moved slowly, and on occasion, would hover over an area. Phoenix physician Dr. Lynne Kitei was a witness of these lights and states, quote, ^it was a mile-wide formation of these orbs ^and I caught them head-on turning into a V, end quote. ^Witness Sue Watson described the craft as, quote, ^a shopping mall flying over my home. ^It had these lights in front and then it was ^totally illuminated underneath, like a yellowish amber. ^It was a totally rounded boomerang shape, end quote. Videos of this second event showed the string of nine lights hovering in the sky. The lights illuminate off and on randomly over the course of a couple minutes while floating in what could be described as a loose, V-like formation. Other videos captured the events of March 13th, 1997 and according to a USA Today article, quote, ^computer analysis of the tapes puts the object ^at 6,000 feet long, or more than a mile, end quote. – [Shane] With these things, I tend to, you know, I tend to put it first on spooky military activity more so than extraterrestrials. It just seems like a big gamble for extraterrestrials to just, I mean, if they’re coming down at night in the first place, you know, clearly, and they’re trying to cloak themselves, well great. Maybe hang outside a few miles outside of town. – I mean, really it’s not that much of a gamble. What’s the gamble? They’re clearly more advanced than us, what’s gonna happen? Okay, we see them, we did see them. We’re not gonna attack them. – So pop on by around the afternoon. – Because maybe they– – Let’s get some peepers on that ship. – Maybe they saw us and they were like, hm, not interested. Swipe right, or left, or whatever the fuck Twitter is. Not Twitter, Tinder, just sounded like an 80-year-old man right there. (laughs) – Whatever Twinder. – Whatever Twinder is.
– Twinder. – Uh, yeah. I think maybe they saw, they came to check out resources. They didn’t like what they saw so they just left. While there are people who say the lights were part of one giant craft, there are others who believe the lights themselves were the crafts. ^A truck driver named Bill Greiner’s recollection ^of the event seems to suggest the latter. ^Greiner said that his truck route took him ^within a mile of Luke Air Force Base. ^He states that he witnessed two orbs, one of which was floating over the air force base. At that moment, three F-16s took off, after which the orb pursued one, but then shot up into the sky and disappeared. ^Quote, before this, if anybody had told me ^they saw a UFO, I would have said “yeah, ^”and I believe in the tooth fairy.” Now I’ve got a whole new view. I may be just a dumb truck driver, but I’ve seen something that don’t belong here. I wish the government would just admit it. You know what it’s like in this city right now? It’s like having 50,000 people in a stadium watch a football game and then having someone tell us we weren’t there, end quote. – Love this guy. – Yeah, I love it. He’s like he realizes the first thing a skeptic is gonna say is “oh, it’s a fuckin’ truck driver.” Check that box.
– Yeah. I was gonna say, oh, it’s a fuckin’ truck driver. He got me dead to rights. – And then he gave a solid analogy of people watching a sporting event and then having people go “hey, you didn’t watch that.” – And he also gave the I was a skeptic until I saw this defense, which is great. Oh yeah, and I believe in the tooth fairy, go fuck yourself. – It was a three-pronged attack. – That’s pretty good. – This guy’s, uh, he’s a savant when it comes to rhetoric. – Yeah. ^- [Ryan] On May sixth during a council meeting, ^city councilwoman Frances Barwood asks city manager ^Frank Fairbanks if there was going to be an investigation. ^Quote, I asked if anybody knew what this object was ^and could we check into it. ^I was met by a whole bunch of stares, end quote. ^She claims that following the meeting, a city manager approached her and said, quote, you shouldn’t have asked that question, end quote. Then the Arizona Republic published a cartoon of city councilwoman Barwood with a light switch on her forehead and a button on her jacket ^saying, quote, I love UFOs, end