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20 years later: What were the Phoenix Lights?

The mass UFO sighting appeared 20 years ago Monday night.

PHOENIX - For the last 20 years, witnesses have debated what they saw the night of March 13, 1997 in the skies over Phoenix.

It was a string of bright lights, laid out in a curve, or V formation. Some claim they saw physical crafts behind those lights, others claim the light themselves were the crafts.

Some believe they were aliens or inter-dimensional beings, still others think it was a secret military spacecraft. Others believe the official explanation: military flares.

"I don't know what they were," Dr. Lynne Kitei said. "But I know that they were."

Kitei saw the lights firsthand 20 years ago Monday night. She claims she saw them before and after, turning her from skeptic to believer.

"It was a mile-wide formation of these orbs," she said, gesturing to downtown Phoenix from a spot near Piestewa Peak, "and I caught them head-on turning into a V."

Hundreds of others saw the same lights. Switchboards lit up that night, looking for an explanation.

Finally, Luke Air Force Base provided one: flares, dropped at high altitude.

The questioned turned from what the lights were, to whether you believed.

"How can flares that cannot keep a formation, traverse the entire state and beyond for hours in a rock-solid V?" Kitei asked.

She, like many others, doesn't believe the government's version of events. Kitei cites people who claim they saw an actual spacecraft, black or "gunmetal" colored, flying over Arizona. Some reports came from as far away as Las Vegas and New Mexico, she said.

But aviation experts said the flare explanation could be possible.

Former F-16 pilot Ty Groh said flares in the sky react like hot-air balloons; they go where the wind takes them. A steady breeze could propel all of the flares at the same time, while keeping them at a uniform distance.

Groh also said extremely bright objects, like flares, dropped at a distance, can appear closer than they really are. He said he experienced it firsthand while flying F-16s.

"You'll be looking at airliners that look like they're 10 miles away and they're 400 miles away," Groh said.

But the flare explanation can't take into account the people who say they saw an actual, physical object behind those lights. Witnesses like Kitei say they don't believe the lights were anything but otherworldly.

20 years to the day since the lights crossed the Phoenix sky, they are still a mystery.

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