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Fire in the Sky

Fire in the Ground? New Developments in the Travis Walton Abduction Story

Close encounters stories come and go, but one case that has endured the test of time to become a ‘classic’ in the annals of UFOlogy, is the famous abduction of 22-year-old lumberjack Travis Walton in Snowflake (Az) in 1975; the basis of a major motion picture bearing the same title as the autobiographical book written by Travis, Fire in the Sky*.

But perhaps that is about to change now that one of the key witnesses in this case, Mike Rogers –the leader of the 7-man logging crew Travis was a part of, who were working on a thinning contract for the US Forest Service when the close encounter took place (played by Robert Patrick in the 1993 Paramount movie)– has decided all of the sudden to change his stance with regards to what may or may not have happened to his friend (and brother-in-law at the time) during the five days he went missing, after allegedly being struck by a powerful beam of light emanating from a glowing disk-shaped object.

On Friday 19th Mike posted the following image and statement on his Facebook page:

I, Michael H. Rogers, being of sound and rational mind, do hereby give notice that I am no longer to be considered a witness to Travis C. Walton’s supposed abduction of November 5, 1975.

“Supposed abduction”? What exactly did that mean, and why the change now after 45 years? Dozens of comments started to pour in seeking a clarification, and from Mike’s first responses it became clear he was pissed off with Travis from keeping the movie deal to remake Fire in the Sky a secret from him.

An appearance in the podcast 51 Areas attempted to further clarify his position, but the over-extended conversation quickly devolved into what can only be described as cringy sour grapes, with Rogers non-stop complaining on how he no longer wants anything to do with ‘Big-T’ (as he mockingly referred to Walton in her FB posts, due to his purported inflamed ego as a result of being a ‘UFO celebrity’) because he supposedly has always tried to keep Mike from ‘stealing his limelight’, and didn’t want him involved in neither the ’93 movie –when Mike did agree to promote the movie via TV appearances and radio interviews– nor in the 2015 documentary Travis.

Original cover of Travis Walton’s book

Of all the accusations and gossipy assertions launched at Travis Walton by his former ‘best buddy’ during the 51 Areas interview, perhaps the most heinous one was the claim that Travis has refused to pay him any royalties for the use of the illustrations Mike created for the book editions of 1978 and 1996* –that I personally think are pretty great, credit where credit is due– which Travis keeps selling under his own company Skyfire Productions. I happen to have one of those signed copies (for which I paid $29.95 plus shipping) and on the first page one can clearly read, “All other photographs and illustrations copyright © 1978, 1996 by Mike Rogers. All rights reserved.”

But what about the crux of the matter: the ‘supposed’ abduction as Rogers referred to it in his incendiary post? The movie Fire in the Sky, written by Tracy Tormé, made a lot of creative liberties with what really transpired in the original account –composite characters based on one or more real-live figures and dramatized alteration of events; not to mention what supposedly unfolded inside the alien craft itself, which turned Travis Walton’s account of encountering disturbing (yet seemingly harmless) diminutive humanoids, followed by a puzzling interaction with entities that would pass as regular human beings, into a nightmarish torture scene at the hands of malevolent imps worthy of a Hammer Horror flick.

But the one thing which the film managed to capture fairly well according to all parties involved, was the panic triggered on the six young men by the sight of their hapless companion collapsed on the ground, after being forcefully propelled backwards several feet by a ray of bluish-white light coming from the buzzing UFO in front of them. Mike, who was at the wheel of the truck, hit the gas pedal and they instinctively fled the scene fearing for their lives. It wasn’t until they perhaps traveled a quarter of a mile that it dawned on them that they had abandoned their companion not knowing whether he was alive or dead; so after some frantic arguing they all decided to return in search of Travis –even though in the movie they changed the story by saying only Mike (Robert Patrick) had the nerve to head back to look for his friend. After reaching the clearing where the 30-feet-long glowing UFO had been they searched all over the area, but there was no trace of the object or Travis.

In the 51 Areas interview, Mike now speculates whether Travis could have gotten up not long after getting ‘zapped’(?) and perhaps he tried to run in pursuit of Mike’s truck or maybe ‘headed back to his mom’s house’ (??) but in either case he got lost in the woods. “We didn’t see Travis abducted,” Mike said in the podcast; “(…) I’m not saying I don’t believe Travis, I’m saying I don’t know.”

Compare this testimony with what Mike said to Art Bell back in April of 1995, when he and Travis Walton made an appearance on Coast to Coast Am:

(Mike): “It was pretty unanimous feeling among us that he wouldn’t have gotten up from where he lay.”

(Art): “So he had to be taken.”

(Mike): “Yeah well… everything put together, all this put together, made that very strong. We were certain that he’d been abducted.”

