95% of UFO sightings can be written off as nothing: weather phenomena; misidentified aircraft; mistakenly identified stars or planets. 5% cannot be explained. In this series we’ll be looking at the mass sightings. The abductions. The unexplained deaths. Real cases, with real people.
These are the 5%. These, are the UFO files.
7 November 2006, Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
By the side of a small access road approaching the airport, a crowd has gathered, their eyes pointed skyward. One witness had driven down Annheim Road and left her vehicle with a friend while she went to observe the metallic grey object. “It was just sitting there. It didn’t look like a plane. It looked like it had taken on the colour of its surroundings.” Easy to write off, if she’s alone. But of course, she is not. The object sits for a few minutes before ascending so rapidly, it punches a hole in the cloud cover above, drawing gasps and squeals from those around her. “It didn’t change shape. It was obviously not cloud. It was very obviously a solid object. Just a very blatant daytime sighting.” The rapid ascent of the disc through the clouds revealed a clear blue sky on the other side.
Measured by takeoffs and landings, O’Hare was the world’s busiest airport in 2014. And until 1998, it was the world’s busiest by number of passengers. A UFO hovering low over such a major international airport would surely have caused considerable consternation. Aside from the drama of a low flying object defying the flight capabilities of any known man-made craft, the safety and security concerns alone would surely send panic through governing bodies. Or so you’d imagine. Yet the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) refused to investigate the sighting on two points: the object did not appear on radar; the object could not be seen from the ATC tower. Their official stance was that this was some sort of weather phenomenon. This conclusion was reached without investigation. End of story?
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist John Hilkevitch was working the travel desk of the Chicago Tribune newspaper, and he received word of the sighting from UFO researcher of the National UFO Reporting Centre. Hilkevitch was doing his own digging. His research quickly revealed that the crowds of civilians outside the airport weren’t the only witnesses; just after 4pm, a United Airlines ramp worker looked up and saw an object approximately 20 feet across, hovering silently over gate C-17. He tells two mechanics aboard the plane he’s working on about the object, and that conversation is overheard on company radio by a manager, who promptly walks out to see the disc with his own eyes. Two pilots parked at a separate gate also see the object. But because the disc didn’t appear on radar and wasn’t observable from the tower, the FAA aren’t interested and theorise that it’s nothing more than a trick of light on low cloud cover.
The problem is, this was mid afternoon and the lights weren’t turned on yet.
So what was United Airlines response? They had no knowledge of the incident and nothing appeared in their logbooks. It would appear that despite the multiple eyewitness reports, including those from airport workers with years of experience, the sighting was being swept under the rug. Their was nothing on radar. There was no official documentation. There was no proof. The FAA don’t want to talk about it. United Airlines say nothing happened.
Then, there’s a breakthrough. As the result of a Freedom of Information Act request, the tower logs are revealed. Below is a transcript:
A conversation between tower employees named ‘Dave’ and ‘Sue’ shows the initial scepticism as reports start coming in:
Dave: Tower, this is Dave.
Sue: Hey Dave, it’s Sue from United Tower.
Dave: Hey Sue.
Sue: Did you see a flying disc out by C-17?
Dave: Oh no don’t even start, Sue! Fly… you’re seeing flying discs?
Sue: [LAUGHS] Well that what the pilot and the ramp guys are telling us at C-17. They saw some flying disc above and we can’t see it.
Dave: Come on, Sue. I have not seen anything, and if I did I wouldn’t admit to it.
Dave’s response shows the attitude of airport workers towards these kinds of phenomena. In fact, it’s well known within the industry that reporting such events is not the done thing. The pilot of the Alaska Airlines Incident can attest to that. But the reports continue to some in. The tone at the tower changes. Now the feeling is one of concern:
???: Some of our pilots on the ground are reporting a UFO sighting at 1000 feet from the B side of the airport, did you guys see anything about it?
???: You know what, the ramp tower called me I want to say about 10-15 minutes ago we have not seen anything up here.
???: But we will surely keep an eye out that’s for sure.
Whether or not it’s usual to report such things, clearly airport safety is a priority. The reports still come in and things get serious:
ATC: Do you seen anything above United concourse? They actually, believe it or not, they called us and said there’s a… somebody observed a flying disc about 1000 feet above the ahh… gate Charlie 17. You see anything over there?
Ground crew: We saw it a half hour ago.
ATC: Who saw it?
GC: A whole bunch of us over at the ahh… Charlie concourse.
ATC: Really? You guys… Who’s this?
GC: United taxi mechanics.
In the conversation, it’s clear that the ATC worker is reluctant to discuss this out in the open. Whether that be through fear of ridicule, or fear of repercussions. After more witnesses come forward, a warning is sent out to area pilots:
???: Somebody reported a UFO or flying disc above Charlie concourse. Nobody could see it, but use caution.
???: 8668 you can use Alpha to Northport. Use caution for the ahh… UFO.
The tower logs tell a very different story from United Airlines official line on the story.
According to Hilkevitch, United Airlines staff are forbidden from discussing the incident. During a phone conversation, a United spokeswoman told him. “My concern is that people, that employees are coming forward and talking to you, which we have not authorised and will not authorise.”
So, you're interested in UFOs? Want to read more? Sure you do! Click here for an excerpt from my UFO thriller The Event.
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In this blog I'll be bringing to you short tales of things that go bump in the night, true stories of weird and unexplained events, and the real-life news of all things odd and macabre, and entertain you along the way.