In mid-July, the story broke on the "lights in the hills" solution. Richard Ruelas posted it in the Arizona Republic as a front-page story. It read, in part, as follows:
Since March, Arizona military bases said they had nothing in the air that would have caused the mysterious lights seen from Phoenix on March 13. But the bases didn't check visiting aircraft.
That is until they were asked to by Capt. Eileen Bienz, public affairs officer for the Army and Air National Guard. She started a one-woman investigation into the luminaries.
"I had one too many UFO calls," Bienz said. "I said, "I've got to figure this thing out' is what it finally came down to."
What Bienz found out about was Operation Snowbird, which brings in aircraft from bases in the northern United States from November to April. Hence the name.
A flight schedule from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, shows that a squadron of planes from Operation Snowbird left at 8:15 p.m. on March 13 and returned at 10:30 p.m.
A spokesman for Luke Air Force Base confirmed that the Maryland planes were authorized to use the Barry Goldwater range from 9:30 to 10 p.m. on March 13 .
But the Operation Snowbird planes might account for the lights seen near 10 p.m. in the west, the sightings that have provided most of the videotape and photographs seen around the country.
"Our guys did create, while they were up there, an event that this one colonel told me could be perceived as a hell of a light show," said Capt. Drew Sullins, of the Maryland Air National Guard.
Sullins said the planes were probably in a formation, then peeled off one or two at a time to perform the run, Sullins said.
During the run, they would drop high-intensity flares, called Luu-2, made of either magnesium or cesium, Sullins said. The flares are suspended by a tiny parachute and take a long time to drop, Sullins said.
The planes completed their required runs and their time at the busy range was coming to a close. But the A-10s still had a bunch of flares on board, and Davis-Monthan doesn't let planes land with flares aboard.
"I don't know the logic of that rule, but I imagine it's a safety thing," Sullins said.
So as they were leaving the range, the planes jettisoned their flares.
The flares would visible for a great distance as they slowly floated down, said Keith Shepherd, spokesman for Davis-Monthan.
"(Our pilots) told me that at 6,000 feet and using those types of flares, you can see them from 150 miles away on a good night," Shepherd said.
Jim Delitoso of Village Labs was at a loss for words when told of the Snowbird planes.
When he got his bearings back, he said that optical analysis of photos and videotapes show the lights couldn't be flares and that a computer simulation matching witness accounts places the lights nowhere near the gunnery range.
"I'm open-minded that it could be flares, but we have no evidence of that," Delitoso said.
The Maryland Air National Guard is also keeping an open mind, said Sullins, its spokesman.
"All I'm saying is, yes, we had aircraft flying in that area doing night illuminations." he said. "These guys were flying it. They were there. We can prove it. Whether people want to believe it was the mysterious lights, it's up to them." (Ruelas)
In an ironic twist of fate, it may have been Bill Hamilton who managed to spur Captain Bienz to discover this information. Hamilton had pestered her for some form of official statement about a helicopter pilot seeing a heat source with one of the lights when he was near Picacho peak. This agrees with the flare story and obviously was discarded by Hamilton. Her FAX to Hamilton seemed to be one of exasperation and may be the cause for her statement of "one too many UFO calls" (Ruelas).
Richard Motzer had stated this theory well before the news release but went unheard. His studies were posted on the Arizona MUFON website:
The final key to the solution was also the biggest mystery. Why did all videos of 3-13-97 at 10:00 p.m. have a different number of lights, different order of starting and decay, and shapes? It was really dependent upon the observation point of the witness in the Phoenix area and, most important, how high their viewing point was. It turned out that the lights were not over Phoenix, but near the Estrella Mountains to the southwest. This determination was made after viewing all the video tapes and going to all but one of the sites and shooting 35 mm film in daylight. Using the point marked by the pilot, I drew a line from each of the sites where the Estrella lights were taped. On the Rairden tape there are nine lights, but only eight lights on the Moon Valley footage. I re-ran the Moon Valley footage and just in the early part you see a light form briefly which then goes out, but did it really? No, something must have blocked it out, but it was still there in the Rairden footage. As the lights drifted downward, some lights were blocked out by the many small peaks making up the Estrella range.
