Fire at Chicago-area air traffic control center disrupts flights across country

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SAN DIEGO -- A number of flights to and from San Diego's Lindbergh Field were canceled Friday after a fire closed a major Chicago-area air traffic control center that directs traffic across a large swath of the Midwest.

As of 9 a.m., 15 flights to or from San Diego had been canceled, airport officials said. The affected carriers were American, Southwest and United.

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. The

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. As of 8:40 a.m., about 1,300 flights around the country had been canceled or delayed.

"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."

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.

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