On Thursday, July 24, 1997 a new explanation was offered for the mysterious lights that appeared over Phoenix, Arizona on the night of March 13.
According to official sources, the Maryland Air National Guard was running an exercise called Operation Snowbird southwest of Phoenix that night, in an area called the Barry Goldwater Gunnery Range. The exercise reportedly involved eight A-10 aircraft and a lot of high-intensity flares.
Captain Eileen Bienz, public affairs officer for the Army and Air National Guard, told reporters that she undertook her own investigation of the March 13 events after receiving "one too many UFO calls."
Local military officials had denied since March that they had anything to do with the bizarre display of lights seen by thousands of Arizona residents. Bienz said no one had considered the possibility of visiting aircraft. She said Operation Snowbird brings air squadrons from bases in the northern U.S. to fly maneuvers in Arizona between the months of November and April.
The planes reportedly departed from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson at 8:15 p.m. on March 13 and returned at 10:30 p.m.
Bienz concedes that the A-10 maneuvers over the Goldwater Gunnery Range don't explain everything reported by witnesses that night, but she thinks they do explain the prominent display of lights videotaped by several witnesses and shown repeatedly on national television.
According to Captain Drew Sullins of the Maryland Air National Guard, the planes were equipped with high-intensity magnesium or cesium flares that were dropped at various points in the exercise. Before returning to base, Sullins said, the aircraft dropped all their remaining flares, because they were not allowed to land with flares on board.
"Our guys did create, while they were up there, an event that... could be perceived as a hell of a light show," Sullins said.
The flares were suspended from small parachutes and take a long time to drop, Sullins said.
Keith Shepherd, a spokesman at Davis-Monthan AFB, said he was told by pilots that such flares, dropped at 6,000 feet, could be visible for 150 miles on a clear night.
But several researchers in the Phoenix area found the latest official explanation of the March 13 events hard to swallow.
Jim Dilettoso of Village Labs, one of the people often quoted in recent television and print stories about the Phoenix lights, told reporters that his analysis of photos and videotapes show the lights couldn't be flares. He also said that a computer simulation based on eyewitness data places the lights nowhere near the gunnery range.
Researcher and eyewitness Bill Hamilton offered several objections to the new story.
"None of us saw the flares on the test range. In fact, no one from Phoenix ever sees these flares," he declared. "The reason: Mountains to the south obstruct our view. These bright, white magnesium/cesium flares would have made a wonderful show and lit up the countryside. Our problem is that all the sightings in this area took place in front of those mountain ranges.
"The amber-orange light formation that Tom King and I saw and videotaped were at low elevation in front of the Estrella Mountains and just over the Gila River. There were no aircraft of any kind visible or audible in the vicinity of these lights," Hamilton said.
"Through a telescope, these lights appeared to be rapidly pulsating orbs (spheres, round objects, etc.) that bore no resemblance to flares," he said.
However, some UFO researchers had already concluded that flares might explain the Phoenix events, even before the new story was announced. Kenny Young of T.A.S.K. (Tri-State Advocates for Scientific Knowledge) in Ohio had put forth such a theory weeks earlier, drawing criticism from many UFO enthusiasts. On hearing the new story, Young blasted the military and government officials who had done nothing to prevent the Phoenix lights from becoming a national sensation.
"Why a 5-month delay in coming clean about this?" Young asked. "Why didn't the Maryland A.N.G. come forward the following morning (i.e. March 14) during the unprecedented public outcry, to set the record straight ... (or) after the second outbreak of public concern in mid-June following the USA Today article and NBC News report?
"There is nothing but criticism warranted for these... commanders, lieutenants, pilots and those-in-the-know, who would allow their activities to foment the sort of public hysteria that ensued for this duration of time," Young declared.
But problems with the flare theory clearly remain unresolved, as even Captain Bienz observed. Lighted objects seen moving between Kingman and Paulden, Arizona, as well as moving lights near Phoenix and as far south as Tucson on the night of March 13, and on other nights both before and since, are not easily reconciled with military flares and A-10 maneuvers.
Bill Hamilton and others vow to keep investigating the strange phenomena in Arizona's skies.
Original file name: CNI - AZ UFO Theory.Flares
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