Authorities charged an Illinois man late Friday with setting a fire at a control facility outside of Chicago that caused chaos within the facility and throughout the nation with thousands of flight cancellations.
According to the official criminal complaint, Brian Howard entered the Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center just after 5 a.m. Friday while “dragging a black hard-sided roller board suit case.”
The complaint says a message was posted to Howard’s Facebook a half-hour later, claiming he was going to take out the center and his own life. A concerned relative saw the message and forwarded it to police.
Someone at the facility called 911 around 5:45 a.m. to report a fire in the basement. There was a trail of blood that led to Howard. Authorities say he had multiple self-inflicted stab wounds and was trying to cut his throat when paramedics found him.
It’s believed Howard deliberately set a fire using rags and gasoline, then cut all radar feeds into the building and most communication lines.
Authorities say he was a disgruntled government contractor who was angry he was being transferred to Hawaii.
Howard remains at a hospital in Aurora to undergo treatment for his stab wounds, blood loss, and burns suffered in the fire.
He’s been charged with felony destruction of aircraft or aircraft facilities. No court date is set.
The fire forced airlines to cancel more than 2,000 flights at O’Hare and Midway airports. Dozens of stranded passengers spent Friday night on cots and benches at both airports.
While flights have resumed since the ground stop was lifted, major delays are expected to continue Saturday.
The FAA facility in Aurora is a key part of the air-traffic control central nervous system for Chicago. The FAA is now shifting the workload to facilities in Indianapolis, Cleveland, Minneapolis and Kansas City. Officials say it’s going to take time, because the handoff process has to be entered manually.
They are urging people who plan to fly on Saturday, to call their airline directly before heading to the airport.
Airlines are waiving rebooking fees, and are promising that passengers will be able to use their tickets for up to a year from now.