CHICAGO -- Air travel for thousands of people across the country was thrown into disarray Friday morning after a fire closed a major Chicago-area air traffic control center that directs traffic across a large swath of the Midwest.
Mystery surrounded the interruption, as authorities reported not only that a fire closed the Federal Aviation Administration control center in Aurora, Illinois, but also that a man was found with self-inflicted wounds there.
Responders found a person suffering from cuts to at least one wrist, two law enforcement officials told CNN, citing initial reports from investigators.
The person is being treated and questioned about the fire, which appears to have been intentionally set, the officials said. Investigators believe the person tried to commit suicide, the officials said.
The fire is not believed to be a terrorism act, Aurora Police Chief Greg Thomas told reporters. It appears to have been set by a contract employee, he said. Two people were injured: the male suffering from self-inflicted wounds and a man, 50, who was treated at the scene for smoke inhalation, Thomas said.
Flights in and out of Chicago's O'Hare International and Midway airports were stopped after the fire closed the control center around 6 a.m.
The closure affected many flights, because the center controls planes not just flying in and out of Chicago, but also those flying long-distance routes to other regions, raising the potential for thousands of flight delays nationwide.
Illustrating the point, the flight tracking website FlightRadar24.com showed no aircraft flying in an area stretching from eastern Iowa to central Michigan.
Planes destined for Chicago airports won't be allowed to depart until at least 10 a.m. CT (11 a.m. ET), the FAA said on its website.
More than 360 flights scheduled to depart O'Hare were canceled, as were 79 from Midway, Flightaware.com reported Friday morning.
The stoppages have the potential to create a nightmare ripple effect for travelers flying to O'Hare, one of the world's busiest airports.
"Anything (that was bound for Chicago) that is still on the ground in its originating city is holding there," American Airlines spokeswoman Leslie Scott said. "Anything in the air has the possibility of being diverted. And anything on the ground in Chicago will stay there."
Details about the fire weren't immediately available. But Aurora city spokesman Dan Ferrelli told CNN that police and fire crews found not only a fire in the basement, but also a man suffering from self-inflicted wounds.
Ferrelli confirmed that a person also suffered from smoke inhalation.
Workers at the Aurora center were evacuated, FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said. A helicopter crew with CNN affiliate WLS flew over the facility but said no flames or smoke could be seen from the air.
O'Hare serves more than 1,000 flights each day. Last year, it handled 883,000 takeoffs and landings, ranking it as the second-busiest airport on the planet, according to Airports Council International.
It's a main hub for United Airlines and other major carriers with flights headed to international destinations. When controllers stop flights scheduled to fly to O'Hare, it has the potential to trigger a line of falling air traffic dominoes that will ruin travel plans for countless would-be passengers.
Smoke at FAA facility stopped Chicago flights in May
Friday's flight stoppages come four months after smoke at an FAA radar facility in Elgin, Illinois, prompted flight cancellations and delays at O'Hare and Midway.
In that May 13 incident, most flights in and out of O'Hare were delayed by an average of an hour or more, and more than 600 flights were canceled, the Chicago Department of Aviation said. Some 75 flights were canceled at Midway.
The smoke in that May incident was caused by a faulty motor in an air conditioning system, the FAA said at the time.
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