The Largest UFO Sighting in History
In the midst of thousands of eyewitness accounts and conflicting explanations, the Phoenix Lights incident continues to challenge conventional skepticism, leaving room for intriguing possibilities beyond the ordinary
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It was seen by thousands of eyewitnesses, including the legendary Snake Plissken himself. But the Air Force says they were all wrong- is it possible that thousands of eyewitnesses across the entire state of Arizona all misidentified a flight of A-10s in the world's largest UFO sighting in history? The incident was first reported at 7:55 PM Pacific time in Henderson, Nevada, just across the border from Arizona. A witness there spotted what appeared to be a large, dark V-shaped object traveling southeast overhead. The object was low enough in the sky that the witness reported not hearing the sound of jet engines as would have been expected.
This flying anomaly had six large lights along its leading edge, and was estimated as being as large as a Boeing 747. Instead of jet engines though, he heard a sound described as rushing wind. Next, a police officer in Paulden, Arizona spotted a cluster of five reddish/orangish lights as he was leaving his home. The police officer reported the lights appearing as if four were flying together, with a fifth trailing behind the formation. However, unlike the witness across the border in Nevada, the police officer reported that each light was in fact two separate, but close together sources of orange light. Returning home, he grabbed a pair of binoculars and observed the lights continuing south for about two minutes until they were out of sight- from his vantage point he reported hearing no sound from the lights.
This would be the straw that broke the camel's back, as shortly after UFO reporting centers across the country as well as local police departments and even Luke Air Force Base in Arizona were flooded with telephone calls from eyewitnesses. It seemed everybody north of Phoenix was watching the lights slowly drift by overhead. Witnesses were reporting different things however, with some reporting the same type and style of lights as the first two witnesses, and other reporting less, or even more than the five or six lights originally observed. The colors ranged from white to orange or reddish, and while many reported the lights to be slowly gliding by overhead, some said that they witnessed them speeding by quickly. Others said that they observed the lights come to a complete stop overhead.
The most commonly reported sighting however was of a large, wedge-shaped craft of some kind with lights lining its ventral surface. Three different groups of witnesses just north of Phoenix all reported the exact same object, remarking that it made no noise as it seemed to glide by overhead, adjusting its course to fly between two mountain peaks. It was low enough though that for all three groups it blocked out a significant amount of the sky overhead as it passed by, indicating it was an object of massive proportions. The next witnesses were a mother and her four daughters inside a northern Phoenix suburb, who observed a wedge-shaped object approach from over the mountains. It stopped directly overhead them for an estimated five minutes as they stared in wonder, remarking that it was big enough to cover between thirty or forty degrees of the sky overhead.
They also said that there appeared to be some sort of barely recognizable features along the underside of the object, but due to it being nighttime, couldn't make them out. The trailing edge of the object also seemed to be glowing slightly according to them. Like other witnesses, they described a row of lights on the leading edge of the craft, seven according to them. Suddenly the object began to move south, firing what they described as a white beam at the ground. Simultaneously, the lights along the edge of the craft seemed to dim and disappear. Then, the mystery object resumed its course south towards Sky Harbor International Airport. On approach to the airport, it was witnessed by a civilian pilot on approach to the airport, who called in six bright lights hanging stationary near the airport. Air traffic control radioed back that they had nothing on their radar scopes, and the pilot resumed landing as normal.
That pilot was actually film star Kurt Russel, who was flying to Phoenix on a private aircraft to take his son to see his girlfriend. Russel would later retell the story, saying that he had no idea until two years later when his partner, Goldie Hawn, was watching a show on UFOs and it mentioned a civilian pilot who had been the first to spot the lights in Phoenix itself. According to Russel, the lights hung stationary in the sky, and though he and his son thought it was odd, neither paid it much attention. However, at the airport, two air traffic controllers and multiple pilots would also see the lights- but here is where things get murky. Witnesses in Scottsdale, Glendale, and Gilbert all reported seeing a similar, large object as described previously, continuing an apparent southern route through the state of Arizona. One of the witnesses south of Phoenix was a former airline pilot with over 13,000 hours of flight time, who spotted the object making an abrupt turn as it approached his position. According to him and other witnesses, the lights were bright at a distance, but seemed to dim significantly as the object approached, perhaps explaining the various number and colors of lights reported throughout the two-to-three-hour event.
The large object continued south and over the mountains until it was spotted again along Interstate 10 near Casa Grande. A family of five driving north to Phoenix said that the object was so large that when they looked out their car windows, one wingtip was clearly visible out one side of the car, and the other out the other side. The object passed by overhead as they were driving north at about 80 miles per hour, and claim that the object was so massive that they remained under it for about a full minute as it moved south- if their speed was correct, then the object was roughly an impressive 1.3 miles long, or even bigger as it was moving south as they moved north.
However, without a speed estimate for the object itself, it's impossible to know- but the size is still significant. All throughout the Phoenix area, the one massive object seemed to be trailing a flurry of another unidentified aerial phenomenon. For hours after the main object had passed over the state, witnesses reported seeing clusters of lights and other random flying craft. One group of witnesses reported a large disc streaking west over Phoenix at extreme speeds. Many others reported orange fire balls which hovered in the sky. The entire case's most intriguing witness may have been a young man claiming to be a US Air Force airman. According to him, he was stationed at Luke Air Force Base, west of Phoenix. He called the National UFO Reporting Center at 3:20 am, and reported that two F-15 fighters had been scrambled by the base and intercepted one of the unidentified flying objects that seemed to linger behind. Investigators would dive into his report but were unable to verify the presence of F-15s in Luke Air Force base at the time.
