CHICAGO — A 36-year-old FAA contractor was facing federal charges on Friday evening for setting a fire that damaged a key Chicago air traffic control center and ground air travel in one of the busiest travel hubs to a halt.
Brian Howard had left what appeared to be a suicide note on Facebook that a relative saw and alerted police to Friday morning, according to a criminal complaint filed late Friday.
Police were alerted by the relative of Howard, who had worked with the FAA for about eight years, just minutes before he allegedly set the blaze that wrecked havoc on Chicago’s two airports.
“Take a hard look in the mirror, I have,” Howard posted on his Facebook page. “And this why I’m about to take out ZAU and my life,” referring to the three-letter call number for the center.
More than 2,000 flights were grounded nationwide Friday following the fire.
The disruption at the Federal Aviation Administration radar facility hit Chicago’s busy O’Hare and Midway airports the hardest, grounding virtually all flights at those airports for several hours.
As of 6:10 p.m. ET, about 1,300 flights had been canceled at O’Hare, a number that’s close to half of the airport’s daily schedule, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware. At Midway, more than 450 flights — nearly 70% of its entire Friday schedule — had been axed. Nearby Milwaukee also suffered from the incident, which caused nearly half of the day’s flights there to be canceled.
Given the operating challenges in the region today, Southwest — the nation’s largest discounter — decided to cancel its entire schedule Friday at both Chicago Midway and Milwaukee. Southwest is by far the dominant carrier at Midway, one of the busiest airports in the Southwest’s nationwide network.