In the videos that I acquired, there were two people who had been recording these Estrella lights for months. What I wanted to find was footage where a tripod was used and the zoom lens was left in one spot. The delivery system, either hindered by the prevailing winds or accelerated. All the videos that I tested for that night or other nights showed this feature. Even the control tower people at Sky Harbor Airport said they saw smoke emanating from the flares. (Motzer)
However, Village Labs, Tom King, and Bill Hamilton seemed to think the lights were extraterrestrial. After the flare theory was offered, they stated the lights were observed to be in front of the mountains. Before the flare story was announced, Hamilton and King made several interesting statements over the months after the event. On April 4, 1997 Bill Hamilton stated, "Event 3 was the appearance of bright amber lights OVER (My Emphasis) the Estrella Mountains.." (Hamilton Update). Note that he is stating that the lights were seen over the mountain peaks! He reiterated this on the April 16, 1997 Art Bell show, when at time 2:39 in the show, he stated that they were again OVER the Estrella Mountains! If they were in front of the mountains, Bill would never have made the statement that they were over the mountains. In the same interview, at time 2:35, he stated, "No, this (the lights seen by him and Tom King) was behind mount Now this is what ." (The Art Bell Show). All these statements indicate that Bill, early on, felt that the lights were above the mountains and that they disappeared behind the peaks. This is easily noticed as the lights turn off. The lowest lights always turn off first as noted by Richard Motzer.
Tom King mentions this twice in his postings. The first time is on March 16, 1997, "I was busy trying to document the lights and mostly was looking thru a B/W viewfinder while trying to keep my balance while standing on a ledge to tape it. Its was under tree top level (viewing perspective) and MAY HAVE WENT BEHIND THE MOUNTAIN (My Emphasis) next to the Gila Indian Reservation" (King Re:Mass). The only Mountains next to the Gila Indian Reservation are the Estrella's. Thus Tom King's first impressions were that the lights disappeared behind the mountains. Only months later when tried to make them into alien lights does he change the tale to say they were in front of the mountains. Tom King slips again on May 17, 1997, "You see there are about 5 videos on the night of March 13th including my video. Most of these videos are of Event #3 at 10:00 p.m. OVER (My Emphasis) the Estrella Mountains" (King Motzer). Again, he has stated the lights were visible over the mountains and not in front of the mountains. Both he and Hamilton early on felt the lights were above the mountain peaks and then apparently disappeared there or behind them. However, after the Motzer story and the July news release, they began describing the lights in front of the mountains. The plain fact is that they are altering the story to eliminate the prosaic explanation of the flares. This is in order to defend their personal sighting in the Phoenix event. They are trying to maintain their part in this "historic event".
Even more amazing is that Hamilton feels that Mike Krzyston's videos are not of the same lights. This despite the fact that they were visible at approximately the same time and general direction. The lights appear similar to those videotaped by Tom King. The reasoning behind this is because Hamilton states in a response to Motzer's article, "We do not believe that Mike Krzyston of Moon Valley or L.K. of Paradise Valley could have taped the same set of lights at the same time due to the intervening obstruction of South Mountain. Therefore these lights were not over Rainbow Valley or even close to the Gila Bend test range which was completely hidden from our view by mountains." (Hamilton My). He reasons this because his sighting was at 9:55 PM and Krzyston saw his at 10:00 PM. According to Hamilton, this and the fact that he feels South Mountain would block the lights for Krzyston videotaped makes Krzyston seeing something else. I wonder if they both synchronized their clocks? However, evidence indicates they WERE the SAME lights. The lights were visible in a similar pattern (although more were seen because King and Hamilton had some obscured by the mountains which were closer to them) and in an appropriate direction. Hamilton realizes that Krzyston's lights would have not been visible from his location if they were in front of the Estrellas because South Mountain would have blocked his view of this area! This is the reason for his statements.
Finally, Sue Krzyston made the comment that they were observing the lights further east than usual, "This particular night they were farther to the east than they'd ever been before" The flares were being dropped on the range to the southwest normally. However, since the flares were now being dropped on the way back to Tuscon, they saw them further east. This confirms (again) that the events were due to the Maryland National Guard on their way back to the airbase.
