Adding to the drama, it happened just minutes after Vice President Joe Biden's plane landed at the airport.
The FAA is investigating the incident. The agency is blaming it on a traffic controller who apparently made an error.
It happened Monday morning when arrivals and departures at O'Hare were slowed or stopped as Biden and his wife landed in Chicago for Rahm Emanuel's mayoral inauguration. A security helicopter that would shadow the vice president was hovering over the airport. It would follow Biden's motorcade downtown and seemed to cause controllers some confusion.
Twenty-nine people were onboard a SkyWest Airlines Canadair jet from Muskegon, Michigan, which was landing. At the same time, an ExpressJet Airlines Embraer ERJ-145 to Buffalo with 50 people was cleared for takeoff. The two planes came within 300 feet vertically and four feet horizontally of hitting. The Washington Post quotes traffic control recordings as capturing one controller saying "Oh, [expletive]."
"What the [expletive] was that?" said the pilot.
"Sorry," replied the controller.
By this point, the vice president's plane was already off the active airfield. Biden and his entourage would head downtown for the inauguration ceremony, apparently unaware of the near collision minutes after their arrival.
The FAA says it will review the event to see if any additional training is necessary. They will also see if any procedures need to be changed.