The Curious Case of Craig Button and the Phoenix Lights

An A-10 pilot’s demise just after the Phoenix Lights UFO incident remains “a mystery, wrapped in an enigma, inside a riddle.” 25 years later, there are new revelations in the case of Air Force Captain Craig Button.

A mystery, wrapped in an enigma, inside a riddle.

When Air Force Captain Craig Button broke formation and disappeared on the fateful day of April 2, 1997, the strange circumstances generated a real life “X-Files” case. It took the Air Force three weeks to find the wreckage of Button’s A-10 Thunderbolt II, which had apparently crashed into a Colorado mountain side known as Gold Dust Peak. The Air Force took months to investigate the case, during which time then-U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen deemed Button’s saga “a mystery, wrapped in an enigma, inside a riddle.”

USAF Captain Craig Button

The Air Force ultimately ruled Button’s death a suicide, though their evidence for concluding so was paper thin. This budding reporter took a personal interest in Button’s case due to how a surging affinity for “The X-Files” television show had inspired a field trip from Los Angeles to Sedona, Arizona, after reading that Sedona was a UFO hotspot due to the local energy vortexes. It was there that our party of three friends experienced a compelling close encounter of the first kind while camping at Sedona’s Cathedral Rock on April 1, 1997. Comet Hale Bopp was bright in the sky at the time, adding a surreal cosmic vibe to the evening.

Comet Hale Bopp over Sedona — spring 1997

A glowing red orb craft appeared that night and performed dazzling anti-gravity maneuvers that defied the known limitations of quantum physics. The fact that Button’s mysterious disappearance occurred the next day was very difficult to view as mere coincidence. The Phoenix Lights incident had occurred less than three weeks earlier on March 13 and though that mass UFO sighting event oddly wouldn’t become national news until June of ’97, this reporter was familiar with it due to having been an avid listener of Art Bell’s Coast to Coast AM radio show at the time.

A passionate interest in seeking the truth that’s out there led to pursuit of a career in investigative journalism. It was upon some further digging in 2017 for a 20-year retrospective story on the spring of ’97 that the research of documentary producer and investigative journalist William Warwick popped up. Warwick had apparently experienced a life-altering UFO sighting of his own on March 12, 1997 in Norfolk, Virginia. He too then became deeply intrigued by the Craig Button saga and the Phoenix Lights.

“Whatever kind of propulsion system it used, it defied gravity in a way that was awe inspiring,” Warwick says of his sighting of a boomerang shaped craft he describes as very similar but not exactly the same in appearance to what many Arizona residents would report seeing the next night. Warwick’s description of his sighting as “awe inspiring” would synchronistically match this reporter’s feelings about the UFO witnessed at Sedona’s Cathedral Rock. Likewise, the fact that Warwick’s sighting occurred just one day before the Phoenix Lights was something he had a difficult time dismissing as a coincidence.

Warwick’s personal experiences developed into a passion to find out what really happened not only in his own case, but with the Phoenix Lights as well. He eventually went on to produce The Phoenix Incident, a 2008 documentary about Phoenix Lights witnesses and their stories. The independent journalist, producer, and now successful real estate developer has also been a five-time guest on Coast to Coast AM.

Our mutual fascination with the Craig Button saga led us to become acquainted 20 years later in 2017. With the 25-year anniversary of Button’s untimely demise upon us here in 2022, we reached out to each other to compare notes and take a closer look at what we know about these truly anomalous and still unexplained events. Warwick was keen to share some compelling new revelations, which we are still working to wrap our minds around. This includes testimony from a former elected government official that they had been contacted by Button the day before his disappearance, with the pilot expressing distress that there had been times where control of his jet was taken away by someone or something while he was in the air!

Was USAF Captain Craig Button’s disappearance and death related to the Phoenix Lights?

The 32-year-old A-10 pilot was flying on a training mission out of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona on April 2, 1997 when he broke formation and flew northeast toward the Four Corners region, disappearing from radar near Vail, Colorado. Button’s disappearance became a national news story and suspicions grew as the Air Force couldn’t find his plane for three weeks, during which time they started offering flimsy theories speculating that Button had been suicidal.

Craig Button’s flight path on April 2, 1997

After they finally located the crash site, the Air Force continued to float baseless speculation about Button being gay and in fear of being outed. His sister quickly shot that theory down, while his parents stated that he had been in good spirits during a recent visit. The Air Force would go on to flip their story to suggest Button had been depressed about an unrequited love for a former female flame, though this was never substantiated. Button’s plane was also carrying four 500-pound bombs that were never found, which led to early media speculation that he was involved in a plot to steal the bombs for some sort of right-wing militia agenda.

