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Engineer Sentenced 12 Years For Setting Fire To ATC Center And Cutting Cables

September 14, 2015 - A Naperville engineer who severed critical communication cables at an air-traffic control center in Aurora, causing thousands of flight cancellations and delays throughout the country, was sentenced on Friday to 12 ½ years in federal prison.

Brian Howard used wire cutters to sever multiple telecommunication cables at the Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center in Aurora on Sept. 26, 2014, disabling the Control Center’s communication with critical data centers and in-flight aircraft.

He then set fire to the equipment to inflict further damage. The result was the immediate grounding of planes flying over the Midwest, and several days of flight cancellations and delays across the country.


Howard, 37, pleaded guilty in May to one count of willfully damaging, destroying or disabling an air navigation facility, and one count of using fire to commit a federal felony. In addition to the 150-month prison term, U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman ordered Howard to pay $4,502,361 in restitution to the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Brian 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,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Polovin. “He committed a violent crime that put thousands of lives at risk, and his crime warranted the sentence he received.”

At the time of the incident, Howard worked as an engineer for Harris Corp., a telecommunications contractor for the Federal Aviation Administration. This position enabled Howard to gain access to an area of the Control Center’s basement that housed key components of the Control Center’s telecommunication infrastructure.



Howard admitted in his plea agreement that by severing the cables and setting fire to the Control Center’s telecommunication equipment, he increased the risk to aircraft traveling through the Control Center’s airspace. He further acknowledged in the plea agreement that his actions were intended to disrupt air travel and to effectively shut down the Control Center. Paramedics arrived at the Control Center shortly after the incident and found Howard attempting to slice his own throat with a knife, according to a criminal complaint and affidavit. Howard told the paramedics to leave him alone, but the paramedics took the knife out of his hand and administered treatment, the affidavit states.

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