CHICAGO (CBS) — A 37-year-old contractor from Naperville has pleaded guilty to setting a fire at an Aurora radar facility last fall, crippling Chicago’s two airports, and disrupting air traffic all across the U.S.
Brian Howard, 37, entered his plea in federal court Thursday morning. He had been charged with willfully setting fire to, damaging, destroying or disabling an air navigation facility and using fire to commit a federal felony.
He will face at least 10 years in prison, under a plea deal with federal prosecutors.
Howard’s attorney, Ronald Safer, said he agreed to plead guilty so he can be sent to a prison capable of treating his mental health issues.
Howard was working as a contract employee for the Federal Aviation Administration at the Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center in Aurora last September, when he allegedly cut several cables in a basement telecommunications room, and then lit several fires, and tried to kill himself. He suffered burns on his body, and self-inflicted stab wounds on his arms.
The damage he caused forced the FAA to shut down the Chicago ARTCC for more than two weeks, and halt all flights out of O’Hare and Midway airports for several hours until they could get a backup system running. The two airports were not able to resume normal operations for more than a week, and thousands of flights were canceled in Chicago as a result.
Federal prosecutors said Howard might be held responsible for more than $100 million in restitution, for the damage he caused.
The incident cost airlines more than $350 million.