Sen. Durbin to seek probe of air center sabotage

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Chicago fire - O'Hare - flights cancelled - updated 9/28/2014
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Sen. Durbin to seek probe of air center sabotage
A fire at the FAA's Chicago Center, in suburban Aurora, has halted all air traffic in or out of major airports in Chicago and Detroit. (WGN)
This view of air traffic over the United States shows a virtual hole in the sky over Chicago. (FlightRadar24)
A fire truck seen earlier Friday morning at the burning building. (WGN)
Employees seen outside the facility after being evacuated. (WGN)
The Chicago Center seen from the air. (WGN)
There is virtually no air traffic over Chicago, home to both O'Hare International (the world's busiest airport) and Midway Airport. (FlightAware)
A United Airlines jet takes off from O'Hare International Airport on September 19, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. In 2013, 67 million passengers passed through O'Hare, another 20 million passed through Chicago's Midway Airport, and the two airports combined moved more than 1.4 million tons of air cargo. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 27: Stranded passengers pass through a deserted area of O'Hare International Airport on September 27, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. O'Hare was forced to cancel more than 1,500 fights yesterday and more than 600 today after a contract worker sabotaged a suburban air traffic control center yesterday morning. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 27: The arrival and departure display at O'Hare International Airport shows a list of cancelled flights on September 27, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. O'Hare was forced to cancel more than 1,500 fights yesterday and more than 600 today after a contract worker sabotaged a suburban air traffic control center yesterday morning. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 27: Stranded passengers wait for flights at O'Hare International Airport on September 27, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. O'Hare was forced to cancel more than 1,500 fights yesterday and more than 600 today after a contract worker sabotaged a suburban air traffic control center yesterday morning. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 27: Stranded passengers wait for flights in a deserted area of O'Hare International Airport on September 27, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. O'Hare was forced to cancel more than 1,500 fights yesterday and more than 600 today after a contract worker sabotaged a suburban air traffic control center yesterday morning. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 27: The arrival and departure display at O'Hare International Airport shows a list of cancelled flights on September 27, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. O'Hare was forced to cancel more than 1,500 fights yesterday and more than 600 today after a contract worker sabotaged a suburban air traffic control center yesterday morning. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 27: A plane sits at a mostly deserted terminal at O'Hare International Airport on September 27, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. O'Hare was forced to cancel more than 1,500 fights yesterday and more than 600 today after a contract worker sabotaged a suburban air traffic control center yesterday morning. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 27: Stranded passengers wait for flights at O'Hare International Airport on September 27, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. O'Hare was forced to cancel more than 1,500 fights yesterday and more than 600 today after a contract worker sabotaged a suburban air traffic control center yesterday morning. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 27: Stranded passengers wait for flights at O'Hare International Airport on September 27, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. O'Hare was forced to cancel more than 1,500 fights yesterday and more than 600 today after a contract worker sabotaged a suburban air traffic control center yesterday morning. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Nikolas Acevedo, 8, of Bourbonnais waits in line with his family for a rebooked flight at Midway Airport due to cancellations and delays as a result of a fire at Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center in Aurora, Friday, September 26, 2014, in Chicago. He and his family are heading to Orlando. The fire was deliberately started at an FAA radar center by a disgruntled worker. (Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)
United Airline passenger Ron Mitchell of Chicago talks with an airline attendant as he joins a line of those looking to rebook their canceled flights after a small fire at the Air Route Traffic Control Center in Aurora disrupted air service though out the region Friday, Sept. 26, 2014 in Terminal 1 at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. The fire was deliberately set at an FAA radar center by a disgruntled worker. (Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)
An American Airlines passenger talks on her phone as she stands in a line with other passengers to rebook their canceled flights after a small fire at the Air Route Traffic Control Center in Aurora disrupted air service though out the region Friday, Sept. 26, 2014 in Terminal 3 at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. The fire was deliberately started at an FAA radar center by a disgruntled worker. (Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)
'She's so tired right now,' said Kelsey Stephenson of Los Angeles about her dog, Daisy, as the two spent the morning of their shared birthday stranded when their flight home was canceled after a small fire at the Air Route Traffic Control Center in Aurora disrupted air service though out the region Friday, Sept. 26, 2014 in Terminal 3 at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. The fire was deliberately started at an FAA radar center by a disgruntled worker. (Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)
American Airlines ticketing agents pass out free bottles of water to passengers waiting in line to rebook their canceled flights after a small fire at the Air Route Traffic Control Center in Aurora disrupted air service though out the region Friday, Sept. 26, 2014 in Terminal 3 at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. The fire was deliberately started at an FAA radar center by a disgruntled worker. (Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 26: Peter and Elana Vlahos watch a movie while their parents try to reschedule a flight to Los Angeles at O'Hare International Airport on September 26, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. All flights in and out of Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports were halted this morning because of a suspected arson fire at a suburban Chicago air traffic control facility. The Vlahos family was flying to Los Angeles for a movie premier scheduled for tomorrow morning. They were told the earliest that they could reschedule a flight would be tomorrow afternoon. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 26: A passenger walks through O'Hare International Airport on September 26, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. All flights in and out of Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports were halted this morning because of a suspected arson fire at a suburban Chicago air traffic control facility. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 26: Passenger wait in line to reschedule flights at O'Hare International Airport on September 26, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. All flights in and out of Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports were halted this morning because of a suspected arson fire at a suburban Chicago air traffic control facility. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 26: Passenger wait in line to reschedule flights at O'Hare International Airport on September 26, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. All flights in and out of Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports were halted this morning because of a suspected arson fire at a suburban Chicago air traffic control facility. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 26: Passengers try to reschedule flights at O'Hare International Airport on September 26, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. All flights in and out of Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports were halted this morning because of a suspected arson fire at a suburban Chicago air traffic control facility. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 26: Passenger wait in line to reschedule flights at O'Hare International Airport on September 26, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. All flights in and out of Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports were halted this morning because of a suspected arson fire at a suburban Chicago air traffic control facility. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 26: Passengers try to reschedule flights at O'Hare International Airport on September 26, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. All flights in and out of Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports were halted this morning because of a suspected arson fire at a suburban Chicago air traffic control facility. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 26: Passengers arrive to catch flights at O'Hare International Airport's on September 26, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. All flights in and out of Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports have been halted this morning because of a fire at a suburban Chicago air traffic control facility. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 26: Passengers arrive to catch flights at O'Hare International Airport's on September 26, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. All flights in and out of Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports have been halted this morning because of a fire at a suburban Chicago air traffic control facility. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 26: Passengers arrive to catch flights at O'Hare International Airport's on September 26, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. All flights in and out of Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports have been halted this morning because of a fire at a suburban Chicago air traffic control facility. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 26: Passengers wait for flights at O'Hare International Airport's on September 26, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. All flights in and out of Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports have been halted this morning because of a fire at a suburban Chicago air traffic control facility. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 26: Passengers wait for flights at O'Hare International Airport's on September 26, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. All flights in and out of Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports have been halted this morning because of a fire at a suburban Chicago air traffic control facility. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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CHICAGO (AP) - U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said Sunday that he will seek an investigation into how a contract employee was able to sabotage a regional control center and bring Chicago's two international airports to a halt.

