Travis Walton, then 22, was a member of a crew contracted by the United States Forest Service to thin out undergrowth from an area of more than 1,200 acres near Turkey Springs, Arizona. Leading the crew was Mike Rogers, Walton’s best friend and future brother-in-law. The other crew members were Ken Peterson, John Goulette, Steve Pierce, Allen Dallis and Dwayne Smith. This contract was the most lucrative they ever had and, determined to fulfill it, the men were working long shifts, sometimes from sunrise to sunset.
The crew had finished work around 6:00 p.m. on November 5th and were heading back to town when they saw a bright light partially hidden by an upcoming hill. Om moving closer, they realized that it emanated from a large silvery disc, about 8 feet high and 20 feet wide. Rogers stopped the truck, at which point Walton jumped out and approached the disc, much to the consternation of his friends who were shouting for him to come back. He did start backing away when it began to emit a strange noise but by then it was too late. A beam of blue-green light shot out from the disc, lifting him a foot off the ground and then throwing him some 10 feet. Convinced that he was dead, the other guys high-tailed it out of there. When they went back, there was no sign of the disc, or of Walton.
Ken Peterson called the police, telling them only that a member of the logging crew was missing. They later related the whole story to Deputy Sheriff Chuck Ellison, who was inclined to be skeptical but the men were obviously distraught. His superior officer, Sheriff Marlin Gillespie, ordered him to keep the crew there until his arrival with Officer Ken Coplan. They made a search of the woods but could find no evidence to corroborate the men’s’ story. This only added to their suspicions of foul play even though most of the men had passed their polygraph tests.
Word of Walton’s disappearance began to spread and it was just a matter of time before UFO enthusiasts started to flock the area. Duane Walton was interviewed by Fred Sylvanus, a Phoenix based UFO investigator, and he claimed that both he and Travis had a keen interest in UFOs, but later recanted his statements. The damage was done though, and town marshal Sanford Flake expressed his belief that the whole thing was a hoax.
On the night of November 10th, Grant Neff, Walton’s brother-in-law, received a call from someone claiming to be Travis. He initially thought it was a prankster but the caller seemed genuinely in need of help. Grant picked up Duane Walton and they drove to the Heber gas station where they found Travis passed out in one of the phone booths. He was still in the clothes he had been wearing when he disappeared and he kept mumbling about beings with terrifying eyes. He didn’t seem to be aware that he had been gone for close to a week. He appeared to have lost weight and couldn’t eat even mild foods without vomiting. Concerned about his brother’s fragile state, Duane decided not to inform the authorities, even though he could be charged for covering up evidence.
Duane had instructed Travis to save his first urination, on the advice of William H. Spaulding of Ground Saucer Watch, who had promised a confidential medical exam. As it turned out, the specialist suggested by Spaulding was a hypnotherapist, not a medical doctor. It later became clear that Spaulding had ulterior motives.
It wasn’t long before word of Walton’s return was leaked to the public. The Waltons were contacted by Coral Lorenzen of the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization, who promised she could arrange an examination for Walton by two medical doctors at home. This was done and they did find two anomalies. There was a red spot, consistent with a hypodermic injection, in the crease of Walton’s right elbow. However, this wasn’t close to any veins. Also, his urine had an unusually low level of ketones. If he had been starving out in the woods, his ketone levels should have been elevated from the breakdown of his body’s fat stores. They also noted a lack of bruises. Walton explained this by the fact he very rarely ever bruised.
Sheriff Gillespie was livid at having to learn of Walton’s return through the press. It was later determined that Duane was still sore at what he thought was a lackadaisical attempt to find his brother. Walton’s account to Sheriff Gillespie was consistent with other abduction claims in that he woke up to a bright light and observed vaguely humanoid figures in the room. That, however, was where his account veered off. He claimed to have frightened them off by jumping from his reclining bed and threatening them with a glass-like cylinder, despite his weakened condition. He also alleged that he had wandered around and come into contact with humans in blue coveralls. They smiled at him but did not answer his queries, and he eventually passed out when one of them fitted him with what looked like an oxygen mask. The next thing he remembered was being outside the gas station.
Sheriff Gillespie suggested that Walton had either been drugged, or received a head injury, and confused the events at an actual hospital with something more fantastical. Walton disputed this and agreed to take any kind of test, including a polygraph, which would corroborate his story. Sheriff Gillespie agreed and arranged for a polygraph. Duane cancelled it though when word of the exam was leaked to the press and accused the Sheriff of being the source. He adamantly denied this. However, pressure was mounting for Walton to take the test and he had no choice. Before the exam, examiner John J. McCarthy got Walton to admit that he had smoked marijuana in the past and that he had once been involved in check fraud.
The exam itself is mired in controversy. Walton claimed that McCarthy was confrontational and aggressive, while McCarthy asserted that Walton had failed the test and had even tried to cheat. McCarthy stated that: “Based on his reaction on all charts, it is the opinion of this examiner that Walton, in concert with others, is attempting to perpetrate a UFO hoax, and that he has not been on any spacecraft”. Since the Waltons had made it clear that they wished to retain the rights as to whether or not the results would be made public, they were able to suppress it. However, the results came to light eight months later and, even though Walton would go on to pass two further polygraph tests, this fact continued to haunt him.
Phillip Klass, a well-known UFO debunker, argued that there was a strong financial motive behind Walton’s supposed abduction. Mike Rogers knew he could not finish his contract on time and was hoping the disappearance of his best friend would have been enough to allow him to invoke the ‘act of God’ clause. However, the fact that Rogers had never actually done so stands against this argument. Klass also suggested that either Walton of Rogers might have been influenced by a televised account of the Hill Abduction, but Walton’s account was much different from theirs.
In 1978, Walton published The Walton Experience, his own account of his abduction, which was heavily panned by author Terry Matheson for its inconsistencies. After all the commotion died down, Walton went back to his quiet life at Snowflake and became a lumber mill foreman. He married Dana Rogers and has occasionally made appearances at UFO conventions. His book was later adapted into the film Fire In The Sky, and critics complained about its lack of resemblance to Walton’s original narrative.