Chapter 2 - The Flap

I was dizzy from all the sightings that evening, March 13, 1997. The skies seemed full of oscillating orange orbs flickering on and blinking off, scattered in every direction across the sky. I thought maybe I’d been watching the skies too much and my imagination was getting the best of me. That night the amber light orbs behaved differently than the nights before. They didn’t remain static, hovering in the same part of the sky. They appeared in the western and even eastern skies. They toyed with my sensibilities. Hamilton and King finally arrived around 9:30. It appeared that they had missed out on the show for the night. I was in a foul mood, because I really wanted the experts, if you can call them that, to witness what I’d seen and hopefully offer some experienced advice about whether I truly had ventured into UFO land.

Bill Hamilton looked to be in his mid-to-late forties with a smattering of gray hair, a few lines in his face. Medium height and build, a regular guy who just so happened to hunt UFOs for a living. Tom King seemed a little bit more unusual with his long hippie style hair and his girlfriend throwing out some 1960s type vibes. King’s patter had a California surfer dude undertone; he was famous for his video hanging 10 while boogie boarding with the words “Major Sighting Here,” the catch phrase of UFO hunters everywhere. The phrase would be refrained in many films and documentaries that would come later.  

Obviously disappointed he missed the orbs in person, Hamilton asked to see my films. As I played the videos Hamilton and King were quick to inform me that I made the rookie error of shooting using automatic focus; a cardinal sin in the UFO business. King, known for his video work in the UFO field, taught me to shoot using manual focus. Hamilton asked to see the balcony, our vantage point. Upstairs the normal collection of neighbors still searched the skies for more orbs. One of the neighbors suddenly yelled out, “There’s one, over there!” Hamilton and King ran down the stairs to grab their cameras and equipment from the car. I grabbed my video camera, remembering to switch to manual focus before honing in on the light object. Hamilton and King returned with an assortment of UFO hunting tools. Hamilton looked through a scope of some kind, reporting his observations to King, who was filming. King climbed up on the balcony ledge leaning against the roof as Hamilton called out the location, the weather, the time, the appearance, etc. Soon the orb disappeared. Several minutes later, another neighbor shouted, “Look, there’s another one! And another one!”  

Soon five lights lined up in a row with one orb set off from the rest. It was incredible to see this floating assembly of the orange orbs I’d been witnessing in the skies all week.  

King shouted, “Major Sighting Here,” as he almost tumbled off the balcony. King dangerously overreached trying to capture on film each of the lights as it brightened up and then apparently extinguished about four minutes later. I felt redeemed and immediately rewound my tape for replay. Only I was so worried about filming in automatic focus I neglected to hit record. I wanted to kick myself I was so upset. My magnification would have been better than King’s but his video would have to do. Luckily lots of others recorded videos that night from various locations, some showing up to nine lights in formation with one offset orb. Hamilton and King took off like madmen after the lights to see if they would show up near the Estrella Mountains. After they took off, the neighbors left. As the adrenaline ebbed I realized I was left with one very scared wife and child. Were we witnessing an invasion? As impossible as that question sounds, it crossed all our minds. That evening I dreamed of thousands of ships lining up and ready to move forward on command.  

The next day, I drove out to Scottsdale to shop for a telescope. I joked as I walked into the store if they were having a UFO sale on telescopes. The puzzled clerk asked what I was talking about. I said, “Didn’t you hear about the big sighting last night?” He shook his head and we set to the business of finding a proper telescope for identifying unidentified objects in the lower horizon. Not an easy task since telescopes are designed to search out distant stars. I left with a telescope the salesman suggested. My wife called me soon after. The local Fox news affiliate contacted our house. Apparently the station canvassed every telescope store in town hoping to find witnesses to Thursday evening’s sighting. Smart investigative work, I thought. I called the station and arranged for them to come over and duplicate my film for use on the local news. The news stations were bombarded with calls Thursday night and opted to collect film wherever they could. Another station asked me to meet them with some duplicate film at a site near the desert where crowds gathered camping out in hopes of glimpsing the orbs’ return.

It looked like a scene out of Independence Day. People everywhere, scattered between every manner of vehicle. A veritable arsenal of telescopes, cameras, news vans, a traveling circus atmosphere prevailed. I handed my film off to the news guy and watched him record his intro to feed to the station. We ran into Tom King and some of his friends. King told me a bit about where he and Hamilton had raced off to the previous night after catching the orbs at my house. They headed toward Casa Grande to see if they could catch up with the lights. They had been sighted originally in Henderson, Nevada, and worked their way south to us before ending up in Tucson. At the time I had no idea people across two states were sharing this experience. I kept asking myself – why? Why did they show up and put on this spectacular show? Why was I so involved with all of this?  

We left the circus in the desert and headed home where I scanned the skies with my new telescope. I wasn’t able to see any orbs but had a field day catching local planes. I suspected private pilots were saturating the skies hoping to get up close and personal with the lights the local news reported all day. The plane lights made me dizzy and I decided to call it quits. I dashed off a last report to Joe Trainor and hit the hay. Saturday I caught a few unusual looking aircraft that appeared saucer-like but I couldn’t be sure. My eyes were fried from all the nights spent scouring the skies that week. Frankly I was ready for the story to go away. Instead I was soon fielding calls from other MUFON investigators such as Richard Motzer and from television production companies organizing shows about the sightings.  

Sunday Richard Motzer came over to the house to dupe our film. He seemed interested in the sighting and quite amicable. I was surprised later to find him declaring what we’d witnessed were flares from a military base nearby. Evidently MUFON had its own politics in play which would work to discredit the sighting. Later that week we got a call from Village Labs inviting us to participate with other witnesses in a discussion of what happened.

A few weeks later a TV producer for Discovery Channel offered to buy my film and interview us at our home. The Discovery Channel producer turned the house into a temporary Hollywood sound stage. The crew gathered images from all over the house and yard. Sound guys wired us all up and we headed up to the balcony to recreate the scene. Reliving it felt surreal in the light of day. They had the technology to make daytime filming look like night. King again scrambled up on the balcony ledge and again I stood out there with my camera remembering how foolish I felt when I failed to push the record button. There was something disconcerting about reenacting all this. The few hundred dollars I collected for the use of my film somehow debased the whole experience. On the upside was the fact that the Discovery Channel producer promised to investigate the event thoroughly and present the findings professionally. For the most part, he delivered, although he overlooked quite a bit of what happened all around town that evening, focusing mainly on our sighting. In the end focusing just on the lights we saw enabled debunkers to hone in on the same.

Later television broadcasts of the story sustained the issue of the lights. City Councilwoman Frances Barwood brought the matter up in a closed door session only to be shut down by the other members. Months later the government reported that the Maryland National Guard had executed flare exercises the evening of March 13, 1997. The flares apparently created the so-called Phoenix Lights. Those of us who lived the real experience of that week felt not only disregarded but insulted by the lack of forthright information. The Discovery Channel worked with an analyst who demonstrated how the lights went behind the Estrella Mountains instead of in front of the mountain range as we observers had surmised. This opened the door to the theory of the amber light orbs as military flares launched 60 miles away behind the Estrella mountain range. The only problem with this theory is that the lights, the orbs, or objects we saw weren’t flares. There was no smoke, they did not move like flares, and did not illuminate their surroundings as flares are designed to. If these March 13 lights were flares it still offers no resolution for the events of all the other nights – no flare dropping activity is mentioned outside of the March 13 event. Although, I can imagine they would have simply claimed more nights of flare training activity if the previous nights warranted the same publicity March 13 earned.