With our expanding view of the universe’s complexity and the proliferation of extraterrestrial-themed documentaries on mainstream television, the concept of life from other planets is not as far out as it once was.

This Saturday, the field of alien abduction will make a close encounter in Maine, when Gorham plays host to the Experiencers Speak conference.

The event, expected to attract 400 people from the U.S. and Canada, boasts big-name speakers in the field, headlined by Travis Walton, the author of “Fire in the Sky.”

Walton’s case is one of the most well-known abduction stories, and includes the added element of six eyewitnesses.

On Nov. 5, 1975, Walton was part of a logging crew contracted by the U.S. Forest Service in Arizona. The men claimed that after a long day of work, they were headed home over a bumpy logging road when they saw strange lights, and soon pulled alongside what they reported to be a hovering spacecraft.

Walton jumped from the truck to get a closer look, and later claimed that he was struck in the chest by a light beam. This caused the rest of the crew to flee in horror, but once they reached the main road, they turned back to look for him. But he was nowhere to be found.

Meanwhile, Walton reported waking up on a table surrounded by smallish aliens. He later encountered very human-looking beings, he said, who eventually returned him to a deserted road. He thought it was the same night, but in reality, five days had passed, during which an extensive search for him had been mounted.

The case received extensive publicity, and was both written off as a hoax and held up as definitive proof of extraterrestrial life. Walton published his account of the incident in 1978, and in 1993, it was turned into the film “Fire in the Sky.”

These days, Walton maintains a busy schedule speaking at conferences and events and conducting media interviews.

“It has changed everything for me,” Walton, 59, said during a recent phone interview. “I was forced to go with the cards that life dealt me.”

At the conference, Walton said he will “talk about the whole incident itself, the investigation that followed by law enforcement and UFO investigators, and the making of the movie. I always make time for questions and answers.”

In the years since his experience, public perception of UFOs and extraterrestrial beings has changed dramatically, Walton said. He attributes much of this to advances in science that have shown, for example, that the Milky Way galaxy alone contains an estimated 10 billion planets capable of supporting life. NASA estimates there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe.

“There’s a big push for disclosure,” Walton said. “I do believe the government knows more than they let on. But at the same time, I believe there’s a lot of this they’re puzzled about. They’re probably not being more forthcoming for good reason.”

Scientific “ufologist” Kathleen Marden — the niece of New Hampshire couple Betty and Barney Hill, who were made famous by their claim of alien abduction in 1961 — will also speak at the conference. Marden has published a novel with Stanton T. Friedman about her late aunt and uncle’s story, “Captured! The Betty and Barney Hill Abduction Experience.”

Others speaking at the conference include Peter Robbins, who will talk about his alien abduction research with the late Bud Hopkins, and Christopher Bledsoe, who recently shared his story of abduction in North Carolina in a Discovery Channel documentary.

The conference is being organized by Audrey Starborn of Oxford who, along with her identical twin sister Debbie, will speak at the event.

Starborn, the founder of a national support group for abductees called Starborn Support, said the conference is “all about spreading awareness that this is a very real phenomenon that affects a lot of people.”

Starborn and her sister understand the phenomenon from personal experience, she says.

“We’ve been experiencing these things since we were really young children, even in the crib,” Starborn said. “We’d wake up in reverse beds and in reverse pajamas. That always had us a little bit confused. We’d be scared to go to bed, and we’d tell our parents ‘the bald man’s coming.’ “

Her parents wrote off the comments as overactive childhood imaginations — until one day, when their mother saw a magazine cover depicting an extraterrestrial being and recognized the image as identical to ones she’d seen in her daughters’ journals.

Starborn says the experiences continue to this day, and that she has snatches of memories of blue light filling her bedroom and being brought out of her bed and into a spacecraft.

She claims that over the years she’s encountered numerous beings, including different types of gray aliens, more human-like creatures that glow and can fly, and rather frightening reptilian-like creatures. Starborn said some of these entities are benevolent, and others are not.

She and her sister have both needed surgery to remove unexplained scar tissue on their internal organs and neither has tonsils, although they have never undergone tonsillectomies. They were recently featured in a National Geographic program on UFOs.

“We work with experiencers all over the country,” Starborn said. “We hold meetings where we can get together and not be judged.

“My identical twin sister and I have always had each other to talk to about it. But that’s not the case for others.”

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

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