Naperville, Ill. Man Arrested After Allegedly Setting Fire To Chicago Air Traffic Control Center

A 36-year-old Naperville, Illinois resident is accused of intentionally setting fire to a suburban Chicago air traffic control center Friday.

Brian Howard is a contract employee of the center, and the fire he allegedly set brought the nation’s two busiest airports to a standstill. He has been charged with a felony – destruction of aircraft or aircraft facilities.

According to the criminal complaint, paramedics found him just as he was trying to slit his throat. The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) said Howard is still in the hospital and there is no set court date.

The air travel network suffered numerous delays and cancellations – from the east coast to the west coast. The ground stoppage at both the Midway and O’Hare airports raised immediate concerns on whether or not the Federal Aviation Administration had contingency plans that would keep planes flying in the event one facility had to close down.

By the end of Friday, over 2,000 flights coming in and out of Chicago were cancelled. Some flights were able to take off midday, with a five-hour gap. However, officials said, planes were moving at a significantly decreased speed and nobody could say for sure when full service will take place.

According to Professional Aviation Safety Specialists spokeswoman Jessica Cigich, Howard was a contract employee for an FAA contractor that supplies and maintains communications systems for air traffic facilities. The complaint said Howard was recently told he would be relocated to Hawaii.

The complaint, which was filed in the U.S. District Court of Chicago, said a relative saw a Facebook post about the attempted suicide and contacted authorities. A 911 call came in from the control center where the suburban fire department and paramedics answered the call and found a trail of blood by a gas can, lighter and two knives. Paramedics found Howard, trying to slit his throat and informed paramedics they needed to leave him alone.

The fire sent a ripple effect through the country, where management of the area’s airspace was sent to other facilities. The Aurora facility’s traffic was handled through four centers – Kanas City, Indianapolis, Cleveland and Minneapolis. They would continue to handle the traffic throughout the weekend to decrease any interruptions. Flights in Dallas and Milwaukee had also been delayed or cancelled.

Joseph Schwieterman, aviation analyst at Chicago’s DePaul University, said it’s the nightmare instance where systems thought to be in place to keep this from happening isn’t. The FAA, he said, is going to find it’ll be highly scrutinized. He also said with technology advancing at a rapid pace, there’s no reason for air traffic control to be completely physically oriented.

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Posted by on Sep 27 2014. Filed under New. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

1 Comment for “Naperville, Ill. Man Arrested After Allegedly Setting Fire To Chicago Air Traffic Control Center”

  1. Really naive statement at the end of the article. Does Joe S. think computer systems are any safer? Hacking is a daily occurrence.

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