Sunday, January 07, 2007

Not a Bird or a Plane?

Peter Davenport Logo
By Jessica Bennett

The head of the National UFO Reporting Center gives his theories about the strange sighting over Chicago’s main airport.
     The Federal Aviation Administration says it must have been a weird weather phenomenon, and United Airlines denies any knowledge of the case. But though it has been two months since what appeared to be an unidentified flying object (UFO) was spotted over Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, the incident is still raising questions about what exactly was seen and whether the authorities are trying to downplay it.

As many as a dozen United Airlines employees swear the mysterious object they saw on Nov. 7 was real—hovering for several minutes above the United Airlines terminal and then shooting up through the clouds so powerfully that it left an eerie hole in overcast skies. "At first we laughed to each other" when the report came over the radio, a witness told the National UFO Reporting Center, a Seattle-based nonprofit that maintains a UFO hotline and is listed as a resource in the FAA's official Aeronautical Information Manual. But then I saw the "dark gray, hazy, round object" and seconds later "there was an almost perfect circle in the cloud layer where the craft had been." His statement is published on the Web site of the National UFO Reporting Center, which says its policy is to protect the anonymity of its witnesses.

So was it a UFO? A secret military aircraft? And why did it take two months for the details to come out? It may sound like the oldest hoax in the book, but the United workers—including several pilots—who say they saw the object are reportedly upset their claims have been ignored. The FAA has said it won't be investigating the incident further, and it wasn't until this week that The Chicago Tribune broke the story, speaking to several unnamed witnesses after a tip-off from the head of the National UFO Reporting Center. Peter Davenport heads that organization, and has a lot to say about the way the incident has been handled. A self-described UFOologist, Davenport spoke with NEWSWEEK's Jessica Bennett. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: Your Web site has documented more than 3,000 UFO sightings just in the last year. Is that normal?
Peter Davenport: We get reports that number certainly into the thousands, and sometimes into the tens of thousands.

How many of these do you believe are real, and how do you determine whether they are real?
The overwhelming majority of [reports we get] are not UFOs. Many people report stars and planets and aircraft and humming birds and pelicans and Frisbees and hubcaps—there are thousands of things people can look at and not be able to identify. We rely on our experience to try to quickly identify those cases that are probably not genuine UFOs.

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