Power Restored at Atlanta Airport After 11-hour Blackout, But Normal Service Won’t Return for Days

Passengers wait for the lights to come back on at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017, in Atlanta.
Passengers wait for the lights to come back on at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017, in Atlanta.

Power has been restored at the nation’s busiest airport after a Sunday blackout stranded thousands of passengers and grounded at least 1,500 flights, but normal service is still a few days away.

A “switch failure” sparked a fire that knocked out power at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Paul Bowers, CEO of Georgia Power, which provides electricity to the airport, said today on “Good Morning America.”

The outage slowed planes on the tarmac to a crawl, and turned flights on radar screens into spaghetti doodles as they were rerouted away from the airport.

The mechanical failure and subsequent fire, which Bowers said was being investigated to determine whether there was foul play, will limit the airport’s operations until the end of the week.

“We will fix that cable this week and have all the service back to normal operations by the end of the week,” he said.

The power outage started at around 1 p.m. Sunday.

Airport personnel, Atlanta Fire and Rescue officials and Georgia Power staff were on the scene to respond and restore service as passengers sat on planes on the tarmac or runways for hours, witnesses and officials confirmed to ABC News.

The central issue, Bowers said, was that a switchgear “ignited” and “impacted our cables and the cables coming from two different directions and that’s what ultimately caused the outage.”

Not only did the main system fail, he added, but the airport’s backup system went out as well.

“So you have seven cables that come through this airport,” Bowers explained. “One tunnel; and this tunnel it is the feed source, if you will, for both directions.

“That switchgear itself sits on the bottom of that tunnel, and when it ignited, it burned up that wall where you see cables coming through.”

The issue at hand is that the four cables coming from one direction and three coming from the other direction were compromised by flames and heat as a result of the blaze.

Authorities announced Sunday evening that electricity would be restored at the airport by midnight and, by 11:45 p.m., power had been restored for all essential airport activities, including all concourses and flight operations, Georgia Power announced via Twitter, but not before about 30,000 people were affected by the blackout.

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ABC News