Flight Attendant Started Fire in Lavatory on American Airlines Jet: FBI

A flight attendant started a fire in an American Airlines plane's lavatory and then pretended to discover and extinguish it, the FBI said Wednesday.

Johnathan Tafoya-Montano is charged with "destruction of aircraft or aircraft facilities" and lying to investigators, investigators said in a news release.

Image: American Airlines aircraft pictured in Miami in this file photo.
American Airlines aircraft Lynne Sladky / AP

A court document states he was working on Flight AA1418 from Dallas-Fort Worth to Detroit on Feb. 1 when he reported there had been a fire in a rear lavatory and that he had extinguished the flames.

The captain notified air traffic controllers and declared an emergency but the plane, which was already on approach to Detroit, landed without incident and all passengers safely disembarked.

NTSB investigators later concluded that the fire was started deliberately and that nobody else had been in the lavatory for at least 15-20 minutes prior to the blaze.

Tafoya-Montano was arrested Tuesday and interviewed in Detroit where he admitting previously lying about the fire, according to the court document.

It added that Tafoya-Montano said he used a green Bic disposable lighter to set fire to paper towels in the lavatory and then "pretended to discover the fire" before putting it out with a fire extinguisher and notifying other crew members of an emergency.

He was charged and released on bond on condition that he did not fly without permission from a court, the FBI said.

His court-appointed attorney was not available for comment, according to the Detroit Free-Press which reported that Tafoya-Montano was aged 23 and from Texas.

American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein said: "We take this matter very seriously, and have been cooperating with law enforcement throughout their investigation."