The purported UFO that pilots and other eagle-eyed professionals reported seeing almost four years ago, hovering in place above Gate C-17 at O'Hare International Airport, never went away.

Don't get me wrong. The aviators, United Airlines ramp workers, managers and aircraft mechanics all said they witnessed the dark grey metallic disk-shaped UFO leave the restricted airspace over O'Hare with such tremendous force and velocity on Nov. 7, 2006, that it pierced a hole of crisp blue air in the cloud-covered sky.

Although there have been no sightings at O'Hare since then from the likes of these serious and credible observers, hardly a day goes by that I don't receive e-mails or phone calls from UFO enthusiasts and researchers asking for an update to my exclusive Chicago Tribune story on New Year's Day 2007.

The article was breaking news of a possible (or impossible) visit by extraterrestrials. It also disclosed efforts by the Federal Aviation Administration and United officials to claim that they knew nothing about the UFO reports, despite the witness accounts.

So I wasn't surprised Tuesday when my old story was Googled widely after an appearance Monday night on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report'' by Leslie Kean, author of a new book on UFO sightings.

Kean interviewed me several times for her book, "UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go On the Record,'' which is about UFOs reported by highly respected, reputable witnesses.

To find details of the incident online, Kean told Colbert, one need simply Google "Chicago O'Hare UFO," which enough people did to send those words vaulting up the list of Google's most searched terms.

Back on the UFO beat -- my gig at the Tribune is transportation -- my day became more bizarre Tuesday, and somewhat annoying, when the online Weekly World News, linked to a video of me discussing the incident.

The video is an off-air chat I had back in 2007 with television anchorman Jim Wagner of Tribune-owned CLTV while Wagner and I prepared to tape an interview on the O'Hare event.

Conspiracy theorists certain that the government routinely covers up evidence supporting real UFO sightings viewed the off-air banter as proof enough. Never mind that I hadn't provided any confirmed information to Wagner in our recorded off-air exchange that I hadn't already reported.

Yet to this day on You Tube, that video is still presented under the headline, "O'Hare UFO leaked news footage seconds before broadcast,'' purporting to somehow confirm what had happened.

Monday night with Colbert, Kean mentioned the original Tribune story, which with 1.6 million page views to date remains the single most popular story or column in the history of

The FAA subsequently explained away the UFO spotting as a "weather phenomenon.''

"This thing was hovering over Chicago O'Hare Airport at rush hour,'' Kean said. "Lots of people saw it, (but) the U.S. government never said a word.''

--Jon Hilkevitch

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