quote. Barwood continues, the mayor’s office put signs on my picture in the hallway and I found out afterwards they handed out business cards with my name on it that said speak into the tin foil. I will hear you, end quote. Despite being ridiculed, Barwood began receiving phone calls from other witnesses all describing the same thing. Nonetheless, for a while, the case went unacknowledged until a USA Today article released three months later, on June 18th, 1997 described the event, effectively bringing the story into the national spotlight. From the article, quote, on March 13th, hundreds of people reported an enormous object or objects in the night sky. It’s the most confounding UFO report in 50 years. So far, there is no explanation, but the government is not investigating. Local and federal agencies disagree over who should purse the report, end quote. – [Shane] Yeah, I guess it didn’t, so there’s been almost no coverage of it up until here. – [Ryan] No, and this is three months after the sighting. – [Shane] ‘Cause this is, this is before YouTube or– – [Ryan] Yeah, no one’s on Twitter going “holy shit.” – Yeah. – ‘Cause, you know, I mean for example, remember, what was it, a couple months ago when the SpaceX launch happened and it looked like the sky was breaking? If that happened in 1997 and we didn’t have Twitter. – Everyone would think it was an alien. – Everyone would think it’s an alien, they would lose their mind. – Yeah. – Of course, the government was, to their credit, able to give an explanation. They even announced it was gonna happen. They said this ship’s, it wasn’t a covert operation, so in that case, I don’t know if it’s too similar, but the internet is a tool of knowledge, I suppose. – In some ways. – Yeah, or it could be a means of destruction, the end of us. – Just hang in there, everybody. – [Ryan] With the country hungry for answers, then-governor Fife Symington held a press conference ^where he claimed he knew who was responsible ^and brought out the accused. – 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. Don’t get him too close to me please. (audience laughs) – [Ryan] And it’s here that this story gets interesting, because despite making a joke of the event, Governor Symington would later publicly admit ^that he too had seen the craft. Quote, I saw a huge craft come right over Squall Peak. It was just breathtaking. As a pilot and a former Air Force officer, I can definitively say that this craft did not resemble any man-made object that I’d ever seen. ^It was certainly not high altitude flares, ^because I’ve never seen flares fly in formation. ^Unquestionably, it was a UFO, end quote. Another interesting fact from Governor Symington ^was the fact that his office did inquire about the object, ^but they never received an answer, ^and if a governor can’t receive an explanation from the powers that be, what could they be hiding? – [Shane] There’s probably a lot of things they don’t tell governors. – [Ryan] Sure, but not when the governor in question has a state full of people that are pressing him for answers. You would think that they would be like, “hey, I know a lot of people are on you right now. “You’re under a lot of heat. “This is what you do,” but instead they ostracize him, they keep him on the outside to think oh, I wonder what he’s gonna do? Maybe he’ll run his mouth. – I would be more concerned if he did know something. – I’m just saying that if they had talked to him, he wouldn’t have said anything ever, I think. Because he would have had the fear of god in him. – But then he’s still, he’s still like a loose cannon. – [Ryan] Not necessarily. – They can’t know for sure that if they tell him something, he’s going to, he could go nuts, they don’t know. – Yeah you can, because it’s your job. I’m just saying that by keeping someone in the dark, you’re giving them the liberty to say whatever they really want. – With no basis for it, though. So if anyone hears it, they’re not gonna– – It has a little bit of basis. He’s a governor saying something, so that already inherently has a little bit of basis. – But he doesn’t know more than anyone else in town. – I know.
