Johnathan Tafoya-Montano: American Airlines Flight Attendant Accused Of Starting Fire On Plane

Johnathan Tafoya-Montano, a 23-year-old flight attendant from Texas, has been arrested by the FBI after he confessed to have set an aircraft bathroom on fire last month. According to the Detroit Free Press, Montano was aboard American Airlines Flight 1418 from Dallas to Detroit on February 1, 2016, when he went into the bathroom and set fire to paper towels kept in the rear lavatory.

He then came out of the bathroom and stood outside it and later pretended to have “discovered” a fire. He then used a fire extinguisher to douse the flames and reported an emergency to other flight attendants onboard the plane — during which he portrayed himself as a hero who saved the lives of hundreds of people on board the aircraft. Minutes later, the captain of the plane was notified about the fire, who in turn alerted the Air Traffic Control. The plane was allowed to make an emergency landing at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Luckily, no one was injured in the incident.

After the plane landed safely, Johnathan was taken in by authorities for questioning. He initially maintained that the fire onboard the aircraft was an accident and cooked up several stories to back up his claim. Authorities, however, found several of his claims inconsistent. In the end, Johnathan reportedly admitted that it was he who intentionally set fire to the paper towels kept in the rear lavatory using a green Bic lighter. Once the fire gained intensity, he doused the flames himself and portrayed himself a hero.

On Monday, the FBI arrested Johnathan, who made his initial appearance in the U.S. District Court yesterday after charges were filed a month after the incident. He was released on bond — but was escorted by an FBI agent till the Detroit Metro Airport and boarded an American Airlines flight back to Dallas. In the flight, he was escorted by a corporate security officer. The court had also asked Johnathan to remain seated during the entire duration of the flight.

An official statement was released by the FBI — parts of which read as follows.

“David P. Gelios, special agent in charge of FBI Detroit Division, announced today the arrest of Johnathan Tafoya-Montano. Mr. Tafoya-Montano was working as a flight attendant on an American Airlines flight that was traveling from Dallas, Texas to Detroit on February 1, 2016.

“An investigation revealed that Mr. Tafoya-Montano had set the fire himself, and he eventually admitted to such. Mr. Tafoya-Montano has been charged with destruction of aircraft or aircraft facilities” and false statements or entries generally. He was arrested on March 1, 2016, and his detention hearing was earlier today. He was released on bond with conditions. One of the conditions included a prohibition from flying without permission of the court.”

According to court documents, Johnathan had joined American Airlines only one and a half year ago and had worked for a doctor’s office in New Mexico. In 2014, he was arrested once for DUI and was convicted.

An American Airlines Boeing 737 landing at Monteaal airport By Alexandre Gouger - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
An American Airlines Boeing 737 landing at Montreal airport [Photo by Alexandre Gouger – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons]
Authorities are still unsure about the motive behind Johnathan’s actions.

Meanwhile, an FBI agent who was part of the investigation filed an affidavit in the court, in which he says that FBI and airport police officials interviewed several passengers who were aboard American Airlines Flight 1418 on the day the incident happened. They also talked to the crew members onboard the flight that day. Everyone confirmed that no one had used the rear lavatory for at least 10 or 20 minutes before the fire started. The only person that had close access to the lavatory was Johnathan himself.

The FBI then questioned Johnathan once again, after which he admitted to them that all of his previous statements claiming the fire was an accident were false. He admitted to have created the fire himself.

Authorities have charged Johnathan Tafoya-Montano with “destruction of aircraft or aircraft facilities” and “false statements or entries generally.” He is not allowed to board an aircraft during the period of his bond unless he received an explicit permission from the court.

What do you think was Johnathan’s motivation behind this bizarre, dangerous behavior onboard an aircraft?

[Photo by Sergey Kustov –, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons]