CHICAGO (CBS) — The damage done by a disgruntled contractor at the FAA radar facility in Aurora was so extensive that the center might not be operational for several days.
CBS 2’s Jay Levine reports that the suspect, who set several fires with rags and gasoline in the basement, managed to shut down all radar and communications systems in the facility.
Investigators believe the 36-year-old Naperville man, who deals with computer systems in the building, had enough knowledge to strategically cause as much damage as possible to sabotage the computers that run all the operational systems.
The fire and water damage from the sprinkler system damaged wiring.
Charged later Friday was Brian Howard, who faces one felony count of Destruction of Aircraft or Aircraft Facilities, the FBI said in a news release. Authorities indicated Howard may have posted a rant on his Facebook page around the time of the fire.
All the air-traffic controllers at the Aurora facility have been put on administrative leave and are not to report to the facility for foreseeable future. They were told to call their supervisors on Monday for the latest instructions.
The impact will be widespread, with a major slowdown of traffic in and out of O’Hare and Midway, amounting to only a fraction of the regular traffic at the airports.
Other FAA facilities will need to pick up the slack, but it remains unclear how that will be accomplished.
The fires were set around 5:40 a.m. on Friday morning, causing a ground stop at O’Hare and Midway airports, and creating havoc not only in Chicago but setting off a ripple effect of delays across the country.
While airlines at O’Hare are starting to operate on a very reduced schedule, a total of nearly 2,000 flights at both airports had been canceled.
Southwest Airlines, which operates out of Midway, said it won’t be flying at all on Friday.
The suspect, an unidentified FAA contract employee at the facility apparently set the fires, and suffered burns and self-inflicted knife wounds. It was not immediately known whether the knife wounds were accidental as he set the fires or deliberate.
CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports there was no explosion and the fire was not a terrorist act.
A second man suffered smoke inhalation from the fire, and was treated and released.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said fire investigators were at the scene, as part of the DuPage County Fire Investigation task force.
The ATF, FBI, FAA, and Aurora police and fire officials were conducting a joint investigation.
Authorities could be seen removing a dark blue or black SUV from the facility late Friday morning.
No charges have yet been filed in the case. The suspect was taken to a local hospital for treatment. His injuries are not life-threatening.