As ninth anniversary nears, Prescott Valley man still looking for answers on Phoenix Lights
By Cindy Barks - firstname.lastname@example.org, The Daily Courier
PRESCOTT VALLEY Night after night, Mike and Nannette Fortson lounge in lawn chairs in their backyard, their eyes glued to the sky.
After years of sky watching, they say, the locations of the stars and planets are second nature to them. However, for the Fortsons, the constellations are incidental mere points of reference for something bigger.
What they really hope to see is a repeat of the show they glimpsed from their Chandler home nearly nine years ago: a mysterious, slow-moving craft that became known worldwide as the Phoenix Lights.
The Fortsons were among the perhaps thousands of people in Arizona who reported witnessing a series of lights advancing silently from near Paulden, through Prescott Valley and over much of metropolitan Phoenix. Because the Hale-Bopp comet was making an appearance at the same time, many people were outside that night, with their eyes on the sky.
For Mike Fortson, it was a chance encounter, one he attributes to "dumb luck." Even so, that warm night, March 13, 1997, changed his life forever.
"Yes, it is a passion," Fortson said recently from the Viewpoint home into which he and Nanette recently moved. "I think about it all the time."
Since moving to the tri-city area and becoming a licensed real estate agent, Fortson said he has met many local people who remember seeing the lights. However, for the most part, the media and investigative attention at the time focused on the Phoenix area.
Ultimately, officials dismissed the lights as flares from military aircraft. Fortson maintains that two events occurred that night, and while the second one (at about 10 p.m.) may have been flares, he contends that the 8:30 p.m. event was something else altogether.
With the ninth anniversary of the lights sighting approaching on Monday, Fortson said he would like to focus local attention on that 1997 night. "My purpose is that nine years ago, this happened in this area. I'd like to hear what people saw," he said. (He asks people with information on the lights to e-mail him at email@example.com)
In fact, he said, the huge network of people interested in the Phoenix Lights has long circulated an "urban legend" that someone in the tri-city area videotaped the event.
The Fortsons say that getting the event on film or tape was the last thing on their minds that night in 1997. Mike Fortson recalls awakening from a brief nap at about 8:30 p.m. As he went to close a window, he noticed "three huge, bright white lights angled down and very low to the ground."
He shouted to his wife to come outside, and the two of them watched what they describe as a giant boomerang, a V-shaped craft that may have been a mile long.
"When you see something like what we saw something that is not supposed to exist, it's just too big we didn't think to move our feet," Fortson said.
These days, the Fortsons are more prepared. They keep a variety of cameras and tripods on hand to record any unusual sightings from the backyard of their Prescott Valley home. Although they do notice plenty of unexplained things, they have yet to see anything of the magnitude of the Phoenix Lights.
"Anyone who has spent any time sky watching out here in the daytime or nighttime has probably seen something that will cause them to do a double take," Fortson said.
The Fortsons have noticed plenty of balloons and satellites. After their years of practice, they can identify most things in the sky.
Nanette Fortson, who admits that while she enjoys the sky watching, her level of interest does not match her husband's, is getting a bit impatient. "I'm tired of satellites; I want to see the big one again," she said.
Mike Fortson's passion for the Phoenix Lights has made him a bit of a celebrity in UFO circles. Since the 1997 sighting, he has served as a source for more than 50 news stories and telecasts.
That includes appearances in well-known documentaries such as "Out of the Blue," "The Phoenix Lights" and the ABC special "Seeing is Believing," featuring the late news anchor Peter Jennings.
Fortson's amiable persona lends an instant credibility to his story, as he faces the camera to relate what he saw. He also speculates that the fact that he has never received payment to tell his story made him more believable to news outlets. In addition, he said, "I was available."
Just the fact that Fortson was so willing to talk openly about what he saw made him somewhat unusual at the time.
Former Phoenix City Councilwoman Frances Barwood, who now lives in Dewey-Humboldt, recalls that many people were unwilling to talk publicly about the sighting, for fear of being the subject of ridicule or scorn.
In fact, Barwood was caught up in a media maelstrom when she asked during a televised City Council meeting why the City of Phoenix was not looking into the matter. After her question made it into a story in the Arizona Republic, Barwood said she was received a flood of telephone calls from people who saw the lights.
"It was overwhelming," Barwood says now. "We were nowhere prepared for something like that."
During the days and weeks after the story ran, Barwood said she received more than 700 calls many from people in the Prescott/Prescott Valley area. She remembers one call from a Prescott Valley man who was having a Hale-Bopp party at the time. He and his more than 20 guests all saw the unidentified object.
A number of Barwood's calls also came from people who admitted to seeing the lights but who did not want to go public.
"To the media, it was a big joke," Barwood said, adding that she was the brunt of many of the jokes, becoming known as the UFO council member.
Although Barwood did not witness the March 13 event herself, she said the impassioned accounts she heard from people made her want answers. "I've always been curious my whole life, just by nature," she said. "I would love to know what it was."
Barwood, who knows Fortson, said she admires the way he has continued to dig for information. "Mike has taken it seriously," she said. "He's trying to get other people talking about it, and maybe get some answers."
source and references:
The Prescott Daily Courier - Prescott, Arizona, USA
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