Let us remember that the reason the Travis Walton case became an international sensation almost overnight, is because during those five days he went missing there was an exhaustive investigation involving many local law officers and civilian volunteers, who combed the area in search of him. The case was not treated as that of a missing person –and certainly not a man abducted by aliens! – but a possible murder, which is why Mike and his logging crew were eventually convinced to take a polygraph test as a way to dismiss the possibility of foul play and clear up their names, even if the authorities were not willing to consider outlandish explanations for Travis’s disappearance.

Robert Sheaffer

In the typical black-and-white mentality that characterizes ‘big ‘S’ skeptics’ in the field, UFO debunker Robert Sheaffer wasted no time in using this new stance from Mike Rogers as a way to cast aspersions on the entirety of the Travis Walton case, even going as far as accusing Rogers of being Travis’s accomplice(!) from the getgo: “Travis’ story is either a “real” alien abduction, or else it is a hoax. In fact, if Travis’ story is a hoax, you must have helped him plan it and pull it off.”

Whether any of what Mike Rogers now claims is true or not –especially re. the most personal accusations– can perhaps only be answered by himself and/or Walton. On his own Facebook page Travis (evidently referring to Mike without plainly stating it) wrote the following:

I have repeatedly reached out to him, pleading, let me help you! There’s no way to show him that his imagined wrongs have not happened because he has refused dozens of requests to meet and resolve his baseless grudge [Mike mentioned in the 51 Areas interview how Travis had ‘completely lost his cool’ and was ‘frantically’ trying to text him].

On that same Fb thread, it seems Travis finally gave up on the whole thing when he wrote:

Better not to antagonize someone whose mental state is resulting in alarming behavior***. So best to drop it. I should delete this thread.

Travis Walton

For an outside witness, trying to objectively find sense to any of those claims and counterclaims is difficult. I have never met Travis Walton in person –the closest I was to him was in 2016 when I briefly saw him walk out of the vendors area at the International UFO Conference, and I admit I could not help being a little ‘starstruck’– but several of my friends and colleagues have, and all of them coincide in saying how nice and agreeable Travis is. Of course, those colleagues of mine know of ‘Travis Walton, the UFO personality’, not ‘Travis, the long-time resident of Snowflake Arizona’ who became the most famous person in town due to an incredible thing that happened almost half a century ago. UFO fame maybe less grandiose and duller than other kinds of fame, but it could still change a person over time –even more so when the UFO fame has also turned into your main source of income.

And yet, it is impossible not to detect clear traces of jealousy coming from the words of Mike Rogers, when he keeps comparing himself to Travis Walton and says he’s ‘smarter than him, stronger, more good looking, can write better’ and is even a more interesting UFO witness than he is; Mike is not only claiming to have witnessed a more dramatic UFO close encounter with Travis five years prior to the famous disappearance, but also alleges to have had other independent encounters, and that he was even a witness to the famous Phoenix Lights(!). All that could very well be true, who can really say for certain –remember how Charlie Hicks also claimed to have had repeating experiences after the Pascagoula abduction with Calvin Parker– but when Rogers also brags that someone offered him $1.2 million dollars (!) for the book he’s currently writing and illustrating about optical illusions, that’s when credulity is strained to a breaking point –as a friend of many writers and authors, I can say with absolute confidence that seven-figure contracts in the modern book business are rarer than close encounters of the fourth kind…

Having said that, I have no problem whatsoever with Rogers’s agnosticism regarding what may have really happened to Travis Walton all those decades ago, because I happen to share it as well. The only thing we can say with a certain degree of confidence is that (a) a group of men saw something anomalous in the woods, and (b) one of those men went missing for five days, and the search for his whereabouts was completely unsuccessful until he appeared miles away from his last known location –does Sheaffer think everybody involved in the party search were also in cahoots with Walton and Rogers, or they were simply incompetent?

Mike Rogers’s logging crew (minus Travis)

The whole thing about the lie detection tests associated to this case has also been aggrandized to unrealistic proportions by people on both sides of the argument –skeptics like Sheaffer and Michaerl Shermer love to remind us how when Travis appeared in the TV game show The Moment of Truth and was asked “were you abducted by aliens?” the test determined he was lying when he answered, “Yes”. Bottomline is that lie detector tests are not foolproof –which is why most legal experts advise against their use during criminal cases– and at best they can only help determine whether someone believes that what they are saying is the truth.

