American Airlines flight attendant arrested for allegedly filming minors in plane toilet

An American Airlines flight attendant has been arrested for allegedly filming children in the bathroom of an aircraft, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) has said.

Estes Carter Thompson III, 37, is accused of taking a video of a 14-year-old girl by concealing his iPhone in the toilet during a flight in September 2023.

He is also alleged to have possessed recordings of four additional minor female passengers using lavatories aboard the aircraft he had worked on previously.

Mr Thompson, of Charlotte, North Carolina, was charged with one count of attempted sexual exploitation of children and one count of possession of child pornography depicting a prepubescent minor.

Prosecutors alleged that during the incident on September 2, Mr Thompson duped the child, who had been waiting to use the toilet, midway through the flight. He allegedly escorted her to an unoccupied lavatory in first-class.

Before the child entered the bathroom, Mr Thompson said he needed to wash his hands and that the toilet seat was broken, entering briefly, prosecutors claimed.

The teenager then entered the lavatory and observed red stickers on the underside of the toilet seat lid, which was in the open position, that stated, “inoperative catering equipment” and “remove from service” written on them.

The words “seat broken” was also written in black ink on one of the stickers, according to the charging documents, cited by the DOJ.

It is alleged that, beneath the red stickers, Mr Thompson had concealed his iPhone to record a video. The minor victim used her phone to take a picture of the red stickers and the concealed iPhone she found in the lavatory before exiting, at which time Mr Thompson allegedly re-entered it immediately.

The alleged victim reportedly returned to her seat and informed her parents who, in turn, informed the other flight attendants onboard, who notified the captain, who in turn notified law enforcement on the ground.

The child’s father also allegedly confronted Mr Thompson who proceeded to lock himself in the lavatory with his iPhone prior to the flight’s descent.

Upon arrival in Boston, law enforcement discovered that Mr Thompson’s phone appeared to have been restored to factory settings. A search of his briefcase found 11 stickers similar to those seen by the child in the aircraft lavatory.

A later search of Mr Thompson’s iCloud account allegedly revealed four additional instances between January and August 2023 in which he recorded a minor using the lavatory on an aircraft.

The minor victims allegedly depicted in the surreptitious recordings were seven, nine, 11 and 14 years old at the time.

Additionally, over 50 images of a nine-year-old unaccompanied minor were allegedly found in Mr Thompson’s iCloud. The images included photos taken while the minor victim was seated in her seat pre-flight and close-ups of her face while sleeping.

According to the DOJ, all minor victims involved in this matter have been identified and their families contacted by law enforcement.

Mr Thompson was arrested on Thursday in Lynchburg, Virgina, and will remain in custody pending his initial appearance in the Western District of Virginia. He will appear in federal court in Boston at a later date.

The alleged incident occurred on an American Airlines flight in September 2023

(Getty Images)

Acting United States Attorney Joshua S Levy said: “The deeply disturbing conduct alleged here is something no parent or child should ever have to worry about when they travel.

“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.

“Everyone – especially children – should feel safe and secure as airline passengers, and parents should feel comfortable traveling with their children. Protecting children is a paramount priority for this office and we will aggressively investigate and hold accountable people who victimize children.”

“Today, the FBI arrested Estes Carter Thompson III after he repeatedly targeted unsuspecting children to sexually exploit them for his own gratification.”

Jodi Cohen, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Division added: “What Mr Thompson is accused of doing is disgraceful, and we believe, calculated, given that this alleged conduct occurred on at least five flights.

“This case should make it crystal clear that the FBI takes crimes aboard aircraft and the sexual exploitation of children seriously. If you’ve been the victim of a crime aboard an aircraft or have witnessed one take place, we ask you to report it to both your flight crew and the FBI.”

The charge of attempted sexual exploitation of children provides for a sentence of at least 15 years and up to 30 years in prison.

The charge of possession of child pornography depicting a prepubescent minor provides for a sentence of at least five years and up to 20 years in prison.

Both charges also provide for at least five years and up to a lifetime of supervised release, a fine of up to $250,000 and restitution.

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