– Is the thing. – But it just makes it look more suspicious. – I don’t think it does. – I think it does. – Well, agree to disagree here. – All right. With that, let’s get into the theories, of which there are only two. The first theory is the official explanation ^from the Air Force that the lights witnessed in the sky ^were merely flares dropped in a training exercise ^from high altitude that night. ^The military states that the flares were dropped ^over the Barry M. Goldwater range near Gila Bend, Arizona, ^though it’s worth noting that Tuscon’s Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, the base that allegedly carried out the training exercise originally stated that it had no planes in the air at the time. Former F-16 pilot Ty Groh believes that the lights ^may well have been military flares. He says that flares go where the wind takes them. A breeze may have been able to carry all of them at an equal distance. In June of that year, a local news anchor taped another flare drop by the military, and skeptics suggest it bared a striking resemblance to the Phoenix lights. One important detail is what time the military reportedly dropped flares on the night of the Phoenix lights. The flare drop apparently occurred around 10 PM, ^aka the same time sightings of the second ^set of lights were reported, ^but while that possibly explains those lights, ^that still offers no explanation for the first set ^of lights that were seen nearly three hours earlier. ^One man named Mitch Stanley claims that during the time ^of the first sighting, he happened to be using ^a high-powered telescope capable of seeing ^1,500 times more light than the human eye. When he looked at the first set of lights, he claims they were planes. While compelling, this story seems odd ^when you consider the fact that no planes were reported ^in the air during the time of the first sighting, ^and since it wasn’t just one light, but rather five lights, ^it seems odd that there would be five unaccounted-for ^planes flying in tight formation. – [Shane] My gut tells me it’s just some shady military activity. Could have been flares, could have been stealths. You know, who knows? – [Ryan] They’ve only given one explanation for the second set of lights, and even that explanation to me is shit, I would say. (laughs) I think it’s a shit explanation. – This one’s shit. – I just think the flares, even if you do buy the flares, sure, the first set of lights still unexplained, except for one dude with a telescope who’s competing against 700 witnesses. And why the fuck is this guy with a telescope, he just happens to be using a telescope at the exact time of one of the craziest events of all time? – You gotta be honest, telescope people are weird. – (laughs) Yeah, I know, ’cause he’s actually– – [Shane] We don’t wanna be one of those. – He’s a favorite among skeptics, they’re like “see, this guy’s using a high power telescope with his mama” which he was, he was using, he was in the back– – No, I don’t doubt that he was, that him and his mama were out with their telescope. I’m just saying telescope people, I mean, how much are they spending on these telescopes? They’re gonna be out there every single night with like a margarita like let’s see what I find. – [Ryan] Yeah that’s true. – Oh, empty sky again, wow what a night. Well, that’s been eight hours, guess I’ll go to sleep ’cause the sun’s coming up. They’re basically vampires. – Then he says to his mom “good scoping.” She goes “good scoping, son” and then they go back to bed. – When are you gonna move out? (laughs) – Which brings us to our next theory, that the lights were not flares, but actual UFOs, ^and perhaps proof of extraterrestrial life. ^On the third year anniversary of the lights, ^another flare demonstration was performed ^to attempt to mimic the lights, ^this time by the National Guard, ^but people remained unconvinced ^that this was what they witnessed three years earlier. ^The flares, quote, flickered and moved erratically, ^end quote, and not in the bizarre grouped fashion ^of the Phoenix lights. Jim Dilettosa, a special effects expert, analyzed videos ^of the lights and said, quote, I have no idea ^what they were, end quote. ^Him and his team detail the orbs as, quote, ^a perfectly uniform light with no variation ^from one edge to the other and no glow. ^They have ruled out lasers, flares, holograms, ^and aircraft lights as sources, end quote. To gain further insight on this case, ^we sat down with ancient alien expert Giorgio A. Tsoukalos. What do you think the plausibility of this event actually happening is? – Well, we know it happened.