“If no one tried hard to investigate Craig’s case, would he have been labelled as a gay disgruntled right wing terrorist who just failed and killed himself?” Warwick wonders. “The harder the Air Force and media tried to make Craig Button into some kind of loose cannon — gone wild — the more it became evident that he clearly wasn’t.”

The Air Force’s explanation for what happened to Craig Button was as flimsy as their explanation about the Phoenix Lights — neither story added up. In the wake of the Phoenix Lights and having just witnessed a compelling UFO in Sedona, this reporter couldn’t help but suspect that Button had quite possibly witnessed some sort of UFO/UAP himself and perhaps been overzealous in attempting to identify it.

But in comparing notes with Warwick, we were able to put together a compelling body of research suggesting that Button’s disappearance may well have been related to the Phoenix Lights. Was Button perhaps part of a team of A-10 pilots from Davis-Monthan AFB in Tuscon that had been sent to investigate the Phoenix Lights? Did those pilots see or learn something that night or soon thereafter that led to Button’s puzzling actions on April 2?

Some interesting circumstances surrounding the Phoenix Lights were summarized in a 2016 article at Ground Zero Media by researcher Ron Patton, who wrote of how NORAD went Defcon 2 on March 13, 1997 after an Air Force MSTI 3 satellite covering North America was disabled and had its batteries drained as another space object was observed passing over it.

Of further note were national news reports that President Bill Clinton was taken to a hospital late that night around 1:20 am Eastern time (according to CNN) after injuring his knee at the home of golf pro Greg Norman in West Palm Beach, Florida. There has long been speculation in the UFOlogy community as to whether the injury actually occurred because the Secret Service feared the country was under attack and had rushed Clinton too quickly to safety, severely injuring his knee just hours after thousands of UFO reports popped up all over Arizona.

Warwick also points to the mysterious and little remembered loss of Navy helicopter Troubleshooter 615 off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia that night. This is curiously the same region where more recent well-known UAP incidents have occurred, such as the government-acknowledged UAP incidents near Virginia Beach from 2014 to 2019.

Warwick says those incidents support his longtime hypothesis that the loss of Troubleshooter 615 may have been UFO related and could have been part of what caused the military to think it was under attack, prompting the urgency to rush President Clinton to safety.

“This is when Clinton tripped and allegedly hurt his knee, if that is in fact what actually happened. Or was that just an excuse to secure the president?” Warwick wonders. He notes that then-Governor of Arizona Fife Symington has also acknowledged seeing the Phoenix Lights that night and would likely have called Clinton about it since they were old friends. Warwick points to the historical record of how Symington saved Bill Clinton from drowning in 1969 and was later pardoned by Clinton in 2001. Warwick further notes that Ken Starr was interested in that night’s events since he was trying to place Monica Lewinsky with Clinton on his trip to Florida.

“And so the investigation into what really happened that evening has had multiple levels of subterfuge and confusion. Whether on purpose or unintended, it has confused the real story of what happened and it’s time the American people know the truth,” Warwick says.

“We can assume that they also had notification from NORAD that a MSTI 3 satellite was knocked out — likely the one for the east coast, around the same time as the loss of Troubleshooter 615,” Warwick continues, speculating that it must have been pandemonium in the CIC control centers, seeing all this unfold, one event after another — first in Arizona, then off the coast of Norfolk, then Clinton in Florida, all in a close time frame.

Investigative reporter Linda Moulton Howe corroborated the story about the satellite getting knocked out on March 13, 1997 more recently when she cited the incident during a panel discussion at the 2015 Contact in the Desert Conference in Joshua Tree, California. Moulton Howe said she received a call right after the incident from a contact who works on computer systems for the Department of Defense. “Linda, I want you to know, last night, I got a communication that one of our most secretive DOD satellites was fried… and it was ETs,” she said her source told her.

Through the looking glass — a deeper examination of the circumstances surrounding Craig Button’s bizarre disappearance

“It’s amazing that after spending hundreds of hours of investigation, and interviewing over 200 people, that this story [depression over unrequited love] is all the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) could uncover to explain the possible motive for Craig’s alleged suicidal ideation. Or was it?” asks Warwick. He cites discovering that the AFOSI investigation had indicated early on that Button’s roommate reported that the pilot made and received a series of phone calls to someone, the night before he disappeared. The roommate apparently said that whatever the nature of the calls were, they seemed to upset Button.

