FAA official, politicians tour damage at Aurora facility

AURORA, Ill. (WLS) -- FAA chief Michael Huerta along with senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk toured the heavily damaged radar center in Aurora Friday that was sabotaged a week ago.

The chief and politicians took the tour to see the destruction and damage. For the first time, the FAA has released photos of construction taking place where that damage occurred.

When senators Durbin and Kirk had a chance to tour that, it left an impression on both of them.

"This fire and the smoke and soot that came from it created such havoc in this technical, sensitive equipment that people rely on for the safety of airlines and the safety of our lives," said Sen. Dick Durbin.

"For those of you that are space nerds like I am, it looked like right after the Apollo fire with all sorts of cabling that was burnt by, what I was told, was four gallons of gas that he brought in there to torch the place," said Sen. Mark Kirk.

"This was an act of sabotage where someone willfully and knowingly damaged key infrastructure for our national airspace system," Huerta said.

The destructive fire happened one week ago, forcing a full ground stop at Chicago's airports and triggering cancellations and delays across the country. Problems still lingered at both airports Friday.

"It just shows how weak the infrastructure is, that one person can do this and ruin everything for thousands and thousands of people," said Rick Dumont, a frustrated traveler.

That one person is Brian Howard, a 36-year-old Naperville man, who is now charged with destruction of aircraft facilities. His attorney says the former FAA contract employee was trying to commit suicide.

At O'Hare Friday, some trips were delayed and some airlines cancelled more than 230 flights. At Midway, Southwest passengers are still trying to get to their destinations after the airline cancelled all flights Thursday afternoon

Margi Briggs-Casson is headed to Steamboat Springs, Colo.

"It didn't snarl me too badly. I was able to cancel what I was supposed to be doing in Steamboat today," Briggs-Casson said.

"I had to cancel a dentist appointment. I had to cancel a chiropractor appointment, so all those things had to be changed as well," said Tim Housser, a delayed traveler.

The FAA administrator emphasized that he has ordered a 30-day investigation to look into all of the problems. Some politicians that were present also offered alternatives - for example, making sure that Congress is able to fund the FAA when they ask for additional money. There was also a suggestion by Sen. Kirk to have a button to enact a backup system.

The FAA is trying to repair the existing control system for an Oct. 13 deadline, although a new system is planned to be installed in two years, Huerta said.
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