CHARLOTTE, NC – Estes Carter Thompson III, a 36-year-old flight attendant with American Airlines, was arrested Thursday for allegedly recording underage girls using the bathroom on flights he was working. The matter came to light when a 14-year-old passenger discovered a hidden camera in the bathroom during a flight from Charlotte to Boston in September.
Thompson had allegedly disguised his cell phone under stickers on the underside of the toilet seat lid. He is accused of possessing similar secret recordings of four other minor girls, ranging in age from 7 to 14, from earlier flights he had worked. The evidence was discovered through a federal probe sparked by the incident in September.
Thompson’s modus operandi was to leverage his role as a flight attendant. In the incident unearthed in September, he steered the 14-year-old girl to the first-class bathroom when the one she initially tried to use was occupied. He entered the bathroom briefly to allegedly hide his phone, and then allowed her to use it.
The girl noticed the disguised phone beneath the warning stickers upon using the bathroom, clicked photographs of the setup and shared them with her parents. The incident was reported to the flight attendants, who in turn informed the plane’s captain.
When confronted by the girl’s father, Thompson allegedly locked himself in the bathroom for five minutes, potentially to destroy evidence, before the plane landed.
At Boston’s Logan Airport, police found his phone to be potentially reset to factory settings. A search of his belongings, however, revealed additional stickers matching those used in the bathroom setup.
Prosecutors reported that Thompson’s iCloud account, which was not wiped in his attempts to erase traces of his activities, held further incriminating evidence. It contained four separate instances where he had captured girls using the airplane restroom and over 50 images of a 9-year-old unaccompanied minor sleeping in her seat. Also stored were hundreds of AI-generated explicit images involving children.
Following the discovery in September, American Airlines removed Thompson from service. Simultaneously, the family of the 14-year-old victim filed a lawsuit against the airline for failing to confiscate his phone promptly after learning of the incident.
Thompson now faces charges for attempted sexual exploitation of children and possession of child exploitation material involving a prepubescent minor. He is being held prior to an impending court appearance and potentially faces up to 50 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.