By | February 27, 2024

A former American Airlines flight attendant was charged with secretly recording or attempting to record a 14-year-old girl using a bathroom on a passenger jet during a flight from Charlotte, N.C., to Boston, the U.S. attorney’s office said Friday.

Estes Carter Thompson III, 36, of Charlotte, was indicted by a federal grand jury on one count of attempted child sexual exploitation and one count of possession of child pornography depicting a prepubertal minor, the office said in a statement. Thompson was previously charged in a criminal complaint and arrested in January in Lynchburg, Va.

He has been in federal custody since his arrest, prosecutors said.

He also allegedly had recordings of four more underage girls using the bathroom on planes he previously worked on, prosecutors said.

Thompson was an attendant on the flight from Charlotte to Boston on Sept. 2, 2023, when about halfway through the flight the teenage girl went to use the bathroom in the main cabin, closest to where she was seated, prosecutors said. . The bathroom was occupied, so she waited a short time until Thompson allegedly approached her and told her the first-class restroom was available.

He escorted her toward first class and before she entered, Thompson allegedly told her he needed to go inside to wash his hands and that the toilet seat was broken, prosecutors said.

After he left, the girl went inside and saw red stickers on the underside of the toilet seat lid that read “NON-FUNCTIONAL CATERING EQUIPMENT” and “REMOVE FROM SERVICE,” prosecutors said. They said “SEAT BROKEN” was handwritten in black ink on one of the stickers.

Thompson allegedly hid his iPhone under the red stickers to record a video, prosecutors said. The girl used her phone to take a picture of the red stickers and the hidden iPhone she found in the bathroom and left.

Thompson immediately went back into the bathroom while the girl went back to her seat, told her parents what happened and showed them the picture, prosecutors said. Her parents reported the matter to other flight attendants on board who notified the captain.

The captain then notified police at the scene, the prosecutor said. The girl’s father allegedly confronted Thompson, who locked himself in the bathroom with his iPhone for three to five minutes before the flight’s descent.

When the flight arrived at Logan International Airport in Boston, authorities saw that Thompson’s iPhone may have been reset to factory settings, prosecutors said. Authorities searched Thompson’s suitcase and allegedly found 11 stickers like the ones the girl found on the back of the toilet seat.

“A search of Thompson’s iCloud account allegedly revealed four additional occasions between January and August 2023 in which Thompson recorded a minor using the restroom on an airplane,” prosecutors said.

Hundreds of images of AI-generated child pornography were also allegedly found stored on Thompson’s iCloud account, prosecutors said.

“All minor victims involved in this case have been identified and their families have been contacted by police,” prosecutors said.

Thompson faces a minimum of 15 years and up to 30 years in prison if convicted of attempted child sexual abuse, prosecutors said. He also faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of possession of child pornography depicting a prepubertal minor.

Both charges also include a minimum of five years and up to a lifetime of supervised release, fines of up to $250,000 and restitution, prosecutors said.

American Airlines said in a statement shortly after his arrest that it “takes these allegations very seriously.” The flight attendant was immediately suspended from duty after the incident in September 2023, according to the airline, and has not worked there since.

Thompson’s alleged actions “do not reflect our airline or our core mission of caring for people,” the statement said. “We have cooperated fully with law enforcement in its investigation as there is nothing more important than the safety and security of our customers and team.”

Adam Sennott can be reached at

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