On September 2, 1998, Dr. Bruce Maccabee released data from his triangulation of the videos on these lights based on several videos of these lights from various locations. I had done this using Hamilton and Krzyston's data but was not that accurate because of insufficient information. Thanks to Dr. Maccabee and a past UFO update bulletin posted on Tom King's site, I was able to determine these locations more precisely than before. Although Doctor Maccabee has done the work for me, he does not include Hamilton/King in his studies (perhaps Hamilton and King refused to provide data or Dr. Mac just did not bother with their observations because the video did not provide adequate information). Using Dr. Maccabee's location for Krzyston, I estimate the bearing to the lights to be 206 degrees. I had earlier felt the bearing was 210-220 because I placed the approximate location about 4 miles to the SSE of the actual location (I was just estimating based on information available). Based on Hamilton's own statements, he stated the lights were to the southwest (220-225 deg) and he was in Ahwatukee (3 miles west of Exit 159 and a little south according to UFO updates posting). This points towards Montezuma's head and Montezuma's peak. If one takes this bearing and couples it with the Krzyston video bearing, it points towards the eastern most end of the bombing range. This is SSE of Gila Bend and roughly 50 miles from Bill Hamilton's location. This is well beyond the Estrella Mountains.
Bill Hamilton has also responded to the criticisms that the lights were flares being dropped on the bombing range by stating,
The pure amber-gold color of the mysterious lights does not match the color of the flares allegedly dropped by the Maryland Air National Guard over the North Tac Range. We were at a position approximately 48 miles from the North Tac range. To see flares beyond the Estrella Mountains, trigonometry reveals they would have to ignite at 24,000 feet. The flares were magnesium and burn bright white. There were 8 airplanes that carry 4 flares apiece. We should have seen 32 bright white lights. None were seen. None were reported by any residents of Gila Bend.
Now here comes the real kicker. These lights that look like luminous orbs have been seen to shoot upward into the air from a fixed position. In fact we have daylight video of this happening. Since when do flares, supposedly dropping from parachutes, ascend skyward? (Hamilton Please)
Wow! Sounds like Bill has done some homework. Then again, maybe not. Let's examine his claims to date:
- The colors of the lights were not white. - Certainly atmospheric refraction would play a role in this. The sun and moon exhibit it to a greater extent at their setting and rising. I am certain that the combined effects of distance and the mountain range air would refract enough to give the flares a "pure amber-gold color". Interestingly, the lights in the videos appear more white than amber. The videos I saw of the flares on the show "Danger in the Skies" appeared orange in color anyway and not pure white.
- No smoke or parachutes were seen through his telescope when viewing the lights. - Hamilton used a small 80 MM spotting telescope at 25X from a distance of 48 miles. Hardly adequate resolution for an object roughly 20 feet across (I have no data on actual size but this should be an extremely generous size of the parachute). The angular size of said object would be about 16 seconds of arc across. This is the size of the planet Saturn. To see detail of this kind at 25X is next to impossible. To resolve the flare from the parachute would require good observing, good collimating, and proper focus. Adding to this problem is that his scope was a small Catadioptric type scope. These are not very good at providing good contrast on small objects. Astronomers do not like these types of instruments for planetary views because of the poor resolution. The smoke itself would be equally difficult to resolve from this distance. I doubt that Hamilton took, or even had the time (His observations of the event only lasted about 5 minutes) to see if they were possibly flares. He is speaking from memory and desire, not what he observed.
