A flying saucerlike object hovered low over O'Hare International Airport for several minutes before bolting through thick clouds with such intense energy that it left an eerie hole in overcast skies, said some United Airlines employees who observed the phenomenon.
Was it an alien spaceship? A weather balloon lost in the airspace over the world's second-busiest airport? A top-secret military craft? Or simply a reflection from lights that played a trick on the eyes?
Officials at United professed no knowledge of the Nov. 7 event--which was reported to the airline by as many as a dozen of its own workers--when the Tribune started asking questions recently. But the Federal Aviation Administration said its air traffic control tower at O'Hare did receive a call from a United supervisor asking if controllers had spotted a mysterious elliptical-shaped craft sitting motionless over Concourse C of the United terminal.
No controllers saw the object, and a preliminary check of radar found nothing out of the ordinary, FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said.
The FAA is not conducting a further investigation, Cory said. The theory is the sighting was caused by a "weather phenomenon," she said.
The UFO report has sparked some chuckles among controllers in O'Hare tower.
"To fly 7 million light years to O'Hare and then have to turn around and go home because your gate was occupied is simply unacceptable," said O'Hare controller and union official Craig Burzych.
Some of the witnesses, interviewed by the Tribune, said they are upset that neither the government nor the airline is probing the incident.
Whatever the object was, it could have interfered with O'Hare's radar and other equipment, and even created a collision risk, they said.
The Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (the term that extraterrestrial-watchers nowadays prefer over Unidentified Flying Object) was first seen by a United ramp worker who was directing back a United plane at Gate C17, according to an account the worker provided to the National UFO Reporting Center.
The sighting occurred during daylight, about 4:30 p.m., just before sunset.
All the witnesses said the object was dark gray and well defined in the overcast skies. They said the craft, estimated by different accounts to be 6 feet to 24 feet in diameter, did not display any lights.
Some said it looked like a rotating Frisbee, while others said it did not appear to be spinning. All agreed the object made no noise and it was at a fixed position in the sky, just below the 1,900-foot cloud deck, until shooting off into the clouds.
Witnesses shaken by sighting
"I tend to be scientific by nature, and I don't understand why aliens would hover over a busy airport," said a United mechanic who was in the cockpit of a Boeing 777 that he was taxiing to a maintenance hangar when he observed the metallic-looking object above Gate C17.
"But I know that what I saw and what a lot of other people saw stood out very clearly, and it definitely was not an [Earth] aircraft," the mechanic said.
One United employee appeared emotionally shaken by the sighting and "experienced some religious issues" over it, one co-worker said.
A United manager said he ran outside his office in Concourse B after hearing the report about the sighting on an internal airline radio frequency.
"I stood outside in the gate area not knowing what to think, just trying to figure out what it was," he said. "I knew no one would make a false call like that. But if somebody was bouncing a weather balloon or something else over O'Hare, we had to stop it because it was in very close proximity to our flight operations."