From the ASSOCIATED PRESS
LOS ANGELES — Across the country and around the world, hundreds of flights headed into or out of the Southwest were grounded Thursday because of repeated breakdowns in the region's air traffic control radar.
By the time the order from the Federal Aviation Administration was lifted more than four hours later, airports around the country were gridlocked with aircraft lined up on the ground, flights canceled and thousands of passengers stranded or delayed.
"I've got a grandma dying in New Mexico and I can't get there," said Davis Hill of Boise, Idaho, as he waited for a connecting flight at Los Angeles International Airport.
The problem called into question again the safety of the nation's air traffic control system.
The malfunction took place at the FAA's Los Angeles Center in the Mojave Desert community of Palmdale. The air traffic control center covers much of California and parts of Nevada and Utah. The system broke down twice in the morning.
FAA spokesman Jerry Snyder said a backup system took over and there were no safety problems for aircraft in the air.
However, the backup system doesn't have the automatic feature that passes off planes from one regional controller to another, and requires a controller to manually type in the flight information.
Hundreds of flights into and out of Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, San Jose, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, Nev., were grounded.
Snyder said the failure was the result of a computer software upgrade Wednesday night. "It's not accepting the software," Snyder said.
The first main computer outage lasted more than an hour and a half, from 6:50 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. The computer went down again at 9 a.m. and was restored again at 11:15 a.m., but only after the new software was removed in favor of the old.
The FAA lifted the grounding order in stages to allow an orderly flow of traffic.
"Right now, it doesn't look like I'll get home until tomorrow," said Alan Verpy, who was waiting in Los Angeles for a flight to Minneapolis.
There were tense moments for FAA controllers. At one point, there was no more room on the ground at Los Angeles International Airport and flights from Australia, for instance, were sent to Las Vegas.
"It's been pretty crazy," said Garth Koleszar, local vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. "Every flight in and out of our sector was affected."
Asked if there were any safety concerns, he said: "Any time you use a system that isn't the best that we have, I feel there is a degradation."