- The altitude of the flares was not high enough. - The Arizona Republic article states they dropped their leftover flares as they left the Barry Goldwater test range to avoid safety problems while landing at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tuscon. According to Tony Ortega, the flares were dropped SW of Phoenix at an altitude of 15,000. The heights he was looking over range from 3500-4337 feet. Topographical maps put Montezuma peak/Montezuma Head between these two values. Also the gap between them is lower. I will use an average elevation of 4000 feet to be conservative. Since his distance from the mountains was about thirteen miles, the minimum angle would be 3.3 degrees. This assumes he was at sea level. However, there is also the factor that he was at an altitude slightly higher than this. Topographical maps put Ahwatukee at an altitude of a little over 1000 feet. This makes the minimum angle lower! Rough calculations put this at a value of 2.5 degrees. Planes that were 50 miles away (Best estimate of distance from Hamilton) dropping flares at 15,000 feet would give an angle of roughly 3.3 degrees from sea level and 3.0 degrees from 1000 feet. In all cases, this is equal to, or higher than the areas of the mountains at the 4000-foot level. Many of the flares would be just "peaking over" the mountain ridges. One also needs to note that Dr. Maccabee's calculations puts several of the flares at over 15,000 feet and therefore make it more likely for them to be higher in the sky than the ridgeline. Also, atmospheric refraction could also make the lights appear higher in the sky than normal. In the video, we do not see the lower lights that are visible in the Krzyston video because these were not high enough. However, some of the flares were high enough to be seen. These were the ones video taped by Tom King. Also, in the Tom King video, the lower lights disappear first. This indicates that they are probably disappearing behind the mountain ridge.
- They did not see 32 lights - This is another bogus claim. He misleads everyone into believing that the flares were dropped all at once. The July 25, 1997 Arizona Republic article states that the A-10's used a majority of their flares while training but had leftover flares when returning home. These were dropped as the planes left the range (which was about 10pm - same time as the videos). The number dropped was not given but it was much less than 32. It is also possible that some of the flares dropped were behind the mountains and invisible to his view. This is demonstrated by several videos showing different numbers of lights.
- Gila Bend Residents did not see anything. - Did Hamilton talk to the entire population or just a select few? The flight did happen and the fact remains that the planes dropped flares around the time in question. Richard Motzer states that the flares were quite frequently dropped over the range and this was not unusual. Gila Bend residents would see this happening frequently. Hamilton seems to have talked to his Gila Bend witnesses months after the event. Can any of them remember the date in question? With all the activity on the range, it is likely that they saw numerous flare drops over the weeks and months. I doubt that any of them could pinpoint which dates there were no flare drops. No, the evidence indicates the flare drops occurred that night and Hamilton's residents may not even have been outside at the time.
- The flares moved upward. - Hamilton is playing games. He states they have videos of the lights moving upward. Note that he does not use the video from that night and discuss a completely different event! Listening to the tape, both Tom King and him appeared very excited. However, in his summary report, there is no mention of upward motion of these lights! None of the videos I saw gave evidence of any upward motion.
Hamilton recently has issued a response to the Macabee report. This response looks very scientific in its method but there are several gross errors and assumptions he fails to take into account. He also rehashes some of the nonsense he has previously posted about the color of the lights and not being able to see a parachute. Having already addressed these points above, I will concentrate on the new arguments he presents.
His first major point is to prove that the lights in the Krzyston video were in front of the Estrella Mountains. He does this by using an image he grabbed off the Fox-10 video showing the lights below the crest line. However, one must recall the revealing information about the FOX-10 video written by Tony Ortega in his piece "The Hack and the Quack"
Rod Haberer, producer of the "10-files" piece, says that he's "comfortable with what we put on the air." But when he's asked what software the station used to match and scale the daytime and nighttime shots, he admits that they didn't us a computer at all. Channel 10 simply had one image from Krzyston's video atop another in a digital editing machine. (Ortega)
Hamilton does some pixel counting to show how the two images show that the lights were below the hills. However, I did some pixel counting too. Using the images he posted, I counted the pixels from the left most light in the string and the light he uses for his measurement. In the Krzyston video, the distance is about 89 pixels. The distance in the Fox-10 files image is 54 pixels. The ratio of the two images is roughly 0.61. However, Hamilton states the scaling is 0.53! This is based on the distances between the two ground lights. Unfortunately, he feels this is on the original image but it appears this is from the Krzyston video being imprinted on the digital-editing machine. I have done a similar analysis by grabbing the images from "UFOs: The best evidence ever (caught on tape)". At one point, they showed the mountains and then the videotape. I was able to grab the two separate images and my scaling was much better than the FOX-10 piece. The results were obvious, the lights were above the hills. Hamilton used an improperly scaled image of the skyline to make his assumptions. Had he spent the time and effort to work with some untainted frames, he would have realized the faulty data provided by FOX-10. However, Hamilton is not interested in the truth, he is interested in elevating his version of events.