(laughing) – We do know what happened. Ryan and I agree, we don’t know what it was exactly. – What it was, yes, correct, and what I think is fascinating is that something similar happened seven years earlier in Belgium, which was also seen by thousands upon thousands of people. Same triangle formation and then also the individual lights. So I think it’s fascinating. – Have you seen anything that could maybe be an early version of what we saw in the Phoenix lights? – Sure, what’s interesting is that Alexander the Great and also in some accounts of ancient Constantinople, there are references of giant flying shields. Giant shields that are glowing in the sky and just crossed, you know, over the lands. So when you have these accounts of ancient flying shields up in the sky that are witnessed by armies, you have to wonder, well, were they all drunk? (laughing) Were they all smoking, or did they actually see something? – [Ryan] Even if the lights were misidentified flares ^or planes, this still doesn’t explain numerous witnesses ^describing a massive craft that the lights were attached to. ^Piggybacking off that, on March 14th, 1997, ^the morning after the Phoenix lights, ^an airman from Luke Air Force Base ^detailed a disturbing story from the day prior. ^He claimed that the base got a call from Prescott Valley ^Airport, quote, reporting an object that had a near-miss with a small Cessna, end quote. He claimed this call came at, quote, ^approximately 8:32 PM, that they encountered something ^over Phoenix, Arizona, end quote. ^As a result, the airman claims that Luke Air Force Base ^sent two F-15s to investigate. Upon their return to base, here’s how the airman described the pilot of one of the F-15s. Quote, the command pilot of this particular flight, I’ve never seen this man scared, and he was scared to death. He’s not sure what it was. His statement was that they followed this aircraft, it went on a straight-line course. He saw five distinct lights in a triangular pattern. How often would this happen where the military has stealth planes out that they don’t tell Air Force bases about? – [Shane] It’s possible. – [Ryan] That seems wildly counterproductive to me. You don’t wanna be sending out a bunch of planes to investigate things when you could easily be like “oh yeah, that’s one of ours.” – Yeah, I just feel like the military, you know, it’s hard to pin down. Hard to pin down what they might do. – I think I just made a good point. – I mean, certainly, certainly a good point for you. – [Ryan] After this revelation, the airman claimed ^the Air Force base, quote, had a complete lockdown. ^All hell broke loose basically ^and the facility was closed, end quote. Noteworthy is that this encounter occurred around 8:30 PM at the time of the first sighting, about an hour and a half before the military claims they dropped flares. In response, the Air Force has denied this encounter ever took place. Classic.
– I love that, yeah. – [Ryan] Classic, do you think they just have a dartboard that they throw whether or not they’re gonna, they’re gonna deny? – Just spin a wheel. – What should we tell them this time? – Yeah. – I think it would be a fun job to be the person who makes up fake stories that the military leaks. – Spin doctor. – Ooh, a spin doctor.
– Yeah. – And then he spins his wheel– – Oh, he spins a wheel! – That has topics on it–
– It’s all very literal. – And it has topics on it. – We’re going with flares, unfortunately. – And everyone in the office who had flares in their pool is like “yeah!” – They choke Alf a little bit more. (Ryan laughs) – It makes sense that the Air Force would deny this story, since denying interest in UFOs is something that the government has already done. ^In December 2017, it was found that the nation’s defense department had used $22 million of their annual $600 billion budget for an advanced aerospace threat identification program. ^Defense department officials admitted that for years, ^the program had been investigating ^unidentified flying objects. ^Here’s a quote from a New York Times article on a 60-minute documentary on this topic detailing documents provided in the documentary. Quote, documents that describe sightings of aircraft that seem to move at very high velocities with no visible signs of propulsion, or that hovered with no apparent means of lift, end quote. Why do you think the government approaches the topic of UFOs with such trepidation? Why do you think they’re so against it? – That’s a great question because as we now know, ever since the ’50s and the ’60s, you know, open-minded people like the three of us and our great audience, we’ve always been laughed at and oh, you know, those are the kooks, those are the crazies. And then there’s reports coming out, well, we’ve been studying this, you know, files and files with hundreds of thousands of documents, world-wide, not just by the US government, but by governments from Brazil, England, all over the place, that ultimately, this stuff has been investigated and the fact that the Pentagon in December of 2017 released a statement saying “hey, we’re investigating UFOs,” that to me indicates that we’ve passed, or we are experiencing a paradigm shift, which is great. – [Ryan] In the end, neither skeptics nor believers can concretely prove what happened that night. Despite hundreds of witnesses across an entire state, the world seems content to leave what transpired that night as a mystery. Perhaps one day we’ll have an answer, but for now, the case remains unsolved. (mysterious music)