A fire set by a west suburban man inside an air navigation facility on Friday was continuing to cause problems for air travelers on Saturday, with nearly 800 flights canceled for the day at Chicago’s airports.
As of 3:50 p.m., airlines had proactively canceled about 660 flights at O’Hare, and about 120 others were canceled at Midway, according to the city’s Department of Aviation. Southwest Airlines canceled all its flights until 2 p.m., and would be running on a “slower schedule” after that, aviation officials said.
All other flights at O’Hare were delayed about an hour, while delays of 45 minutes were reported at Midway, officials said. Passengers are advised to contact their airlines for specific flight statuses.
The cancelations follow a day of travel mayhem when more than 2,000 flights were canceled after a contract employee at the FAA radar center in Aurora allegedly started a fire in the facility during an apparent suicide attempt.
Brian Howard, 36, of Naperville, had worked at the center for about for about eight years, and sources said he was became disgruntled after he was told he was being transferred to Hawaii.
About 5 a.m. Friday, Howard arrived at the control center dragging a black suitcase, and at 5:36 a.m., according to a criminal complaint filed Friday afternoon, he posted this message to his Facebook page:
“Take a hard look in the mirror, I have. And this is why I am about to take out ZAU and my life. April, Pop, love you guys and I am sorry. Leaving you with a big mess. Do your best to move on quickly from me please. Feel like I give a s— for the first time in a long time … but not for too long (haha!). So, I’m gonna smoke this blunt and move on, take care everyone.”
ZAU is the FAA code for the Aurora facility, the complaint said.
First responders found heavy smoke coming from the basement area of the center, where Howard had removed a floor panel and set fire to telecommunications cables and other wires, according to the complaint. Towels were doused in gasoline and burned.
When paramedics found Howard, he was in the process of slitting his throat, covered in blood with cuts to both his arms, the complaint said. A knife and lighter were also recovered from the scene, officials said.
A ground stop was put in place until 10 a.m. for flights into and out of Chicago’s airspace, which also included portions of eastern Iowa, southern Wisconsin and northern Indiana, according to the FAA.
About 15 to 30 employees of the radar center were evacuated Friday morning, and one man in his 50s suffered smoke inhalation, Ferrelli said. He was treated at the scene. The fire was out by 6:53 a.m.