An Associated Press story from November 1998 indicated that the Air Force investigation had discovered a Bible and religious pamphlet in Button’s bed stand, describing “God asking a father to sacrifice his only son on a burning pyre at the side of a mountain…” The article notes that the report went on to claim “Capt. Craig Button intended to die or be rescued by divine intervention of God at the last possible moment.” But this seems a specious conclusion, as if the Air Force was reaching for a tidy explanation to wrap up their mystifying investigation or even went so far as to plant the pamphlet.

“Even back in 1997, before cell phones were a thing, the phone companies would have records of the phone calls, and we can assume that AFOSI surely looked at Craig’s phone records and talked to his former girlfriends and lovers, who confirmed that they were NOT the ones who talked to Craig the night before his disappearance. This leaves a great unsolved mystery — who called Craig, what did they talk about, and why was he so upset?” Warwick wonders.

“With these main questions in the back of my mind, I set out to organize the Phoenix Lights Conference in Glendale, Arizona, so that witnesses to the Phoenix Lights could come and give their testimony… The DVD and video that resulted was called The Phoenix Incident [released in 2008].”

Warwick notes that he himself didn’t learn of the Phoenix Lights until watching a TV show on the Sci Fi Channel with Jonathan Frakes on July 4, 1997. “I followed the stories and copied every news article I could find, keeping meticulous records of the news stories and other things that people posted online. I tried to include every possible reasonable explanation, but it always seemed like a huge piece of the puzzle was missing. Time and time again, I kept coming back to Craig Button, his missing A-10 and his trainer at Davis-Monthan AFB — Amy Lynn Svoboda,” Warwick says.

The fact that Captain Amy Lynn Svoboda also perished in an A-10 crash — allegedly due to pilot error — less than two months (May 28, 1997) after Button’s death was something that stood out back then to this reporter as well. Reading of her death that spring was downright chilling — had she and Button both learned something about a coverup related to the Phoenix Lights? The proximity and similarity of their deaths was inherently troubling.

“Captain Svoboda was killed during a night training mission on the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range near Gila Bend, Arizona. She was flying an A-10A Thunderbolt II (#78–0690/DM). There is a finding that she became disoriented during the mission and crashed into the desert,” reads Svoboda’s Air Force memorial webpage.

William Warwick also had a hard time accepting this explanation for the death of such a decorated pilot. “I can see a trainee making a mistake like Amy is alleged to have made. I find it harder to accept at face value, that such an accomplished pilot — a Top Gun trainer with real combat experience in Close Air Support — would make that kind of mistake,” Warwick says.

The Air Force’s finding that Svoboda crashed because “she became disoriented during the mission” eerily matches the conclusion that Button’s parents held about his death. Richard Button told the New York Times that he thought the Air Force suicide story was a lie: “There must have been some kind of air contamination,’’ Mr. Button said, suggesting that his son had been stricken by fumes from the jet fuel. ‘’We think he was disoriented, that he wasn’t able to control his airplane for a period of time. We think that caused the accident.’’

A government insider comes forward at the 2007 Phoenix Lights conference with shocking new information

After his presentation at the Phoenix Lights conference that he’d put together in 2007, Warwick encountered someone who had compelling new information to share with him in private.

“I was approached by a former elected government official who had an incredible story to share. The story this person told was so explosive that they swore me to secrecy about their identity, because they had received death threats,” Warwick says. This insider told Warwick that they were the person who Craig Button had reached out to on April 1, 1997, when he was reported to have made and received several phone calls which his roommate said seemed to upset him.

“Button claimed there were instances when he was not in control of his aircraft,” the insider said, relating that Button was deeply concerned about how someone or something was causing him to lose control for reasons unknown and he didn’t know who else to call or report it to.

As a former Search And Rescue Civil Air Patrol senior member with the US Air Force Auxiliary in his native state of Massachusetts, Warwick grilled the insider with questions to explore what Button’s state of mind might have been. The insider related that Button was hoping to get help from outside of the regular chain of command, indicating that the pilot either didn’t trust his local military command structure, or that he’d already tried to bring his concerns to his commanding officers and/or lead trainers and was ignored or dismissed. The former government official told Warwick they had made a few phone calls to try to see who they could talk to.

