A United Airlines passenger allegedly sexually assaulted his seatmate but he told an FBI investigator that his hand slipped on the victim’s breast after the plane hit some mild turbulence.
Ivan Lopex Jr, 26 of Yonkers, New York is accused of rubbing his hand against the breast and nipple of his female victim during a United Airlines between Las Vegas and Washington Dulles on December 24, 2021.
The victim told investigators she had fallen asleep during flight UA1484 while seated in a middle seat beside Lopez who was sitting next to her in the aisle seat. She woke to the “feeling of someone rubbing up and down on her right breast.”
According to an affidavit submitted to the court by the investigating FBI agent, Lopez was leaning over the victim while rubbing her right breast and nipple with a “repetitive motion” that was “not accidental” and lasted around 10-seconds
The victim yelled at Lopez and he “jumped up from his seat and moved to the back of the aircraft”.
A flight attendant claims Lopez approached them in the galley at the back of the plane and told them he had just sexually assaulted his seatmate by grabbing “her tits”. Lopez allegedly told the flight attendant he was sorry and that he thought he was in trouble.
The flight attendant moved Lopez to a different seat and arranged for law enforcement to meet the aircraft on arrival but before the flight was over, Lopez returned to the galley and once again said he was sorry and that he had a disability.
In an interview, Lopez told investigators that he had simply wanted to get the attention of the victim to ask her what she was listening to through her headphones. He went to poke the victim’s shoulder but the plane hit mild turbulence which caused him to miss her shoulder and instead poke her breast.
Lopez has been charged with abusive sexual contact onboard an aircraft and, if convicted, faces a possible maximum sentence of two years in prison. The charges were laid after a federal grand jury returned an indictment in the case.
In a separate incident, on Tuesday, another grand jury returned an indictment against a passenger on an Ethiopian Airlines between Dublin and Washington Dulles. Elias Fethamlk, 40, allegedly assaulted a flight attendant after she refused to serve him alcohol as the plane came into land.
Fethamlk has been charged with assault and faces a maximum sentence of up to 20 years imprisonment if found guilty.
Late last year, the White House directed the Justice Department to prioritize criminal complaints that have occurred in airports and on planes after a surge in unruly passenger incidents. The number of unruly passenger incidents remain high but are, at the very least, starting to trend downwards.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.