On Friday night Oct. 28, four bright lights were seen and videotaped during a high school football game in Scottsdale, Ariz., near Phoenix. The strange lights, which were seen by hundreds of people and videotaped by at least two of them, seemed to move slowly in the sky, sometimes blinking randomly. The entire sighting lasted for about a minute and a half.
According to Fox 10 News, one fan at the high school took a video and posted it to YouTube, where within days it became one of the top stories on Yahoo News, sparked "a national mystery" and garnered over 50,000 views.
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Several explanations were put forth to explain the mysterious lights, ranging from helicopters to camera lens flares. But of course the favored explanation was spacecraft: did we finally have good video proof that mankind is being visited by aliens?
Others weren't so sure and suggested that the bright lights resembled nighttime skydivers with flares. To some this explanation seemed even more outlandish than extraterrestrial spacecraft flying by to watch a high school football game: What would skydivers be doing with flares in the night sky? And if they were skydivers and had done this before, why wouldn't people have known about it, or recognized it? Was it all some prank or hoax?
As the story got more and more publicity, a helicopter pilot for Fox Channel 10, Rick Crabbs, went on the air and told what he knew. And he knew a lot.
He was at an event called the "Halloween Balloon Spooktacular" in which a skydiving team called the Arizona Skyhawks jumped out of a plane with bright magnesium flares for a show. "I was at the location where those skydivers were coming in Friday night," Crabbs stated in a Fox10 news report, "That's exactly what happened: there were some skydivers. And they did have pyrotechnics on their ankles. There were four of them, and if you look at the video, you can see actually four different lights."
Much of the area surrounding Horizon High School is open space that would be ideal for skydiving. But why weren't the lights identified earlier?
The answer is that though the event (held at a place called Salt River Fields) is about 15 miles from the high school, it is difficult to judge the distance of unknown objects in the sky -- and that's especially true for the night sky. Under clear conditions, bright lights can be seen for dozens of miles; some lighthouses can be seen more than fifty miles away, for example.
Robert Sheaffer, a UFO investigator with Skeptical Inquirer magazine and author of the Bad UFOs blog, told Discovery News, "It's remarkable how so many people, when they see lights in the sky, immediately jump to the conclusion that they might be seeing alien visitors... In reality there are many different possible explanations for lights in the sky, all of them more likely than 'alien visitors.' In this case, just a few minutes of web searching revealed not only that these lights were parachutists carrying flares, but gave us the actual identity of the parachutists."
This is not the first time that UFO lights have been reported over Phoenix. In 1997, bright flare-like lights were seen in the night sky, causing a surge of UFO reports. It was soon revealed that high-intensity flares had been dropped from the sky over a testing range at nearby Luke Air Force Base during military exercises.