An Arizona man captured by a flying saucer as six witnesses look on? Surely, the 1975 UFO abduction of Snowflake woodcutter Travis Walton had to be the most incredible event in the annals of UFOdom.

Either that or the most elaborate variation on the old "my dog ate my homework" excuse the world had ever heard.

Well, whatever it was, Paramount Pictures has just spent nearly $20 million bringing this heaping helping of pie in the sky to the big screen. Titled Fire in the Sky, the saga of the circumstances surrounding Travis Walton's did-he-or-didn't-he cosmic joyride opens nationwide March 12; actor D.B. Sweeney (The Cutting Edge, Eight Men Out) portrays Arizona's most celebrated space cowboy.

While certainly fantastic, the bare bones of Travis Walton's "abduction" were fairly simple. So simple, in fact, that (with minor variations) this recipe has set the tone for dozens of cosmic kidnapings-come-lately that continue to fill grocery-store scandal sheets and tabloid TV shows to this very day. Simply take one UFO-curious victim, dump him or her in an isolated location, sprinkle liberally with "missing time" and let the skepticism begin.

Driving home after a day of logging in the Sitgreaves National Forest on November 5, 1975, the 22-year-old Walton and six other crew members spotted an eerie yellow light glowing through the timber near the rugged mountain road on which they were traveling. Ignoring warnings from his co-workers, Walton jumped out of the truck and ran toward the saucerlike object that was producing the light because (as he would later explain) he wanted to get a better look at the UFO.

He was not to be disappointed. As it turned out, the inhabitants of the extraterrestrial RV were apparently every bit as interested in getting up-close and personal with Walton.

So interested, in fact, that the star-trekking snowbirds rolled out the red carpet in the form of a bolt of blue light that hurled Walton ten feet backward, knocking him to the ground. Quickly deciding they'd seen enough of this cosmic welcome wagon, the other loggers immediately fled the scene in the truck. When a few of them returned to rescue their pal a few minutes later, it was already too late. In Elvis parlance, Travis Walton had not only left the building--he'd left the planet, as well.

Not to worry, though. In the early-morning hours of November 12, seven days later, the dazed, hyperspaced hitchhiker staggered out of the woods near Heber and straight into UFO immortality with a fantastic tale of how he'd been used as an intergalactic guinea pig during a five-day game of "Doctor."

In addition to Paramount's soon-to-be-released sci-fi epic, the Walton legacy now includes an autobiographical 1978 paperback, a novelty 45 rpm record by an Albuquerque folk singer and, most recently, a "Saucer People" trading card on which a trio of stereotypical UFO flight attendants subjects Walton to a "nightmare exam."

When reporters show up at his modest Snowflake home today, Travis Walton shows only slightly more enthusiasm for those visitors as he did for the bug-eyed captors who whisked him to stardom 17 years ago. Suspicious, guarded and apprehensive, the laconic Walton gives the distinct impression he wishes he'd called in sick that fateful day so long ago.

"My way of handling [the abduction] has been to kind of push this thing into the background," says the tall, redheaded father of four, now a purchasing agent for a wood-molding firm. "For a long time, I wouldn't talk about this with the media. We never discuss it around the house."
As a pioneer in his field (his was the first UFO kidnaping case to be reported while the victim was still missing), Walton says he was ultimately besieged with so many telephone calls from other "abductees" that he was forced to discontinue his telephone service for ten years.

Asked about the recent rash of UFO abductees, extraterrestrial rape victims and other survivors of space shenanigans who regularly fill the couches of Oprah, Phil and Geraldo, Walton shrugs good-naturedly.

"If what they're saying about the number of abductions is true, this is amazing," says Walton, smiling slyly. "I try not to pass judgment on other things that are going on, but I do have to say that it's my perception that there's a whole lot of nonsense out there, too. There's certainly a core of reality here, but frankly, this seems to bring out a lot of crackpots."
Despite his skepticism toward the claims of other "abductees," Walton grows vaguely hostile when the slightest shadow of doubt crosses his own version of the 1975 excursion.

Nor is he particularly eager to play poster boy for UFO space travel. When a photographer innocently asked Walton to look toward the horizon during a photo shoot in a windy wooded area near his home, Walton puts his foot down. Evidently fearing the photo will make it appear he's awaiting the second coming of his abductors, Walton calls a halt to any more photos and retreats to his home across the street. End of interview.

Not surprisingly, Walton's fantastic tale was not without its detractors. In fact, when Walton's crew members reported his disappearance to the local law, officers originally suspected the UFO story was simply a bizarre cover-up for Walton's possible murder.

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