And if you think that is an unfair stance to take, just take a listen to this old 1978 record produced by CUFOS (the civilian research organization founded by the late Dr. J. Allen Hynek) in which you can not only check out a rare glimpse of Travis’s hypnotic regression [Disk 2 @ 17:48] conducted by Dr. James Harder, who was affiliated with APRO –and was NOT a professional psychologist or psychiatrist, but a civil engineer– but you can also listen to the testimony of former military intelligence officer Charles R. McQuiston, who during WWII invented a different type of evaluation system called psychological stress evaluation (PSE) which was different from the typical polygraph tests in the sense that those analyze other involuntary bodily reactions (e.g. blood pressure and perspiration) –the PSE system is now commonly referred to as ‘voice stress analysis’:

I have run the subject Walton on some thirty charts to ascertain certain basic things. Number one, I think the prime consideration[…] is any possibility of a hoax on the part of Walton and the story that he is telling. I have noticed several indications of what may well be embellishment of facts on the part of the subject; but in no way do they interfere with my impression that he really believes what he is saying. I think that it’s a simple case of a story having been retold many times, and it is being polished as it is being told. In other words, I think he’s trying to be as accurate as he can, but he is putting in words that would not necessarily have been there the first time that he told the story. He is under varying degrees of stress, ranging from extreme stress, almost to the panic point in describing certain traumatic elements of this experience, and I don’t think this would be possible if it was any kind of a hoax being perpetrated on his part.

Whether in fact it happened at all, or to the degree that he says it did, is really irrelevant in terms of this instrumentation [emphasis mine]; ‘cause I can only tell you whether or not he really believes what he’s saying. And I believe that he does, that he is sincere.

Dr. Hynek’s personal assessment of the Travis Walton case was the following:

I’ve always divided the Travis Walton case, in my own mind, into two parts. The first, which involved six witnesses who were giving lie detector tests –five of who completed it successfully, and the sixth was inconclusive** but not negative. That part of the story fits a very definite pattern: the sighting of a greatly illuminated object, which was hovering not too far from the ground; all of that fits.

The second part –the actual abduction of Travis Walton– of course we only have his word for this. But the story does hang together, and it is unusual in that the time lapse was so long (five days); whereas in most of the abduction cases, the time lapse and the ‘time aboard’ so to speak is a matter of minutes or hours.

Further, the rigorous analysis given the psychological stress evaluation test by Charles R. McQuiston, seems to indicate that Walter is indeed telling the truth.

Whatever really happened to Travis Walton in those woods 45 years ago is something we may never find out. His companions saw him being hit by a ray of light and fall to the ground stone cold, but they never saw him taken inside a UFO. As for the rest of his account, it remains as fascinating and ultimately unverifiable as all close encounter cases.

In his interview with Joe Rogan last January Travis speculated how instead of the typical medical examination you hear from alien abductees, the beings he saw ‘took him aboard to correct the damage he suffered’ (he admitted to Joe his clothes didn’t have any holes or burn marks where he was hit by the beam) so despite the fact his story has remained totally consistent over the decades –one of the reasons he’s remained such a ‘darling’ in the field– we can see how his interpretation of his ordeal has slowly morphed from incomprehensive hostility into a benevolent intervention by the UFOnauts, after he foolishly put himself in harm’s way by getting too close to the object. He was missing for five days yet his own recollection of events ‘aboard the craft’ amount to less than an hour at the most –following his new interpretation, Travis thinks he may have been put in some sort of ‘suspended animation’ while he was being cured, and even Rogan bluntly asked him whether he had to defecate after he was ‘returned’ (“No”, he answered).

Last time I checked the 51 Areas Youtube channel there was a second interview with Mike Rogers, and this time they also managed to get Steve Pierce and John Goulette –two other remaining members of the 1975 logging crew– joining the show. I confess that after just 34 minutes in I totally gave up on this new podcast episode –too many technical difficulties and trivialities– although one thing that seems clear is that there is a lot of bad blood between the ‘secondary characters’ of this plot, and the main protagonist.

Perhaps this animosity is totally justified or perhaps it isn’t, but at the end of the day I doubt it will make any real damage to Travis Walton’s reputation among hardcore UFO fans, for the simple reason that there is just too much investment in his story already –how many conferences has he been invited to speak in the last 45 years, how many TV and radio interviews has he given? For better or for worse, the Travis Walton experience has become fully engrained in the modern mythology of the UFO phenomenon.

And yet this new ‘third act’ in what still remains as a ‘classic’ in the annals of UFOlogy, goes to perfectly illustrate how this field tends to eventually erode and destroy whatever it decides to focus on, whenever the entertainment aspect becomes more important than trying to make sense of the mystery. The Roswell crash, the Rendlesham encounters, the Allagash abductions, and now the Walton experience, are painful reminders that there is no show business like the UFO business.


(*): Travis’s book was originally published in 1978 by the Berkley Publishing Group under the title The Walton Experience. In 1996 it was reprinted by Marlowe and Company with the new title, Fire in the Sky: The Walton Experience, and in 1997 another edition was published by Da Capo Press. Since 2010 signed copies of the book have been available via print-on-demand through Skyfire Productions based on Snowflake, Arizona.

(**): Of the six logging crew members who were given a lie detector test by polygraph examiner Cy Gilson, Allen Dallis was the only one who’s results were deemed inconclusive. It is said Dallis (played by Craig Sheffer in the 1993 movie Fire in the Sky) was very hesitant about taking the test due to previous run-ins with the law.

(***): More recent Fb posts seem to suggest Walton and Rogers are seeking to settle their differences.

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