911 Recordings Released From Air Control Center Fire

Fire allegedly set by contract employee continues to cause problems for Chicago air travel

Newly-released recordings provide some insight into the first frantic moments on the ground and in the air after a fire broke out at an Aurora Federal Aviation Authority facility Friday.

The fire, allegedly intentionally set by contract employee Brian Howard, triggered widespread cancellations and delays at Chicago's O'Hare and Midway international airports, and days later continues to affect air travel.

The first call to Aurora's 911 center, from a person who identified himself as "Ivan," gives little indication of how serious the fire inside the FAA facility on East Indian Trail Road was or how much damage it was doing to the sensitive computers and telecommunications inside.

Dispatcher: Aurora 911. Where is your emergency?
Caller: This is at the FAA.
Dispatcher: Yes, what's going on there?
Caller: We got smoke in the building so we need the fire department out here.
Dispatcher: OK, can you tell where it's coming from?
Caller: Inside the building. We got calls from the person inside to call the fire department.
Dispatcher: You don't know which part of the building they're coming from?
Caller: No, I don't know which part of the building it's coming from, but it's smoke inside.
Dispatcher: Your name?
Caller: Ivan.
Dispatcher: Alright, we are on the way. Thank you.

When police and firefighters arrived, they found Howard inside suffering from burns and self-inflicted wounds to his neck and arms in what appeared to be a suicide attempt.

By that time, the building had been evacuated and other radar centers were picking up flights flying through Chicago air space.

On the ground, the O'Hare tower was telling pilots to park their planes and shut them down.

The water used to fight the fire caused more damage inside the facility than the fire itself.

FAA officials say new equipment is being built and will be transported to the Aurora facility, but that may not happen until Oct. 13.

An FAA analysis showed that by 1 p.m. Tuesday, almost 80 percent of the average Tuesday traffic for the past two months was flying in and out of O'Hare, and about 85 percent at Midway.

Howard appeared in federal court Monday for an initial hearing. He is being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago.

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