On Feb. 1, Johnathan Tafoya-Montano was working on American Airlines Flight 1418 from Dallas-Fort Worth to Detroit. As the plane approached Detroit, the flight attendant reported a fire in a lavatory at the rear of the plane. The captain radioed the control tower and was given permission to make an emergency landing. No one was injured when the plane landed.
It is alleged Tafoya-Montano set fire to some paper towels by using a Bic lighter. The flight attendant then stood outside the lavatory for a few moments before “discovering the fire” and then putting it out with a fire extinguisher. Although authorities say they have no motive for what Tafoya-Montano allegedly did, it appears he set the fire in order to take credit for finding it and then putting it out.
On Wednesday, the FBI announced Tafoya-Montano, a 23-year-old from Texas, had been arrested on Tuesday. He faces one count of destruction of an aircraft or aircraft facilities and one count of making false statements.
It is alleged Tafoya-Montano told authorities several times the fire was an accident but finally admitted he had set the paper towels on fire.
The Detroit Free Press reports an FBI affidavit revealed some passengers and all of the flight crew were interviewed and it was determined no one had used this particular lavatory for 15 to 20 minutes prior to the fire. On Tuesday, Tafoya-Montano allegedly admitted setting the paper towels on fire and recanted his previous statements about the fire being an accident.
After an appearance in U.S. District Court in Detroit on Tuesday, Tafoya-Montano was released on bond but with conditions. One of those conditions was that he is not allowed to fly without permission of the court and he was given permission to fly home to Texas on Wednesday. He was escorted to the airport by an FBI agent and a security officer with American Airlines accompanied him on the flight to make sure he remained in his seat.
Under 18 U.S. Code 32, anyone found guilty of destruction of an aircraft or aircraft facilities can be fined and is liable to imprisonment for up to 20 years.