The Travis Walton UFO incident was an alleged abduction of an American forestry worker by a UFO on November 5, 1975, while working in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests near Snowflake, Arizona. Walton reappeared after a five-day search. The Walton case received mainstream publicity and remains one of the best-known alien abduction stories. Skeptics consider it a hoax. Walton wrote a book about his purported abduction in 1978 called The Walton Experience, which was adapted into the film Fire in the Sky in 1993, written by Tracy Tormé.
According to Walton, on November 5, 1975 he was working with a timber stand improvement crew in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest near Snowflake, Arizona. While riding in a truck with six of his coworkers, they encountered a saucer-shaped object hovering over the ground approximately 110 feet away, making a high-pitched buzz. Walton claims that after he left the truck and approached the object, a beam of light suddenly appeared from the craft and knocked him unconscious. The other six men were frightened and supposedly drove away. Walton claimed that he awoke in a hospital-like room, being observed by three short, bald creatures. He claimed that he fought with them until a human wearing a helmet led Walton to another room, where he blacked out as three other humans put a clear plastic mask over his face. Walton has claimed he remembers nothing else until he found himself walking along a highway, with the flying saucer departing above him.
In the days following Walton’s UFO claim, The National Enquirer awarded Walton and his co-workers a $5,000 prize for “best UFO case of the year” after they allegedly passed polygraph tests administered by the Enquirer and the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (APRO). Walton, his older brother, and his mother were described by the Navajo County, Arizona sheriff as “longtime students of UFOs”. Some UFOlogists believe Walton was abducted by aliens. UFOlogist Jim Ledwith said, “For five days, the authorities thought he’d been murdered by his co-workers, and then he was returned. All of the co-workers who were there, who saw the spacecraft, they all took polygraph tests, and they all passed, except for one, and that one was inconclusive.”
Skeptics consider the case to be a hoax, describing it as “sensationalizing on the part of the media” and “a put-up job to make money.” UFO researcher Philip J. Klass considered Walton’s story to be a hoax perpetrated for financial gain, and discovered many “discrepancies” in the accounts of Walton and his co-workers. After investigating the case, Klass reported that the polygraph tests were “poorly administered”, that Walton used “polygraph countermeasures” such as holding his breath, and uncovered an earlier failed test administered by an examiner who concluded the case involved “gross deception”.
Science and skepticism writer Michael Shermer criticized Walton’s claims, saying, “I think the polygraph is not a reliable determiner of truth. I think Travis Walton was not abducted by aliens. In both cases, the power of deception and self-deception is all we need to understand what really happened in 1975 and after.” Cognitive psychologist Susan Clancy argues that alien abduction reports began only after stories of extraterrestrials appeared in films and on TV, and that Walton was likely influenced by the NBC television movie The UFO Incident that aired two weeks before his own claimed abduction and dramatized the alien abduction claims of Betty and Barney Hill. Clancy noted the rise in alien abduction claims following the movie and cites Klass’s conclusions that “after viewing this movie, any person with a little imagination could now become an instant celebrity”, concluding that “one of those instant celebrities was Travis Walton.”
Media and publicity
In 1978, Walton wrote the book The Walton Experience detailing his claims, which became the basis for the 1993 film Fire in the Sky. Paramount Pictures decided Walton’s account was “too fuzzy and too similar to other televised close encounters,” so they ordered screenwriter Tracy Tormé to write a “flashier, more provocative” abduction story. Walton has occasionally appeared at UFO conventions or on television. He sponsors his own UFO conference in Arizona, called the “Skyfire Summit.”
Thirty years after the book’s release, Walton appeared on the Fox game show The Moment of Truth and was asked if he in fact was abducted by a UFO on November 5, 1975, to which he replied with “Yes”. The polygraph test determined he was lying. In 2016, Walton appeared in the twelfth season of the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures, where he was interviewed by Zak Bagans. He also appeared in an episode of the Canadian series Evil Encounters, titled “Terror From The Sky.”