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Every UFO sighting needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but every so often, a specific shared event starts to tear down the thick walls of doubt. The 2006 UFO "incident" at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport is one of those events. It's so well-known, in fact, that History.com has dubbed it one of the most credible sightings of the modern age. The now-famous occurrence shares the spotlight with the 1997 "Phoenix Lights" in the first episode of J.J. Abrams' new Showtime's docu-series: UFO.
So, what exactly happened on November 7, 2006? Well, here's what we know for sure: United Airlines Flight 446 was preparing to take off for North Carolina from O'Hare International when a dozen airline employees — from mechanics to pilots — spotted a gray and metallic saucer-like object hovering above Gate C17 of the United terminal. The unidentified object remained there for several minutes before flying off into the clouds at an unnatural speed that seemed to rip a hole in the heavens.
"Did you see a flying disk out by C-17?" a United controller by the name of Sue asks of a colleague named Dave in the official FAA audio from that day. "That's what the pilot and the ramp guys are telling us at C-17. They saw some flying disc above them."
"You guys been celebrating the holidays early over there or what?" asks an understandably skeptical Dave. "You having a Christmas party today? I have not seen anything, Sue, and if I did, I wouldn't admit to it. No, I have not seen any flying disc at Gate C-17. Unless you've got a new aircraft you're bringing out today that we don't know about..."
"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," an unnamed mechanic told The Chicago Tribune in 2007.
"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," joked O'Hare controller and union official Craig Burzych at the time.
Despite the assertions of several credible eye witnesses, the airline and the Federal Aviation Administration declined to look further into the matter, which was written off as a rare weather phenomenon known as a fallstreak or "hole-punch cloud."
“It’s something that occurs when a propeller or jet airplane passes through when you have uniform cloud cover and the temperature is right near the freezing point,” Dr. Mark Hammergren, an astronomer at Chicago's Adler Planetarium, explained to the Tribune in 2013. "They make liquid water droplets freeze and a hazy disc of ice crystals descends from a hole, and it looks like a perfect hole punched in the cloud."
Mark Rodeghier, director for the Center for UFO Studies Scientific Director, didn't buy into that explanation, stating: "It’s an unknown object over O’Hare, and it’s seen by official personnel, and does United or the FAA take it seriously? Of course not, they have zero interest because UFOs can’t exist. But how can you not worry about something hovering over an airport after 9/11? It doesn’t make sense."
A 2009 episode of History's UFO Hunters tells us that investigators for NARCAP (the National Aviation Reporting Center On Anomalous Phenomena) created an "exhaustive, 155-page report on the incident," which strongly recommended that the government look into the incident.
No federal action was ever taken.
Showtime subscribers with access to the network's official app can stream all four episodes of UFO right now. If you'd prefer to pace yourself, the next three episodes will air on a weekly basis for the next three Sundays at 9 p.m. EST. The premiere is currently free to watch on YouTube, Showtime.com, and Sho.com.
A co-production between Bad Robot and Zipper Bros. Films, the series boasts the following executive producers: J.J. Abrams, Glen Zipper, Mark Monroe, Sean Stuart, Ben Stephenson, Rachel Rusch Rich, and Kevin Lincoln. Maren Domzalski and Paul McGuire are producers. Mark Monroe (Icarus) and Paul Crowder (Riding Giants) directed.