CHICAGO (Reuters) - A Chicago-area man was sentenced on Friday to 12-1/2 years in federal prison and was ordered to pay $4.5 million in damages, for cutting cables and setting fire to a major air traffic control center in September last year, the U.S. District Attorney said.
Brian Howard, 37, who worked as a telecommunications contractor at the Air Route Traffic Control Center in Aurora, Illinois, apologized at his sentencing hearing, which lasted more than two hours before U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman.
Communications for dozens of jets flying in the Midwest were wiped out when Howard set fire to telecoms equipment and tried to kill himself by slashing his neck with a knife, prosecutors said.
The damage caused days of flight cancellations and delays across the country and millions of dollars in damage to the Federal Aviation Administration facility, prosecutors said.
Howard, who faced up to 30 years in prison, told the judge he had been depressed and that he acted out of despair, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune.
"Howard attacked a critical piece of infrastructure in our nation's airspace, causing one of the most severe disruptions to air travel in recent memory," Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Polovin said in a statement. "He committed a violent crime that put thousands of lives at risk."
He used wire cutters last Sept. 26 to sever cables at the center then rubbed gasoline on equipment before setting it on fire, according to a guilty plea that he entered in May.
The center where he worked controls aircraft flying above 5,000 feet over a large part of the central United States, including Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, one of the world's busiest airports.
(Reporting by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Sandra Maler)