Man accused in Chicago air traffic disruption appears in court

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 29, 2014 5:01 PM

By Mary Wisniewski

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A man accused of setting fire to an air control facility in Chicago on Friday, causing an outage that continues to disrupt flights, appeared in federal court on Monday to hear the charges against him and was ordered held without bond.

Brian Howard, 36, of the Chicago suburb of Naperville, appeared in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Illinois and was charged with damaging an air navigation facility, interfering with its operations and endangering the safety of aircraft in flight.

He did not enter a plea.

Howard, a telecommunications contractor at the control center for eight years, tried to kill himself with a knife at the center on Friday when he sabotaged the facility, according to the criminal complaint against him.

He was released from hospital on Monday morning and appeared in court with a bandage around his neck.

"He made a tragic mistake in the course of trying to end his own life," his defense attorney, Ron Safer, told reporters after the hearing.

The center controls aircraft flying above 5,000 feet over a large part of the central United States. The sabotage on Friday affected more than 3,000 flights.

Howard was disgruntled because he had been told he was being transferred to Hawaii, according to the criminal complaint. He posted a Facebook message early on Friday saying he was going to take his life. Friends who saw the message alerted the police.

Cancellations and delays continued on Monday at Chicago airports, with 300 canceled flights at O'Hare International Airport, according to Chicago's Department of Aviation.

The U.S. aviation safety agency's top official said on Monday he has asked for a review of all U.S. air traffic control contingency plans and security policies following the incident.

Speaking at an industry conference, Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Michael Huerta said the agency won't hesitate to make changes in security policies if needed.

Huerta, in his first public comments since the incident, said 20 of 29 pieces of communications equipment were damaged by the fire and were still being replaced.

(Writing by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Eric Walsh)