However, he provided a great deal of very detailed information regarding the alleged intercept which would later be verified by other witnesses over the coming weeks and months as investigators made the rounds across the Phoenix basin. Unfortunately, the airman would call in two days after his first phone call to report that he had been informed he was being immediately transferred to a new assignment in frozen Greenland- that witness has never been heard from again and investigators have been unable to track him down. What the incident is best remembered for however is a long string of lights observed by thousands directly over the city of Phoenix. These lights hung stationary before slowly disappearing, and they are what the entire incident is best known for. However, they are also the weakest part of the entire case.
When first contacted, the Luke Air Force Base Public Affairs Office claimed that there were no aircraft in the sky at the time of the incident. Later however they said that there was actually a flight of A-10 aircraft training at the time, and their training included dropping flares. The slowly falling flares dangle from parachutes, and as they disappeared behind the mountains would have given the appearance of dimming out. Many found this explanation troubling, and there are problems on both ends for this explanation. However, all can agree that this doesn't explain the massive craft spotted by hundreds, if not thousands of witnesses across the state. One witness claim that he observed the alleged massive craft with a telescope and found it to be nothing more than a group of aircraft flying closely together. This goes in line with the official Air Force explanation that said at the time they were undertaking Operation Snowbird, a training exercise with the air national guard that involved flights of A-10s working together.
The first incident of a large flying triangle or wedge-shaped craft was at 8 PM local time, and was due to five A-10s. The flight was using steady formation lights rather than the typical blinking collision lights because FAA rules on the matter don't apply to military aircraft. The formation of A-10s flew over Pheonix to Tucson and landed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base at 8:45 PM. The stationary lights filmed and photographed by many hovering over Phoenix were explained as a different flight of A-10s dropping illumination flares. Due to the heat of the flares working on their parachute and creating a hot balloon-like effect, the flare's rate of descent was dramatically slower than might be expected, giving the appearance of the lights either gaining in altitude or hovering still in mid-air.
Ten years after the incident, Lt. Colonel Ed Jones, a Maryland air national guard pilot, confirmed that he was one of the pilots in the four-ship formation that had dropped the mistaken flares. Immediately after the incident, as calls for investigation reached state government, Arizona Governor and former US Air Force pilot Fife Symington held what would become the most infamous press conference in UFO history. In the press conference, governor Symington displayed his chief of staff in handcuffs and dressed like an alien, claiming that everybody was “entirely too serious” about the whole incident. However, people did not find this funny at all, and the stunt provoked thousands of angry phone calls and letters. Even more shockingly, ten years after that press conference, the former governor admitted in an interview that he himself had seen the craft spotted by thousands.
According to former governor Symington, the craft he witnessed along with another family was bigger than an aircraft carrier and had the same recessed lights reported by others. It glided by on a southerly course, completely silent as it passed overhead. He chose however not to talk about it, likely because given his role as state governor he didn't want to create panic- but even more likely, because of the culture of ridicule that persists to this day regarding UFOs. The official Air Force investigation does explain part of the phenomenon- it's very likely that the lights witnessed hovering stationary over Phoenix were in fact nothing more than flares dropped by A-10s. The astronomer who explained the moving formation of lights as aircraft flying closely together is also probably correct, as he likely observed A-10s flying together with solid formation lights on rather than traditional blinking collision warning lights.
However, nobody has yet to satisfactorily explain the single, massive craft reported by thousands of witnesses- including the governor of Arizona himself. While skeptics have explained this away as aircraft flying in formation, many of these witnesses- again, including the governor who was a trained Air Force pilot- specifically saw a single, solid object, and were close enough to it to remark that it made little to no noise as it passed overhead. A-10s are notoriously loud aircraft- a member of the Infographics Show team told us as he was once within very close proximity of a two-ship formation dropping cluster munitions and making gun runs on targets. Skeptics have so far only been able to point at the flight of A-10s observed by some witnesses as explanation for the single, large craft- but this completely ignores the thousands of eyewitnesses ranging from Nevada to New Mexico who spotted the craft for themselves.
The skeptical explanation seems to rely on observations of the A-10s to explain this craft away, but ignores the possibility that both a flight of A-10s and a single, large craft could have been flying over Arizona at the same time. It's also incredibly intellectually dishonest to simply disregard the testimony of thousands of eyewitnesses, including some extremely high-profile witnesses like the state's own governor. A skeptical explanation thus rests on the only possibility being that every single witness to the large craft is either incompetent, a liar, or crazy. However, the skeptical explanation makes one further major error. First, it takes the word of a single astronomer who said he observed multiple aircraft flying in close formation with his telescope- and yet it completely ignores the thousands of witnesses to the single, solid craft.
That astronomer didn't take a photo of the formation of aircraft with his telescope, he has no proof that he actually made this observation- but skeptics accept his account without questioning it, while ignoring the tidal wave of countering accounts, because this is a conclusion the skeptic likes. This isn't skepticism, this is intellectual dishonesty for the sake of preserving one's own naturalistic world view. True skepticism would accept that while some accounts were no doubt mistaking the flight of A-10s as one object, other accounts are much more difficult to explain and are worthy of their own investigation- like those accounts who were close enough to visually confirm the single object, and where well outside of the known flight path of the A-10s in question. What's a fact is that this isn't the only such sighting, as massive UFOs have been commonly reported around the world. During the Cold War, Soviet citizens reported massive UFOs overhead on numerous occasions. During the Belgium UFO flap, hundreds of witnesses spotted massive craft overhead in the sky, prompting fears of a Russian attack.
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