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Fire in the sky

I never believed close encounters of the third kind were possible…until one terrifying story changed my mind.

November 5, 1975

Twenty-two-year-old Travis Walton was working for a logging company in Arizona’s Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest when he and his six colleagues saw a bright light in the sky on their way home. When they drove closer to investigate, they reportedly saw a large golden disk hovering above a clearing.

Walton, 1975

Walton, 1975

Ignoring the warnings from his friends, Walton jumped out of the truck and ran up to the craft. A blue-green beam of light shot Walton in the chest and he fell to the ground. His friends and co-workers drove off in terror (nice friends!) before getting a conscience and coming back a few minutes later.

By the time they returned, both Walton and the mysterious object were gone. The men searched for their friend for a while, and then–realizing it was hopeless–went to the police.

Deputy Sheriff Chuck Ellison met the crew at a shopping center. All of the men were distraught as they related the tale to him (two were in tears), and though he was somewhat skeptical of the fantastic account, Ellison would later reflect, “If they were acting, they were awfully good at it.”

The guys were so freaked out that only a few agreed to help the police search for Walton the following day. When the authorities found no sign of Walton (although some reports say there was a large circle of burnt grass in the clearing), they grew suspicious that the other men had murdered Walton and were using a crazy UFO story as a cover-up.

Frustrated by the accusations, all of the men agreed to take a polygraph, and every single one of them passed, except for Allen Dallis, who stormed out of the examining room, leaving his test unfinished and therefore inconclusive.

Tensions were high by the time Walton reappeared five days later. The young logger was noticeably thinner and weaker, disoriented and confused. He only remembered two hours of the five days he’d been gone, but what he remembered was incredible. He’d not only encountered aliens, but strange, humanlike creatures who had led him into some kind of hangar and then knocked him out with a type of gas.

A hypnotherapist and a medical doctor examined Walton soon after his return. The hypnotherapist found that Walton’s conscious memories of the incident were remarkably similar to his subconscious ones, while the doctor noted a strange needle mark that wasn’t near a vein, and the absence of ketones in his urine. The doctor found this strange, as Walton’s body should have begun breaking down fats to survive during the five days with little-to-no food.

Aided by this and the persistent presence of skeptics and the National Inquirer, public opinion turned against Walton and the other men. There are numerous reasons people still believe Walton’s encounter was a hoax.

  • Walton failed his initial polygraph, but the examiner was confrontative and offensive, deliberately provoking Walton in order to get a reaction. Walton did pass subsequent polygraphs.
  • The men were behind on their work with the logging company, and some believed the abduction was staged to release them from their contract without penalty. But the crew never tried to get out of their contract, even after Walton went missing, and they’d fallen behind on other projects for the same company, only to be hired again.
  • Walton’s brother once casually remarked to police that Walton was a UFO buff. Walton denied that he ever was, but the damage was done.
  • Police felt Walton’s mother was too stoic about her son’s disappearance, but many others reported seeing her very upset, and said an initial stoic reaction was just part of the woman’s personality.
  • A television movie about an alien abduction was broadcast weeks before Walton’s disappearance. Skeptics say this gave Walton the idea for his elaborate hoax.
  • Walton also apparently failed a polygraph on the television game show “The Moment of Truth.” But, had he passed, the game show would have owed him a lot of money, so I’m not sure how reliable that was. Plus, it was a Fox show. Enough said.

I think there’s another reason people doubt Walton’s story, and I hope, on the rare chance he ever stumbles across this post, he will forgive me, but…

Walton today

 

Walton is creepy. When you watch interviews with him, something just isn’t right. He looks into the camera without flinching, but his affect is unnervingly flat and monotone. He doesn’t come across as a likeable guy, and I’ve seen public opinion turn against people like him time and time again. People can tell the truth until they’re blue in the face, and if we don’t like them, we won’t believe them.

The biggest thing driving the hoax accusations is that old claim–“They did it for attention!” or “They did it for money!”

Steve Pierce. This guy doesn't look like he's had a happy life.

Steve Pierce. This guy doesn’t look like he’s had a happy life.

Several of the men have spoken publicly about how this incident ruined their lives. These men have to go through the rest of their lives knowing that many of the people they meet have decided they are liars. Some, like Steve Pierce, were and are devastated by this.

Yes, Walton wrote a book about his experience, but if I’d had people call me a liar for three years, I’d want to publish my side of the story too. And who knows how easy it was for Walton to get work after his abduction? I’m guessing it was a struggle.

