Some Phoenix-bound airline passengers got an unusual disruption Saturday as they learned their flights were being diverted because of reports of a fire at the airport.
Passengers on at least two inbound flights were told by flight crews that smoke or a fire at the air-traffic control tower at Sky Harbor International Airport was causing delays or flight diversions.
Ian Gregor of the Federal Aviation Administration confirmed the air-traffic control facility had been evacuated because of a report of smoke in the building. Oversight of flight operations was transferred to controllers in Albuquerque during the time, but operations returned to normal when no fire was found.
A Sky Harbor official said the incident disrupted flights, but the airport did not immediately have information on the extent of the impact. As of Saturday afternoon it appeared passengers headed to Phoenix would reach their New Year's Eve destinations.
In Boise, a Southwest Airlines employee made an announcement in the terminal that a Phoenix flight would be delayed because of a reported fire in the air-traffic control terminal. However, passengers were asked to board the plane about 20 minutes later and told flights were cleared to land at the airport. That flight was scheduled to leave within minutes of its original departure time.
Chris Frailey, a professional photographer, was on his way home from a trip to the Dallas area when his American Airlines flight crew made an announcement that their landing in Phoenix would be delayed. After flying a holding pattern, he said, their pilot announced there was a fire at the control tower.
"It was a little wild," Frailey said. "All I could think about was one of the Die Hard movies."
The plane diverted to Tucson to land there. Then, a few minutes later, the pilot announced the Sky Harbor operation was back up and running. In the end, the flight landed at about 2:30, less than 45 minutes late. "I'm walking through Terminal 4 right now," Frailey said, "and it seems like business as usual."