“I called a lawyer, who might be able to help and I called Craig back, with the lawyer on the line on a three-way call,” the insider said. “Craig repeated his story — that he was not in control of his aircraft, and the lawyer listened intently but after a few minutes, the attorney said that they didn’t want anything to do with this and not to call them back ever again.”

Warwick and the former government official surmised that this was the most likely explanation for why Button was so upset when the calls ended. Those phone calls took place on April 1, 1997 and within less than 24 hours, Button went missing.

“So someone had to have been listening to and tapping his phone line or mine or both. I would have come forward sooner, but I’ve had death threats… and my phone lines have been tapped… so I have not told this story to anyone else, except one other person, and you,” the insider related to Warwick.

This stunning revelation led Warwick to start digging into the matter of why a clandestine entity would want to experiment with taking control of an A-10 away from its pilot. Looking back, Warwick notes that the former government official said something else to him that he didn’t quite understand at the time, but which he has pondered further in recent years.

“Did you know that at the time of Craig’s disappearance, the FBI had received reports and tips about a terrorist group that was trying to steal a plane?” the insider asked. Warwick has since obsessed a fair amount over the concept as it might relate to Button’s disappearance.

“What on earth would make anyone want to steal an A-10 military attack plane with only four rather small dumb bombs on it, with some depleted uranium rounds, within the continental United States and make it look like the pilot was crazy and killed himself and committed suicide?” Warwick asks. “This begs the question, what really happened to Craig Button and his A-10, if he didn’t commit suicide, and he was murdered to cover something up — what was so important to keep secret that it required the death of Craig Button? Was it because Craig went outside the military chain of command and sought help from a civilian and they needed to silence him before he could reveal whatever he knew?”

This research pathway led Warwick back to the stolen plane theories that had been so prevalent when Button first disappeared. Yet he remained puzzled by the question of why Button would want to steal his own plane, which made no sense. He pondered further.

“What if he was breaking formation so that he could land and meet with a member of the media? After calling the government official, did he then contact a member of the media in a last ditch effort to meet at some civilian airport to tell his story? But if that was true, why go through the trouble of staging a fake crash site in the mountains?” Warwick wonders, alluding to another theory that all was not quite as it seemed at the crash site in Colorado.

Another revelation from 2007 involved the search for the wreckage of Button’s plane that took place in the summer of 1997. A ten-year retrospective article in the Scottsdale Times reported on how the Air Force had subcontracted a mountaineering team to comb the mountain where Button crashed for the wreckage and the bombs.

“All we know is that [Button] did not have the bombs onboard at the time of the crash, because we looked all over that mountain for them,” John Peleaux told the Scottsdale Times in 2007, regarding how his Colorado-based company Evergreen Access was subcontracted to lead a team “that systematically scaled and inspected the entire northwest face of the 13,000-foot peak.”

The article further reported that “Peleaux’s search turned up nearly 11 tons of aircraft debris, mostly in tiny pieces that wound up being carried from the range on dozens of large pallets. But remnants from the bombs were not among the wreckage, leading officials to conclude they would have had to have been dropped somewhere between the Barry M. Goldwater Bombing Range near Gila Bend, where Button broke formation, and the peak near Eagle, Colorado, where the wreckage was found 18 days after the crash.”

Peleaux would go on to state that he had developed his own suspicions about the Air Force knowing more than it was letting on, telling the Scottsdale Times that “I was privy to a lot of information — I was in charge of the mountain, basically… And I watched the media being told things that were incomplete at best.”

The quote about the media being told things that were “incomplete at best” inspired this reporter to track down Peleaux in the spring of 2022 for a phone interview to learn more about his impressions of the Air Force’s actions during the search. Peleaux agreed and noted that Button’s plane “almost missed the mountain, which brought up questions of whether he was trying to pull out at the last second.” He likened the crash to “a big scratch,” saying that “the mountain won, in terms of hardness” and that the parts were all over.

As to his observations of the Air Force command, Peleaux says he’s learned since 2007 that “it’s normal” for the military not to be totally up front with the media. But he added that he didn’t hear any falsities per se. “All I saw was exclusions,” Peleaux recalls. Peleaux says he would occasionally talk to the general in charge at times such as breakfast, asking about potential scenarios being raised in the media. He notes that Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was on trial in Denver at the time, fueling a theory that Button “landed close by and handed off the bombs to terrorists.” But Peleaux related that the general “blew up” at the mere suggestion, saying, “They don’t need a 500 pound dumb bomb, they have C-4!”