As for money, Steve Pierce was offered $10,000 to admit the entire thing was a hoax.

He refused.

What do you think? Are Walton and the rest of the crew telling the truth?

As for me, I believe them. I’m not sure Walton was actually examined by extraterrestrials, but I do believe something strange happened to him on that night in 1975, and I believe the men who witnessed it are absolutely telling the truth.

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62 Comments

  1. I live in Stephenville, TX where UFOs have been sighted with regularity for the past several years. I’ve never seen “the lights” as they are often called in this area. But some members of my husband’s family have. They were rattled by what they saw, and they’ve never sought any type of attention for it. In fact, they seem uncomfortable talking about it. Theories range from aliens, to a top-secret government project, to time travel. I hope if it’s time travel, it’s future me coming back to stir things up in present me’s life. I like a good mystery 😉

    Reply
    • JH

      Welcome, Caris, and thanks so much for sharing your story. It’s timely, because I was going to ask in this post why we never get reports of UFO sightings or aliens anymore. Now that everyone has smartphones, we should be seeing some amazing photos, right? 😉

      I can’t even imagine what it’s like to see something like that. It must be very spooky.

      Reply
  2. It’s hard to refute a story like this when so many are involved to corroborate what happened. I’m always a skeptic, but love to read the reports.

    Reply
    • JH

      Exactly, C. Lee! These were kids–all in their early 20s, and I find it hard to believe one of them wouldn’t have taken the payout or admitted in the past 40 years that it was a hoax if it really was.

      I don’t think all six of them would continue to lie for Walton for four decades, especially since this incident ruined some friendships. A few of them blamed Walton for destroying their lives.

      Reply
  3. I believe there is other life in the universe, intelligent life. Whether they’ve progressed enough to make long distance space flight possible or have visited our planet is still a maybe for me. The sightings can’t all be weather balloons but I’m not convinced they are UFOs either.

    As for this story, it’s another case where I want to believe them I’m just not sure that I do. Something happened, this guy was somewhere for 5 days, that’s as much as my brain will let me believe.

    Reply
    • JH

      I’m with you, Frank. I think if there is life on other planets or universes, which there almost certainly is–it’s a bit conceited and/or narrow-minded to think that we’re the only ones–it’s wouldn’t necessarily be humanoid. And even if they had the technology, why would they come here?

      So I don’t know what really happened to Walton or what those men saw, but I do think they saw what they described and that *something* happened. Maybe it was an elaborate hoax, but not on the part of those men.

      Reply
  4. I’m inclined to believe that they were not lying. While I personally haven’t experienced or seen ‘anything’, that doesn’t mean that it is not true. Walton may seem creepy but after such an experience I’m not surprised that his gaze is direct and his tone somewhat flat and without affect. Thanks J.H. Interesting!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for commenting, Susan. I was wondering the same thing–is Walton creepy because of what happened to him, or was he always that way?

      Hard to tell.

      Reply
  5. Another thought provoking post. I grew up believing in aliens. My dad believed, so we believed. Twice, I remember him calling us to the patio door to see unusual lights. I never saw what he saw, and I didn’t consider lights to be proof of anything. As I grew up and learned that parents are just people, I questioned this blind belief. Now I love reading stories like these and trying to determine the fact from the fiction. Unfortunately, we never get the whole story, only the subjective views of the reporters.

    It’s loads of fun trying to figure it all out. Until we travel the galaxies comfortably, I don’t think we will really know for sure.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Bonnie. Wow, your upbringing was so different from mine! My parents don’t believe in anything remotely supernatural, be it ghosts, UFOs, or sea monsters. It must have been interesting to have a dad who was convinced something was “out there.” Would have made childhood very exciting!

      And aren’t you a sci-fi writer? I think it’s your job to believe, if only a little bit. 😉

      Reply
      • Oh my upbringing! There were a few episodes on the Flinstones where an alien observed Fred’s life. Whenever we went camping my Dad would hold up his hand and recount that alien’s interpretation of our daily adventures. We went to bed in stitches every night. (fyi We are strange creatures to cartoon aliens!)

        Reply
        • JH

          That’s so cute, Bonnie! He sounds like he’s really imaginative and creative. I can see where you got your storytelling skills from.

