An American Airlines flight attendant was arrested in Virginia on Thursday by federal agents who accused him of recording young girls in airplane bathrooms, federal prosecutors in Massachusetts announced.
Estes Carter Thompson III, 36, has been charged with sexual exploitation of children and possession of child pornography depicting a prepubescent minor. He was caught in September by a 14-year-old girl he attempted to record in the bathroom, according to the office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts.
According to a probable cause affidavit obtained by HuffPost, Thompson approached the girl while on a flight from Charlotte, North Carolina to Boston.
Thompson noticed the girl was waiting outside the plane’s lavatory, then offered for her the first-class lavatory and escorted her there. Thompson then went into the lavatory before the girl, stating he had to wash his hands, and when he came out, he told her the toilet seat was broken.
According to the affidavit, the 14-year-old “felt that the amount of time” he was in the lavatory seemed “a little long for simply washing his hands.”
The girl saw red stickers underneath the toilet seat lid with handwritten words that stated “INOPERATIVE CATERING EQUIPMENT” and “REMOVE FROM SERVICE,” and “SEAT BROKEN,” according to the affidavit.
According to the affidavit, when the 14-year-old turned to flush the toilet, she noticed an iPhone peeking out from behind the stickers. The girl took a photo of the iPhone and the stickers before leaving, and Thompson allegedly entered the bathroom immediately after she exited.
The girl showed her parents a photo of the hidden iPhone when she returned to her seat, per the affidavit. Her mother rushed to the lavatory to find the stickers and iPhone gone.
Agents said her father confronted the flight attendants on board, including Thompson, and demanded to see his iPhone. The father “saw the color drain out” of Thompson’s face, the affidavit read.
After the father confronted him, Thompson allegedly retreated into the lavatory with his phone and stayed there until the flight’s descent.
Law enforcement on the ground met with Thompson and asked to search his phone. According to the affidavit, police who searched Thompson’s iPhone suspected he restored the phone to factory settings. However, a search of Thompson’s iCloud revealed that he had recorded young girls using the plane’s toilet at least four different times, the affidavit said.
The girls Thompson recorded were 7, 9, 11 and 14 years old when the images were allegedly taken, between January and August 2023.
The case documents said police found more than 50 photos of a 9-year-old, including images of her behind and close-ups taken while she was sleeping during a flight, as well as AI-generated child sex abuse material.
A search of Thompson’s suitcase also found the stickers the 14-year-old girl had observed.
In a statement to HuffPost, American Airlines said the company takes “these allegations very seriously.”
“We have been fully cooperating with law enforcement in its investigation, as there is nothing more important than the safety and security of our customers and team,” the statement read.
Thompson has been kept from working for the airline since September and hasn’t worked since, according to the airline.
Paul T. Llewellyn, an attorney representing the family of the 14-year-old in a lawsuit against the airline, told HuffPost in an email that the incident “should never have been allowed and must never happen again.”
“It is also shocking to hear that he allegedly preyed on at least five minors while they were flying on American,” Llewellyn said. “While the criminal justice system must now run its course against the flight attendant, it remains to be seen whether American Airlines will now finally take some measure of responsibility to the families for what happened. ”