The six-foot plants were planted in rows in a secluded, industrial area surrounded by heavy brush near Stony Island near 107th Street, which caught the eye of Cook County Sheriff's Department Tactical Officer Edward Graney, helicopter copilot, on Tuesday night.
"We had the right altitude, the right angle, the right sunlight, and I just happened to be glancing down, saw the hole in the tree line, saw what appeared to be maybe five plants," Officer Graney said. "From what we initially saw, there were rows. That's what drew my attention. It was rows. If it was regular plants, I probably wouldn't have given it a two-second, another look."
"I dropped down, I flew a little bit lower so we could get a better look. We used an imaging camera, took some pictures and some video, and determined this sure, indeed, looks like marijuana plants," Chicago Police Officer Stan Kuprianczyk, helicopter pilot, said.
"This would not be visible from the street. It's surrounded by a huge field that you wouldn't see anywhere from the air," Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said.
"This is the largest grow that we know of, an outdoor grow that we know of, in recent history in Chicago," CPD Bureau of Organized Crime Chief Nick Roti said.
After looking through the images, police officers on the ground moved in. They found about 1,500 plants on the site.
"We guided his team into his location," Edward Graney said.
Officials say the plants were days to weeks from harvest. "The guess is these were probably planted in the spring," McCarthy said.
"They would have brought several people in, basically a crew. A harvesting crew," Cmdr. Jim O'Grady, CPD Narcotics Unit, said.
"At night it's basically dead. There's nothing going on there at night because the businesses are shut down," Roti said.
Authorities came in Wednesday and cut down the plants, which were loaded onto trucks. Sources tell ABC 7 that a controlled burn was set to take place at the police bomb and arson facility near 95th and the lakefront in Calumet Park sometime after midnight.
Officials say they also found a couple sleeping bags and some food on site.
"There was a small encampment. We believe somebody was guarding this site," McCarthy said.
McCarthy said the bust goes further than just seizing marijuana plants -- it helps to reduce the violence by "putting the squeeze on these organizations."
"Whoever harvests this marijuana is obviously running a large-scale operation, and at the same time the profits of which will be used to purchase firearms. And that's where the violence comes in- is the competition for the markets."