          Reply
  6. Interesting story, with lots of facts, it seems, to set it somewhat straight. I would believe they were telling the truth, or remembering it right — as right as the memory would allow it. Great post. Thank you.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Silvia! And welcome to my blog. I’m glad to see so many people believe the guys, or at least are willing to keep an open mind.

      They’ve resorted to attending UFO conferences, just to be around people who believe them for a change.

      Reply
  7. I don’t know that I believe, but I don’t not-believe either. I like to be open to possibility.

    Reply
    • JH

      Me too, Samantha. It’s very difficult to believe something that is so far out of the realm of normal experience.

      Reply
  8. I have to say that bit about the guy passing up the money makes me more inclined to believe them. If they were lying, why would he pass up money for truth?

    ~Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
    Member of C. Lee’s Muffin Commando Squad
    Story Dam
    Patricia Lynne, Indie Author

    Reply
    • JH

      Exactly, Patricia! If you watched the clip, the poor guy was really tempted. He had small children and could have used the money.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  9. I do agree with you that something did happen to these people that night, not necessarily UFO abduction.
    “Haneen/I Will Never Give you Up (302)”

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Haneen. We’ll probably never know for sure what it was.

      Reply
  10. I saw the movie when it came out. While I think most alien abductions are bunk, there is something about this story that causes me to pause. This might be the real deal. A real life X-Files.

    Reply
    • JH

      I feel the same way, Alex. This one really bugs me. I think because it was so well corroborated. I have a hard time believing six guys in their twenties would keep a lie like that a secret forty years later, especially when some of them stopped talking to the others.

      Thanks so much for the follow! That’s a huge compliment. I really appreciate it.

      Reply
  11. I’m not sure what happened, but I think *something* anomalous happened to these men. I also think it takes a lot of courage for them to admit it publicly and withstand all the backlash.

    I live a bit north of Stephenville, Texas but like Caris, I’ve heard about those mysterious lights. I hope to see them one day – from a safe distance!

    Reply
    • JH

      Let me know if you do! I’ll interview you for the blog.

      I agree with you on the courage part. To everyone who says they were doing it for the publicity, I say, “Who on earth would want that kind of publicity?”

      Thanks for commenting, Tui! I’m finding your blog really interesting. Learning lots I didn’t know.

      Reply
  12. I’m sure life on other planets must exist. Considering there have been newspaper reports of lights in the sky since before there were satellites, I’m inclined to think we’ve been visited for a long time.

    Reply
    • JH

      It makes sense, but I’m not sure the visits are of the typical grey man/anal probe variety we always hear about. I do think something happened to Travis Walton, though.

      Reply
  13. Poor guys. I’m sure something happened to them, but we may never know the truth.
    The X-Files did their version of this and didn’t DB Sweeney do a TV movie of this story as well?

    Humans.

    Heather M. Gardner
    Co-host: Blogging from A to Z April Challenge
    Blog: The Waiting is the Hardest Part [http://hmgardner.blogspot.com/]

    Reply
    • JH

      I’m not sure, but I’ll have to check out the X-Files version. I love the X-Files!

      Reply
  14. I like how you tell people to keep an open mind. Clearly, something happened. What’s unclear, is exactly what! Those poor guys, they’re haunted by the incident even now as we bring it up again. I wish there was a way for them to know the truth and feel at peace with what happened.

    Reply
    • JH

      Me too, Mary. I feel really sorry for them. Imagine if something like that happened to you, and no one believed you, even those closest to you. It must feel horrible and isolating.

      Reply
  15. My husband likes to say that it’s so interesting that UFO reports have kind of — pardon the pun, flown under the radar — quite a bit more ever since people started constantly having their own cameras and video recorders on their person at all times in recent years. That is, our phones.

    I’m sure, these folks believe what they feel they saw, but I remain consistently skeptical knowing that, as Stephen King likes to say, “the mind is a monkey” and we can talk ourselves into all kinds of strange sightings. Those lights people claim to see/walk toward during near-death experiences are likely electrical surges in the brain. How odd that we see “lights” in the sky and then can’t remember things as well. I’m willing to be proven wrong, but basically, I just ain’t buying it.

    Reply
    • JH

      Fair enough, Randee. I do think that what happened to Walton and his friends was a lot more extreme than a simple sighting of lights in the sky, though. But it’s true there aren’t nearly as many UFO reports anymore.

