Flights Slowly Resume after Chicago Air Traffic Control Center Fire

By Jesse Sokolow on 26 September 2014
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American Airlines aircraft at the gate in Chicago

American Airlines aircraft at the gate in Chicago

A fire at an air traffic control center in a Chicago suburb forced flights to be halted at both O’Hare International and Midway International airports on Friday.  Flights began to resume roughly five hours after the blaze began, the FAA said, albeit in a limited fashion.

As of 1:45 Eastern Time, over 2,000 flights had been cancelled into and out of the two airports according to FlightStats, a flight tracking service, representing close to 40% of all flights at the airport.  At Chicago Midway, 352 flights had been cancelled, with 57 delays.  Flights in and out of General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee were also impacted.

The fire, which occurred at approximately 6:00 a.m. Central Time, is believed to have been set on purpose.  Authorities found the man suspected of starting the fire in the basement of the control center, located in Aurora, approximately 40 miles west of downtown Chicago, with self-inflicted knife wounds, Thomas Ahern, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told reporters.  The man was an FAA contract employee.

The facility handles flights into, over, and out of the Chicagoland area and the building was evacuated.

The two largest airlines, American and United, have large hubs at O’Hare.  American said it had cancelled over 100 flights and diverted 21 already in the air to other airports.  United also reported dozens of cancellations and multiple diversions.

Southwest Airlines, the largest operator at Midway, said it had cancelled all flights there as well as General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee until at least 7 p.m. local time on Friday.

Authorities are emphasizing that the employee was authorized to be at the control tower and has no ties to terrorism, although a possible motive has yet to be determined.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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