In the end, Peleaux concurs that Button’s saga remains an unsolved mystery. William Warwick meanwhile has continued to wonder whether some other group could have contrived to steal Button’s jet and stage a faked crash site. He says he surprised even himself when his research suggested a plausible scenario.

Could Craig Button’s plane have been hijacked in a clandestine operation?

“In order for any group to steal Craig’s A-10, they would have to land his stolen plane in an airpark that was outside the range of the local controlled airports, otherwise the authorities might be able to detect the changes in air speed and altitude and that would easily have brought them to the one and only place along Craig’s flight path where he could have landed,” Warwick explains.

“Much to my incredible surprise, there was such an airpark — it was uncontrolled and with just a few houses being constructed nearby. We know this because the Google Earth images from that date and time in 1997 clearly show the airpark… with just a few homes on it in early 1997, so anyone can see this.”

Warwick notes that this airpark happens to be just outside of the range of the radar of the Phoenix and Albuquerque airports. The name of this airpark is Mogollon and it can be found on any modern map.

“Mogollon Airpark was not just a close fit, it was a perfect fit for a clandestine operation to land a plane remotely while taking off with another one, to make it look like there was one continuous flight path. So if someone wanted to remotely control Craig’s plane, so that they could steal it, or if they needed to crash it, then it’s possible — they could have done it. It was a possibility that could not be ruled out,” Warwick explains regarding his extensive examination of the facts.

Was this the real reason behind the remote control of Button’s plane, so that a clandestine group could hijack it for some nefarious purpose? Warwick says he thought back to the former government official mentioning that terrorists were “all over the place” looking for a plane to steal. But there hadn’t been any indication as to whether those reports warned only of alleged Islamic terrorists, or perhaps also the potential black ops forces that would be needed to pull off such an operation.

“It’s an incredible revelation, but it is also the one that seems to fit all the data,” Warwick says. “So given all these circumstances, we really have to question if the aircraft that was found on the mountain was in fact Craig’s A-10 or some other debris from another aircraft that might have been exploded or whose parts were simply dropped out the back of a C-130, in order to make it look like the plane crashed… What if Craig was tricked into going to Mogollon, thinking he was going to meet a reporter or something, and he went willingly because he thought he was being set up the whole time and figured that going directly to the press might be his only play? And was he killed shortly after he landed, thinking he was meeting a reporter to tell his story?”

The A-10C Thunderbolt II

As to the question of motive behind the deaths of Button and Svoboda, Warwick suggests it’s fairly simple: “What if a highly organized, well-financed group of professional mercenaries with the help of sympathetic personnel from a rogue group within the U.S. Intelligence Community and/or Military Industrial Complex, were allowed to create their own clandestine program to take control of fly by wire aircraft like an A-10 or a 737 in order to use it as a terrorist attack weapon?”

Warwick points to “Operation Northwoods,” the DOD false flag proposal from the early 1960s that schemed to crash planes into American buildings and blame Cuba’s Fidel Castro (a secret document that wasn’t made public until the fall of 1997.)

“In this scenario, the murder of Craig Button was a direct consequence of his breaking the code of silence and contacting the government official… or perhaps reporting up his chain of command and confiding in Amy Lynn Svoboda, or another trainer at the base, whom he trusted,” Warwick says.

Then there’s the related question of whether Button was targeted because he had learned something about the Phoenix Lights and/or some other classified intelligence that suddenly put him in the position of becoming a Hitchcockian “man who knew too much”.

“We will probably never know the full truth — 25 years later, we still have more questions than answers,” Warwick laments. “But it is not our job as investigative journalists to tell people what to think. It’s our job to make people aware of the facts, so that Congress and the American people can demand the answers that they deserve… We owe it to the families of Craig and Amy to get the facts out and set the record straight.”

A recent legislative amendment from Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and House Armed Services Intelligence Subcommittee Chair Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) to protect UAP whistleblowers would seem to be of critical importance for Congress and the citizenry to learn more about what the Pentagon and U.S. Intelligence Community really know about UAPs. Such legal protection could also conceivably embolden military or governmental personnel to come forward with more covert details on what really happened to Craig Button.

Trail of the Saucers is a writer’s collective on the UAP/UFO issue that’s published by Stellar Productions and edited by Bryce Zabel, the co-host of “Need to Know with Coulthart and Zabel.”

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