      Reply
  16. Hi. I was the last one to comment when you first posted this for A to Z. I still wish they could have answers. I do believe in the possibility of visitors from other realms. Luckily, they usually appear in deep, dark forests, where I will never wander alone!

    Reply
    • JH

      Me too, Mary. It would be great to have more proof for a story like this. But maybe the point is to believe in something we haven’t personally experienced.

      Reply
  17. Great post. I remember seeing Travis Walton interviewed by Zak Bagans on ‘Ghost Adventures’ and, like you, thinking something wasn’t quite right about him. He came across as someone who had been through something traumatic and it was almost as if the life had been drained from him, he was empty inside. Do I believe the story? I have an open mind, but I firmly believe Travis Walton experienced something that we will never fully believe or understand.

    Reply
    • JH

      Agreed, Dave. For it to be a hoax, so many elements would have needed to be pulled off to perfection, and there’s no credible motive these people would of (or could have) gone to that much trouble.

      Reply
  18. J.H., you should look into the numerous UFO sightings in the Hudson Valley region of NY, where I live. In the 70s and 80s there were so many people lost count. You could sit outside on a summer night (I did!) and watch colored lights darting across the sky, standing still, and then moving again. Police officers reported enormous V-shaped and triangle-shaped objects cruising over major highways, only a couple of hundred feet in the air. Guards at the local nuclear power plant actually responded to one hovering over the plant and they even fired their guns at it.
    Read Night Siege by Dr. Allen Hyneck or Hudson Valley UFOs by Linda Zimmerman. Crazy stuff!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for the tip, JG. What was it like to see something of that nature? Was it scary, or just awesome?

      Reply
  19. Definitely one of the most interesting abduction cases of all time. I’ve heard Walton interviews and he seems far more comfortable and personable without a camera in his face. No one made money off this thing that would pay more than a few bills. Not sure what they saw or what happened, but I believe something strange happened to them. Also look into the Allagash sighting.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for the tip, Hunter. Sounds familiar.

      Perhaps Walton just isn’t comfortable on camera, then. Lots of people are like that.

      Reply
  20. My father saw a huge ship moving across the highway in West Texas in the 1950s between Leveland and Lubbock. His truck died and wouldnt start until the ship had disappeared into the distance. It was the length of a football field and moving fewer than 100 feet off the ground. He wasn’t afraid. The memory never faded in his mind. He told me about the experience when I was in high school.

    Reply
    • JH

      Wow, that’s quite the experience. There’s so many people with stories like that that it really makes you think. How can they all be hoaxes/hallucinations, etc.? Thanks for sharing, Linda.

      Reply
  21. I grew up in a family were certain family members actually believe they are descended from aliens of higher intelligence. I can tell you, they are delusional. That said, I have had occasional inexplicable experiences that make me keep an open mind about such things.

    Reply
    • JH

      That must make for some interesting dinner conversations, Lee.

      Reply
  22. Throughout my life I’ve heard it repeatedly said that people would do anything for money. It is because of that idiom that I believe this story. None of the men involved have gotten rich off this tale. My feelings? At minimum, I believe Travis believes this is what happened to him. I also believe we can’t and shouldn’t dismiss his telling of this event for there really is no way of knowing what’s out there in this vast universe.

    Reply
    • JH

      Very good points, Minnie. Welcome to my blog!

      Reply
  23. J.H. – it was very cool. I was 16 at the time, and we saw them on multiple occasions throughout that summer. One night, we had 10 neighbors on the lawn, all with binoculars, watching them zip around in the sky. There is a town about 45 minutes from me, Pine Bush, that is known as the UFO capital of NY.

    Reply
    • JH

      That sounds like quite the adventure. I’m glad you weren’t kidnapped!

      Reply
  24. I know there have been other sightings where no one can explain what happened. Many of these men have been ridiculed for years, I bet it cost them jobs so what reason would they want to lie? This has not brought them money or fame so that is discounted same with their job they had at the time. If the man is likable and “charming” I would doubt him even more because swindlers are usually very charming and likable. It would be insane to think we are the only intelligent life in the universe and that is debatable when you think of Trump and his minions. I would give these men and the man who was “taken” the benefit of the doubt but i would want to know more.

    Reply
    • JH

      Agreed, Birgit. And props for the Trump comment. Made me laugh out loud!

      Reply
  25. Sucks to have friends that just leave if a UFO strikes you with a beam of light. lol If they hadn’t run away, he might not have been abducted.

