Former flight attendant pleads guilty to setting fire
Sept. 27, 2011, Fargo, N.D. - A former flight attendant pleaded guilty
in federal court Monday to starting a fire aboard an airplane more than
three years ago and forcing an emergency landing in North Dakota.
Eder Rojas, 22, formerly of Woodbury, Minn., told authorities he used a
lighter stashed in one of the overhead bins to ignite paper towels in
the rear bathroom of the Compass Airlines flight from Minneapolis to
"He was mad at the airline for making him work the route he was on,''
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brett Shasky said during Monday's hearing.
The flight took off from Minneapolis about 10:30 p.m. on May 7, 2008,
with 72 passengers and four crew members. Before takeoff, Rojas had
requested additional paper towels and tissue, Shasky said.
About 35 minutes into the flight, an indicator light alerted the captain
there was smoke in the bathroom. Shasky said there were "flames
shooting out'' of a paper towel holder. Rojas helped put out the fire
while the plane made a rapid descent into Fargo, the prosecutor said.
Prosecutors agreed to drop a charge of failure to appear in exchange for
the guilty plea to the charge of setting fire aboard an aircraft. The
failure to appear charge was filed after Rojas didn't show up for trial
in September 2008 and was on the run for nearly three years. He was
arrested in his native Mexico in March and returned to North Dakota in
Rojas faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is set for Dec. 16.
Prosecutors have said that about five weeks before the Compass flight,
Rojas was aboard another flight that was forced to make an emergency
landing in Wisconsin because of a bathroom fire. Rojas helped put out
the fire, as he did on Compass flight. No charges have been filed in the
flight that landed in Wisconsin.
U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon declined to comment after Monday's hearing.
Neil Fulton, federal public defender for the Dakotas, did not return a phone message.