A former American Airlines flight attendant was criminally charged Thursday and accused of using a phone to secretly record a young girl in a plane lavatory, federal prosecutors said.
The girl discovered the iPhone affixed to a toilet seat, with a large sticker that said the seat was broken to partially conceal it, on the Sept. 2, 2023, flight from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Boston, officials said.
Estes Carter Thompson III, 36, was arrested Thursday by the FBI and is charged with one count of attempted sexual exploitation of children and one count of possession of child pornography depicting a prepubescent minor, the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston said in a statement.
Prosecutors said investigators also discovered videos of four other minor girls also using the facilities on planes where Thompson worked.
Thompson was immediately withheld from service after the incident and has not worked since, American Airlines said.
“We take these allegations very seriously. They do not reflect our airline or our core mission of caring for people,” the airline said in a statement Thursday. It added it has been fully cooperating with investigators.
Acting U.S. Attorney Joshua S. Levy called the alleged conduct “deeply disturbing” and one no traveler should have to face or be concerned about.
“Mr. Thompson allegedly used his position to prey on and surreptitiously record innocent children, including unaccompanied minors, while in a vulnerable state aboard flights he was working,” Levy said in a statement.
The family of the 14-year-old victim on the September flight filed a lawsuit against the airline in December.
In Thompson’s iCloud account, investigators found videos of four other young girls in plane lavatories, ages 7, 9, 11 and 14 years old, the U.S. attorney’s office said. They were made last year between Jan. 26 and Aug. 23, according to an FBI affidavit.
Online federal court records did not appear to list an attorney for Thompson.
He is being held pending an initial appearance in West Virginia, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
The charge of attempted sexual exploitation of children carries at least 15 and up to 30 years in prison, if convicted, the U.S. attorney’s office said, and the other charge carries at least five years and up to 20 years in prison.