    Interesting what the doctors discovered.

    I don’t know. If it was a hoax and you want fame and money, you’d own up to it being a hoax to get that $10,000. So maybe he really is telling the truth. And I imagine I’d become very unlikeable if I was abducted by aliens and had to talk about it and prove it really happened the rest of my life.

    Reply
    • JH

      Good points, Chrys. According to Hunter, he’s better in audio interviews. So it could be a discomfort with being on camera.

      And yeah, nice friends! But I think they’ve been haunted by guilt ever since.

      Reply
  26. It’s a tough one. It’s not so much that I don’t believe there’s other life out there, I just can’t fathom why something intelligent enough to get here undetected would then feel the need to show themselves seconds before abducting something which to them, is an inferior life form.
    The story does make me think though because they’ve all stuck to it so much for so long. It wouldn’t surprise me if something had happened, but not necessarily something alien. I’m not going down the whole conspiracy theory route, but something from this planet wanting to experiment on someone makes more sense to me.
    And yeah, nice friends!
    Debbie

    Reply
    • JH

      Hmm…that’s an interesting theory, Debbie, and one I’ve never heard before. Could all these alien abductions be a cover-up for something happening closer to home? That’s almost creepier than thinking it was an extraterrestrial.

      Reply
  27. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the night sky as it’s always been a fascination of mine. I’ve seen a lot of things I can’t really explain. But, I also know how much of an imagination I have and how much I want to believe in fantastical things at times. As for what these men experienced, I guess I just don’t see the harm in believing they experienced what they said they did. People are more okay with being lied to on a day-to-day basis about things than they are about believing someone who obviously experienced SOMETHING quite strange and traumatic.

    I also blame Koontz for my desire to believe sometimes. He’s written a few stories that involve encounters either with life forms from different planets or the like and much like I’ve always said; if there ARE intelligent life forms out there, they are probably a LOT smarter and a lot more advanced than us, so why would they want to come here? But perhaps, if that’s the case, they know they are more intelligent and more advanced than us and hope to show us a better way. Just kinda fun to think about although I have a feeling these men would disagree with me using a word like “fun” to describe their ordeal. 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      It’s like believing in magic, in a way. Christmas isn’t as fun when you no longer believe in Santa Claus. It’s appealing (and scary) to think there are other beings out there, creatures who are more advanced than we are. This particular story has always terrified me, though. I’d never want a similar experience, even if it would answer some questions.

      Reply
  28. Not only is the story fascinating, but the reaction of people to the story is as well. It really does make a difference if we find someone sympathetic. If yes, we’re more likely to believe them. If not, well, they’re out of luck. That’s one of the issues with jury trials. I always find these UFO/abduction stories tricky. Surely, we’re not all alone in the universe, but some seem to preposterous to believe. While others, make you think, like this one.

    You made me laugh with your Fox comment 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Agreed, Ellen. It’s a huge problem with jury trials. The case of Lindy Chamberlain, of “the-dingo-took-my-baby” fame is a great example. The jury thought she was cold and odd, so they didn’t like her. And that also meant they didn’t believe her. The poor woman was innocent, and she suffered so much.

      Reply
  29. Ironically, just two mornings ago my clock radio woke me up at 3am. We’d had power outages, so all the clocks were off. The topic on at that time in the morning? UFOs and “encounter” stories. So I was awake, why not listen? They talked about some pretty amazing stories. At 3am they all sounded perfectly plausible to me. Who knows what’s out there? There are infinite possibilities that we can only filter through finite, earth-centered minds. In time we’re likely to find that the fantastic is actually real. We have in the past.

    Reply
  30. Fascinating story and account! I’d like to believe in the presence of UFOs and extraterrestrial creatures coming to Earth. But, as with so many things in life, I’d like to see or experience it myself before believing it.

    Mark and I are planning a short trip to southern New Mexico next month, and Roswell is on the agenda. This town is famous for its UFO sightings, an alleged UFO crash and a UFO museum. Maybe, I’ll have a story to tell as well after the visit? 🙂

    Reply
  31. It’s hard for me to think that all the other men were lying, especially since there are better ways to make a buck (plus that one guy passed on 10k). Walton on the other hand, it’s 50/50. He may have set this up or he may really be a victim. Like you said, he doesn’t come off as a likable or relatable person; perhaps if someone with more charisma takes on his cause, they could convince people for him.

    Reply

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