Estes Carter Thompson III, 37, of Charlotte, has been charged with the following:
Attempted sexual exploitation of children
Possession of child pornography depicting a prepubescent minor
Thompson was arrested on Thursday, Jan. 18, in Lynchburg, Va., 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 FBI explained.
The former American Airlines flight attendant is accused of “surreptitiously recording, or attempting to record, a minor female passenger using a lavatory aboard an aircraft he was working in September 2023.”
He is also alleged to have possessed recordings of four additional minor female passengers using bathrooms aboard the aircraft he had worked previously, the FBI stated.
The FBI believes that Thompson secretly recorded passengers on at least five flights.
According to charging documents, on Sept. 2, 2023, while working as a flight attendant on an American Airlines flight from Charlotte to Boston Thompson recorded, or attempted to record, a 14-year-old girl as she used the plane’s bathroom.
Documents state, halfway through the flight, the teen girl got up to use the main cabin bathroom nearest to where she was seated. When the 14-year-old girl got to the bathroom, it was occupied. After she had been waiting a short time, Thompson allegedly approached her, told her that the first-class bathroom was open, and walked her toward first class.
Before she entered the bathroom, Thompson allegedly told her that he needed to wash his hands and that the bathroom’s toilet seat was broken and briefly entered.
It is alleged that, after Thompson got out of the bathroom, the girl entered and saw red stickers on the underside of the toilet seat lid, which was in the open position, that said, “inoperative catering equipment,” “remove from service,” and “seat broken.”
It is alleged that, beneath the red stickers, Thompson had hidden his iPhone to record a video. The girl used her phone to take a picture of the red stickers and the hidden iPhone she found in the bathroom before leaving, at which time Thompson allegedly re-entered it immediately.
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According to documents, when she returned to her seat, she told her parents what she saw and showed them the photos. The teen’s parents reported it to other flight attendants who notified the Captain, who then notified law enforcement on the ground. It’s alleged that the teen’s father confronted Thompson who, shortly thereafter, locked himself in the bathroom with his iPhone.
After the plane landed in Boston at Logan Airport, authorities seized Thompson’s iPhone, where they found four more instances between January and August 2023 where he recorded a minor using the bathroom on the plane. The victims were 7, 9, 11, and 14 years old at the time.
The FBI states more than 50 images of a 9-year-old were allegedly found on Thompson’s iCloud. They said the photos were taken while the minor was seated in her seat pre-flight and there were close-ups of her face while sleeping. According to the FBI, hundreds of images of AI-generated child porn were also found on his iCloud account.
The charges of attempted sexual exploitation of children carry a sentence of at least 15 years and up to 30 years in prison. The charges of possession of child porn depicting a prepubescent minor carry a sentence of at least five years and up to 20 years in prison.