FARGO, N.D. – A flight attendant angry about his work route smuggled a lighter aboard an airplane and set a fire in a bathroom, forcing an emergency landing, authorities said Thursday.
The Compass Airlines flight carrying 72 passengers and four crew members landed safely in Fargo on May 7 after smoke filled the back. No injuries were reported. The plane was flying from Minneapolis to Regina, Saskatchewan, authorities said.
Eder Rojas, 19, appeared in court Thursday, following his arrest a day earlier in Minneapolis, and ordered held without bail, prosecutors said. The charge of setting fire aboard a civil aircraft carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
His public defender did not return a phone call seeking comment. Assistant U.S. Attorney Lynn Jordheim, who is prosecuting the case in Fargo, would not comment.
Court documents said Rojas, of the Twin Cities suburb of Woodbury, told authorities he was upset at the airline for making him work the route. He is accused of taking a lighter with him through the security checkpoint, authorities said.
“Rojas further stated that he was preparing his cart to serve the passengers, he set the cart up, went back to the lavatory and reached in with his right hand and lit the paper towels with the lighter,” court documents said.
Pilot Steve Peterka told authorities that an indicator light came on about 35 minutes into the flight, showing smoke in the rear bathroom.
Peterka called Rojas, who was assigned passengers in the back of the plane, and asked him to check the bathroom, documents said. Rojas, another flight attendant and a passenger were credited with quickly putting out the flames with fire extinguishers, authorities said.
Investigators later found a lighter in one of the overhead bins. Rojas confessed after authorities interviewed him, the complaint said.
Compass is a subsidiary of Northwest Airlines, based in Eagan, Minn. Rojas has been fired, said Northwest spokesman Rob Laughlin. Northwest did not say how long Rojas worked for the airline.
FBI agent Ralph Boelter said Compass Airlines officials showed “extraordinary cooperation” in the investigation.