All flights in and out of Chicago's two airports were halted Friday morning because of a fire at a suburban Chicago air traffic control facility. The ground stop threatened to send delays and cancellations rippling throughout the nation's air travel network, as more than 500 flights had already been canceled in Chicago and more were expected.
The fire started in the basement of the Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center in Aurora, about 40 miles west of downtown Chicago, city of Aurora spokesman Dan Ferrelli said in an emailed statement.
The center was evacuated because of the fire, Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Elizabeth Cory said, and management of the region's air space was transferred to other facilities. Authorities said it was unclear how long the stoppage would last.
Emergency crews discovered a man in the basement of the facility with a self-inflicted wound and took him to the hospital, Ferrelli said. He gave no details on the injury, but said it was not from a gunshot. It was not clear whether the man had anything to do with the fire, which was quickly distinguished. An employee of the facility was treated at the scene for smoke inhalation.
By 8:30 a.m., more than 580 flights at O'Hare and Midway had been canceled, according to aviation tracker FlightAware.com. FlightAware.com spokesman Daniel Baker said the number of cancellations and delays are expected to rise considerably over the next few hours. Southwest Airlines suspended all flights at Midway until noon, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation.
It was the second time since May that a problem at one of the Chicago area's major control facilities prompted a ground stop at O'Hare and Midway international airports.
In May, an electrical problem forced the evacuation of a regional radar facility in suburban Elgin. A bathroom exhaust fan overheated and melted insulation on some wires, sending smoke through the facility's ventilation system and into the control room.
That site was evacuated for three hours, and more than 1,100 flights were canceled.
The Aurora facility is known as an en-route center, and handles aircraft flying at high altitudes, including those on approach or leaving Chicago's airports. Air traffic closer to the airports is handled by a different facility and by the control towers located at the airfields.
A computer glitch at a similar facility on the West Coast in April forced a 45-minute shutdown at Los Angeles International Airport.