May 15, 2008 6:54 pm US/Central

Flight Attendant Accused Of Setting Fire On Flight

A 19-year-old flight attendant angry at having to work a route set a fire in an airplane bathroom, forcing the plane to make an emergency landing, authorities say.

Eder Rojas, of Woodbury, Minn., was arrested in Minneapolis on Wednesday. He is being prosecuted in Fargo, where the Compass Airlines flight with 72 passengers and four crew members landed safely on May 7, after smoke filled the back. No injuries were reported.

Officials said the plane was flying from Minneapolis to Regina, Saskatchewan.

Court documents said Rojas told authorities he was upset at the airline for making him work that route. He allegedly set the fire inside a paper towel compartment in the rear bathroom of the plane.

Compass is a subsidiary of Northwest Airlines. Northwest spokesman Rob Laughlin said Rojas has been fired.

Rojas made his initial court appearance in Minneapolis on Thursday and was ordered held without bail pending another court date Monday, 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 immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Authorities said Rojas asked for extra paper towels and tissue before the plane left Minneapolis. He allegedly took a lighter from another flight attendant's home earlier that day and had it with him when he went through the security checkpoint.

"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 say.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lynn Jordheim, who is prosecuting the case in Fargo, would not comment.

Pilot Steve Peterka told authorities that an indicator light came on about 35 minutes into the flight, showing smoke in the rear bathroom.

The court documents say Peterka called Rojas, who was assigned passengers in the back of the flight, and asked him to check the bathroom. 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.

FBI agent Ralph Boelter said Compass Airlines officials showed "extraordinary cooperation" in the investigation.