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After Fire at FAA Control Site, air traffic returns normal in Chicago

  • Published by Ozgur Tore

36-year-old Brian Howard started a fire in an air traffic control center, causing the shutdown of operations at Chicago O'Hare International and nearby Midway Airport.

flight-cancelledAccording to FBI, he sent a private Facebook message to a relative just before he started the blaze. He said in the message, “Take a hard look in the mirror, I have. And this is why I am about to take out ZAU [the three-letter identification for the control center] and my life. ... So I'm gonna smoke this blunt and move on, take care everyone."

When firefighters arrived, they found him lying on the floor and slicing his throat with a knife. The FBI said Friday that Howard remains hospitalized due to his injuries and that no court date for him has been scheduled.

Airlines at O'Hare canceled 1,550 flights and 470 at Midway, the Chicago Department of Aviation said at 8:45 p.m. Friday. Southwest Airlines suspended all fights for the day at Midway and Milwaukee's General Mitchell International Airport. As of late Saturday afternoon, total Chicago flight cancelations for the day stood at more than 780.

Passengers already in the air headed for Chicago wound up elsewhere. Flight-tracking services showed some Chicago-bound American flights doing loops over Michigan before diverting to Detroit.

Air traffic controllers at other FAA facilities safely managed about 60 percent of the flights as compared to last Saturday at O'Hare and over 75 percent of the flights at Midway. The FAA expects a substantial increase in operational capabilities by Monday.

Howard had worked eight years in the center but faced a transfer to Hawaii.

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