Traffic starting in, out of Chicago airports after fire at FAA facility

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Tim Fleischer live at LaGuardia airport (WABC)

A contract employee who set a fire in the basement of an Aurora FAA facility first cut the feeds to the radar and damaged the communications system, forcing a ground stop at Chicago's O'Hare and Midway international airports, ABC7 sources said.

"This is a local issue with a contract employee," Aurora Police Chief Greg Thomas said. "There is no terrorist act."

The incident led to a ground stop which affected many airports including New York's. Forty-three flights were canceled today from New York airports to Chicago airports; 13 are currently delayed and five were diverted en route.

Some flight activity has resumed in and out of the Chicago airports, but most are still being held at their departure airports.

Flight are operating at a reduced rate since the adjacent FAA facilities that have taken over the airspace can only handle about 25-percent of normal operations.

There are only three routes out of Chicago right now -- east toward South Bend, north to Milwaukee and west to Rockford. Flights have to fly at a lower altitude longer to stay in contact with the other FAA facilities.

Some flights have resumed in and out of the Chicago airports, but most are still being held at their departure airports. Flights are operating at a reduced rate. Right now, there are only three routes out of Chicago right now, east toward South Bend, north to Milwaukee and west to Rockford. Flights have to fly at a lower altitude.

Emergency crews responded to a call of a fire at the FAA facility just before 5:45 a.m. Friday. They found a man with self-inflicted wounds in the basement.

ABC7 sources are calling this an intentional act. The source said the man, who has not been identified, had intimate knowledge of the building and radar system. He cut every radar feed to FAA air controllers before setting gas-soaked rags on fire near sensitive equipment, sources said, and also damaged the communications system.

The building filled with smoke, and then water to put the fire out damaged the sensitive gear further. There could be days of potential radar outages at the facility, which could result in significant flight delays.

The man was authorized to be in the building, and may have posted his plans online, the source said. His family had asked for a well-being check on Friday morning, saying he was having suicidal thoughts, according to the source. He had recently been told he would be transferred with work to Hawaii.

No firearms were found on the scene, Thomas said. The contractor was transferred to a local hospital with multiple stab wounds. He is in stable condition and expected to survive.

Police were seen confiscating a car around 10:45 a.m. at the FAA facility.

The Aurora facility, which controls air traffic for the Great Lakes region, was evacuated and flight control was transferred to other FAA facilities. That led to the ground stop at O'Hare and at Midway international airports.

"We evacuated about 15 to 30 people from the building, extinguished the fire," Thomas said. No one was seriously injured, although a 50-year-old man was treated for smoke inhalation.

The evacuated employees were told to go home, according to the source. Officials have said there was smoke in the building, and water used to put out the fire may have caused more damage. The FAA, ATF, FBI and Aurora police and fire on the scene.

"The scene is being worked, as with any investigation would, trying to gather all the evidence, interview all the people, collect all the information so we know what's going on," Thomas said.

The Chicago ground stop was lifted just before 11 a.m., FAA officials said, and flights were allowed to depart and arrive at O'Hare and Midway Airports at a "reduced rate" after airspace management was transferred to adjacent FAA facilities. There are only three routes out of Chicago right now -- east toward South Bend, north to Milwaukee Milwaukee and west to Rockford. Flights have to fly at a lower altitude longer to stay in contact with those towers, and those facilities can only handle about 25-percent of a normal operations.

The FAA is beefing up staffing at those facilities and others in the area.

Hundreds of Chicago flights were canceled, delayed and re-routed Friday. Airlines are urging travelers to check the status of their flights at www.fly.faa.gov.


Related Topics:
ohare airportmidway airportfireFAAAuroraChicago - O'HareChicago - Midway Airport
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