The Arizona Republic, Sept. 12, 2010 12:00 AM
While at a grocery store recently in Santa Barbara, Calif., former Arizona Gov. Fife Symington was pulled aside by a university professor.
"Thank you for what you are doing regarding the UFO matter," said the professor, who recognized Symington from an appearance on "Larry King Live," where he discussed UFOs.
Symington, a pilot and former Air Force officer, has become a national figure in the debate over UFOs ever since revealing in 2007 that he had seen a massive, delta-shaped craft 10 years earlier - the so-called Phoenix Lights.
Symington is among a group of notable figures who provide first-person accounts of UFO sightings in the new book, "UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record." Symington wrote the chapter titled, "Setting the Record Straight."
Symington, working with Leslie Kean, author of the book, also appears in the documentary "I Know What I Saw" and moderated an international panel discussion three years ago in Washington, D.C., to focus attention on the need for a U.S. agency to investigate UFOs.
It's a long way from 1997, when, as a spoof, then-Gov. Symington told a news conference that the mysterious Phoenix Lights had been solved, and brought out his chief of staff, Jay Heiler, dressed in an alien costume.
Symington talked with Viewpoints about his latest campaign.
Question: To what extent are you involved in trying to create a government agency to investigate UFOs?
Answer: We've had lengthy discussions about trying to get the administration or Congress to move down the road parallel with what France, Britain and even Belgium have done and have an official group that investigates these sightings in an unbiased way - to provide as quick as possible of an explanation, if there is one, or admit there isn't an explanation.
Q: How receptive have officials been to this idea?
A: Some are and some aren't. There is still a high degree of ridicule out there in the media, political groups and elected officials about this subject.
Q: Could you describe your own experience in seeing a UFO in 1997?
A: Whatever it was, it was huge and lumbered quietly across the Valley. It had embedded lights and was really fascinating. Apparently, it traversed from the northwestern part of the state and came right across the Valley and headed southeast.
Thousands of people saw it. I made the comment at the time that maybe Boeing or some other operation had something going in the Skunk Works. The only problem with that was it was bigger than anything I had ever seen. And if we were developing some sort of secret aircraft, why would we be flying it over metropolitan Phoenix?
I went (looking for it) when all the hoopla was on the radio. I drove down to (Squaw Peak, now Piestewa Peak) off Lincoln. There were a bunch of people out there; everybody saw it. I drove home and Ann (his wife) looked at me and said, "You look like you've seen a ghost." And I said, "Well, I'm not sure what I saw, but it wasn't a ghost."
Q: And you felt in your position as governor there was no way you could reveal what you saw?
A: Could you imagine the ridicule? And at that point, where I was in my struggles in trying to govern the state, that would have been a disaster. Now, I don't have to worry about it.
Q: If you speculated, what was that craft? Extraterrestrial?
A: I think that's the only explanation left. It shouldn't be a surprising conclusion. Even the great minds of this world, like Stephen Hawking, recently wrote that the universe is a big place, that the mathematical odds that there is life in the universe, that civilizations much more advanced than ours exist, are very high.
(Hawking) made a wry comment, though. He said we better be careful about what we wish for because you just never know if they will be hostile.
Q: Did your sighting change your philosophy of life?
A: I've always been open to the idea, never looked at it with a sense of ridicule. If wayfarers in space are passing by our planet occasionally, I'm such an optimist that I think they are probably quite likable and quite amused by our antics.