American Airlines flight attendant set fire to plane bathroom and pretended to find it, FBI says

The flight attendant was arrested and charged with destruction of aircraft or aircraft facilities. Photo / iStock
The flight attendant was arrested and charged with destruction of aircraft or aircraft facilities. Photo / iStock

An American Airlines flight attendant set fire to an airplane bathroom and then played a hero by pretending to discover it and extinguish the flames, authorities said.

Johnathan Tafoya-Montano has been arrested and charged with destruction of aircraft or aircraft facilities and false statements in the incident, which occurred February 1 en route from Dallas to Detroit, the FBI said Wednesday in a statement.

Authorities have not yet announced a motive.

Tafoya-Montano, who was working on board American Airlines flight 1418 from Dallas to Detroit, alerted crew members to a fire in the rear lavatory and then extinguished it, the FBI said in a statement. The captain notified air traffic controllers and the plane, which was approaching Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Detroit, was granted emergency status to land, authorities said.

Passengers and crew members were not injured.

The FBI, along with the Wayne County Airport Authority Police Department, investigated the incident and later determined the fire had been set, according to court documents.

"After admitting that he had lied to the FBI and airport police, Tafoya-Montano provided several stories about how the fire accidentally started," according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court. "After further questioning, Tafoya-Montano recanted all of his 'accident' stories and admitted that he intentionally set fire to the paper towels located in the rear lavatory of the airplane.

"Tafoya-Montano used a green colored Bic lighter to start the fire. Once the fire gained intensity, he immediately put the fire out."

Tafoya-Montano stood in the hallway for several minutes before he pretended to stumble upon the fire, according to the court documents. He then alerted the other flight attendants, grabbed a fire extinguisher and put out the remaining flames, according to the documents.

During the initial investigation last month, authorities said Tafoya-Montano gave false statements to FBI agents about the incident.

Tafoya-Montano, who had worked for American Airlines more than a year, was arrested Tuesday. Following an initial court appearance in U.S. District Court in Michigan earlier this week, he was released on bond.

An FBI agent escorted Tafoya-Montano on Wednesday afternoon to Detroit Metro Airport where he boarded an American Airlines flight back to Dallas, according to the Detroit Free Press.

A corporate security officer went with him to make sure he stayed in his seat during the entire flight, according to the newspaper.

Tafoya-Montano's court-appointed attorney was not available for comment.

- Washington Post

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