Mar 13, 2024 - News

Phoenix Lights became Arizona UFO legend in 1997

A man in a suit stands at a podium next to a person in an alien costume.

Gov. Fife Symington and chief of staff Jay Heiler, wearing an alien costume at a 1997 press conference. Screenshot: CNN

Twenty-seven years ago Wednesday, the Phoenix Lights incident propelled Arizona into the annals of UFO lore.

Catch up quick: On the night of March 13, 1997, people in the Phoenix area reported seeing a grouping of lights arranged in a "V" shape hovering over the Valley.

  • A second sighting later that night was reported by a police officer who said he saw a series of red-orange lights hanging over the Valley.

The intrigue: The second sighting was attributed to Maryland Air National Guard aircraft dropping flares during a training exercise.

Flashback: The Phoenix Lights incident prompted one of the most memorable press conferences in Arizona history a few months later.

Zoom in: In June 1997, then-Gov. Fife Symington said during a press conference that he was asking the Department of Public Safety to investigate the lights.

  • Former adviser Chuck Coughlin said the governor's aides were concerned about how the comment would make Symington look during his ongoing federal trial on bank fraud charges.
  • The solution was to make a joke out of it, he said. So they sent a staffer to a local costume shop for an alien suit.
  • Symington announced that the source of the lights had been found and presented his chief of staff, Jay Heiler, decked out in his alien costume.
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