The Illinois Democrat told The Associated Press that he will ask inspectors general at the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration to investigate whether there was a security breach when the employee entered the building early Friday with a suitcase without causing suspicion. He then started a fire in the basement telecommunications room before attempting to commit suicide by slashing his throat.

Brian Howard, 36, of Naperville, who had access to the control center in suburban Aurora via a swipe card, entered around 5 a.m. Friday, and about 30 minutes later posted a suicide note on Facebook, according to a federal criminal complaint.

Minutes later, someone at the facility called 911 to report the fire. A relative who saw the Facebook post also alerted authorities. Paramedics followed a trail of blood past a gas can, two knives and a lighter and found the suspect slashing his throat, the complaint said. He also had cuts to his arms.

Durbin said he is grateful that the FAA was able to get all planes on the ground safely. He said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told him that 23 of 29 computer racks were damaged, and the FAA said Sunday that it decided to replace the entire central communications network at the center.

"Thank God nobody lost their lives, but it could have happened in this circumstance," Durbin said.

Sen. Mark Kirk said Saturday that he wanted an immediate review of the FAA screening process at the site, and a report within 30 days outlining future changes.

On Sunday, 550 flights were canceled at O'Hare and 50 at Midway. At the height of the travel misery Friday, more than 2,000 flights in and out of the airports were canceled, disrupting travel nationwide.

FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Cory said improvements were expected on Monday, although the system would not be fully functional.

The facility in Aurora, about 40 miles west of downtown Chicago, handles planes cruising at high altitudes through the air space as well as those just beginning to approach or completing a departure from airports in the Chicago area. Its responsibilities have been transferred to centers in Cleveland, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Minneapolis.

Cory said the FAA has been able to increase air traffic and reduce delays by improving direct communication between the centers now handling Chicago's air traffic, and by developing new ways to automatically file and transfer airline flight plan information.

The FAA said it conducts employee background checks on contract workers like Howard who have access to FAA facilities, information or equipment. Contract employees, like other staff at the Aurora facility, also must have their identification inspected by a perimeter guard and must swipe their cards to gain access to the building.

Howard worked at the facility for eight years and was involved with the facility's communications systems. He was recently told he was being transferred to Hawaii.

Durbin said it's possible that Howard's suitcase did not cause concern because security believed he was retrieving personal belongings in preparation for his move.

Howard was charged with destruction of aircraft or aircraft facilities, a felony. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.


Contractor Who Set FAA Facility Fire Faces Federal Charges

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