A flight attendant has been accused of secretly recording a 9-year-old girl while she used the bathroom aboard an American Airlines flight.
Estes Carter Thompson III, 37, was arrested in January after a 14-year-old girl from North Carolina noticed an iPhone taped to the toilet on the flight he was working on and alerted her parents.
The FBI then found other victims after searching his devices and iCloud. Among the abuse images were some of a nine-year-old girl from Texas whose parents are now suing both Thomson and American Airlines, per documents seen by DailyMail.
In the lawsuit, filed on Tuesday, the girl’s parents claim Thompson took images of the girl in January 2023, as she used the bathroom of the flight heading to Los Angeles. The girl and her family had been on their way to Disney World and a gymnastics competition.
The images, recovered from Thompson’s iCloud by the FBI, showed the girl’s face, buttocks, and genitals, according to the complaint.
‘It felt like we were living in a nightmare when the FBI showed up on our doorstep to tell us that our daughter had been secretly filmed by an American Airlines flight attendant. Since then, our daughter has struggled with fear and anxiety,’ the girl’s family told DailyMail.com in a statement.
‘We are doing everything we can to support her during this traumatic time. An important part of our family’s healing is making sure that the flight attendants and American Airlines are held accountable for what happened to our daughter. We hope that this lawsuit is the first step in making sure nothing like this ever happens to another family.’
Police have previously said that Thomson, from North Carolina, had recordings of four other minor female passengers using lavatories on an aircraft he had worked on previously.
Thompson was charged with attempted sexual exploitation of children and possession of child sexual abuse images depicting a prepubescent minor.
Investigators said that about midway through the September 2, 2023, flight from Charlotte to Boston, the 14-year-old got up to use the main cabin lavatory nearest to her seat but found it was occupied.
Thompson then told her the first-class lavatory was unoccupied and escorted her there, investigators said. Before she entered the bathroom, Thompson allegedly told her he needed to wash his hands and that the toilet seat was broken.
After he left, the teen entered the bathroom and saw red stickers on the underside of the toilet seat lid, which was in the open position, stating, ‘INOPERATIVE CATERING EQUIPMENT’, ‘REMOVE FROM SERVICE’ and ‘SEAT BROKEN’ handwritten in black ink on one of the stickers, according to court documents.
Beneath the stickers, Thompson had concealed his iPhone to record a video, investigators said. The girl used her phone to take a picture of the stickers and concealed the iPhone before leaving. Thompson then immediately went back into the bathroom.
The girl told her parents and her father confronted Thompson, who locked himself in the lavatory with his iPhone for three to five minutes before the flight´s descent, investigators said.
The minor’s parents also informed other flight attendants and the captain was notified. The captain then contacted law enforcement on the ground.
When the flight landed, police said Thompson’s phone may have been restored to factory settings while he was locked in the bathroom.
A search of Thompson´s suitcase found 11 ‘INOPERATIVE CATERING EQUIPMENT’ stickers, investigators said. A search of his iCloud account allegedly revealed four additional instances between January and August 2023 in which Thompson recorded a minor using the lavatory on an aircraft.
Those depicted in the recordings were 7, 9, 11 and 14 years old at the time, investigators said. More than 50 images of an unaccompanied 9-year-old were also found in his account, including close-ups of her face while she slept in her seat.
The 14-year-old’s family have also filed a lawsuit against Thomson and the airline.
Police also say they found ‘images of AI-generated child pornography’ on Thompson’s iCloud account.
American Airlines issued a statement saying they take the allegation very seriously. They also said the flight attendant was ‘immediately withheld from service following the September 2023 incident’ and hasn´t worked since.
‘They don´t reflect our airline or our core mission of caring for people,’ the statement read. ‘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.