Then Hamilton says some very astonishing things about his location. He states the following about Steve Blandings home, "The Estrella Range rises from foothills to peaks between 7 to 9 miles southwest of his home" (Hamilton The Phoenix). However, Steve Blandings home, according to Joseph Trainor, was located, "..about 3 miles (5 kilometers) west of Interstate Highway 10 and just south of Chandler Boulevard"(Trainor). This location is roughly 12 miles from where the mountains begin to rise! This is a gross misrepresentation of his location. If he were 7-9 miles to the NE of the Estrellas, he would be located in the open area of the Gila Bend Indian Reservation or on the western most area of South Mountain but not in the residential area described. If this is not bad enough, he then states a new position of his location, " Our position was approximately 10 air miles distant from K's location to the North and R's location to the east " (Hamilton The Phoenix). This is not physically possible since K (Krzyston ) and R (Rairdon) are separated by 32 miles! If he were located 10 miles south of K, as he states, his location would be near Camelback Road in downtown Phoenix. The actual distance is more like 24 miles from K! Hamilton makes this false assertion to use some crude Trigonometry to prove the lights could not be visible from his location at 15,000 feet. I have already proven that they could be at 15,000 feet, roughly 50 miles away and still appear over the Estrellas from his location. Hamilton's outrageous statements about his location are being disingenuous and shows how faulty his data truly is. Trainor was pretty specific on the location while Hamilton refuses to identify the exact location.
Hamilton also spends a lot time to show that the duration of the lights was not all the same in the videotapes. To him this means that the videos are of different lights. His mistake is that he assumes the lights were in front of the mountains. However, since the ridgeline would be different from each location, the duration of the lights would be different. Each angle on the Estrellas would be different and therefore the lights would extinguish at different times for each observer. Hamilton is putting up a smoke screen disguised as scientific research. He continues to prop up his lights as genuine UFOs and not flares. He finally states,
Let the Air National Guard go through a similar exercise on one of their routinely sheduled (sic) nights where they release the same LUU-2 flares over the North Tac Range and let the schedule be announced so the videographers can take up similar positions and video record the flare drop for purposes of comparison. This would act as a controlled test case, and would go a long way in settling this question. (Hamilton The Phoenix)
This is showing more ignorance (or is it
arrogance?). On January 14 1998, the Michigan Air National Guard
performed the same event. They had announced to the press that
they would do so. Still, Village Labs assumed that these lights
were UFOs even with the notification. The test has been
performed. Hamilton is just too incompetent to recognize it.
February 2009: Originally, I had written that the event was preannounced. However, in a recent discussion in JREF forum it came into question if it had been. I can't find my source for this and therefore, I can only assume I must have misinterpreted something I had read around the time I wrote this. The USAF probably stated it was the Michigan unit after the event had happened.
One should not expect the military to have to perform such an exercise. Why waste tax dollars on an exercise that is meant to satisify only a few individuals who can not accept the data that demonstrates they were flares? Even if the USAF performed a test, and it was a dead ringer, UFO proponents would suggest they used special flares to make it look that way or some other ridiculous excuse. Hamilton's request is just a way of shifting the burden of proof away from themselves.
Of course, UFO proponents could easily conduct their own little experiment if they really wanted to see how the flares look from a distance. All they have to do is station somebody with a video camera about 30-50 miles away from the test range and have another person near the range to monitor activity. When the miliary is active, they will drop flares and the video will be recorded. This is not rocket science but UFOlogists want you to believe it is. The reason UFOlogists have not conducted such an experiment is probably because they do not want to see the results.
October 2009 update: I suggest that anyone interested in the idea they were not flares consult what Dr. Maccabee wrote on the subject:
The flare concept seemed to be a very good solution to the puzzle. However, the evidence being used by the investigators was from the videotapes. Examination of all videotapes will reveal that the flares were the cause for these lights.