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Child allegedly molested during flight

DETROIT, Michigan (CNN) -- Northwest Airlines and the FBI are investigating charges that a 10-year-old girl traveling alone on a flight was molested by another passenger.

The girl, who is from Bay City, Michigan, was traveling as an unaccompanied minor August 4 on Northwest Flight 1186 from Kansas City, Missouri, to Detroit.

After departing the plane in Detroit, she immediately told her mother and stepfather that a man sitting next to her on the plane had touched her inappropriately. The girl then pointed out the man to airport authorities as he was waiting to board a flight to Amsterdam, Netherlands, said FBI spokesperson Dawn Clenney.

The man is identified as Ravichandra Thuluva (rah-vee-CHAHN'-drah too-LOO'-vah), 28, of Bombay, India, and was in the United States on a working visa. Thuluva told investigators he had been employed as a computer consultant in Kansas City and was to board a connecting flight to Amsterdam, which would then travel to Bombay.

Handling kids flying solo no small feat  
Read more about Northwest's unaccompanied minors program  
Sound Off: Would you put your child on a flight alone?  

Thuluva is being detained on a federal complaint of engaging or attempting to engage in sexual contact with the girl, authorities said. A formal indictment is still pending. Any crime committed on board an airplane is considered a felony since U.S. air space is considered federal jurisdiction.

During a detention hearing and preliminary exam Monday, Federal Magistrate Donald Scheer ordered Thuluva to be held without bond, calling him a danger to the community and a possible flight risk.

The alleged victim was sitting in seat 10a, a window seat, during the 1.5- to 2-hour flight. The girl told investigators Thuluva, sitting in seat 10b, "had put his hand down her pants" and "into her shirt," according to an FBI affidavit.

The alleged victim said she "told the man to stop numerous times and that she slapped his hand away numerous times when he attempted to touch her," stated the affidavit.

She also stated that "she was too scared to tell anyone on the airplane of the sexual contact."

Man denies improper contact

But in his statement, Thuluva said he "placed his left hand on her right upper thigh on two occasions," according to the affidavit. Thuluva told investigators he only placed his hand on the girl's thigh to calm her down because she was scared during takeoff and when the plane encountered some turbulence.

"He denied he touched her improperly," said James Thomas, an attorney representing Thuluva.

Thomas added that the only evidence in this case so far is the testimony of a 10-year-old girl.

"It is very premature to get worked into a frenzy at this point. The investigation is continuing. We don't want there to be a rush to judgment," said Thomas.

A Northwest Airlines spokesperson could not comment on whether any flight attendants or other passengers on the plane noticed an altercation between Thuluva and the girl.

"We are investigating the incident and are working closely with the authorities," said spokesman Doug Killian.

He said flight attendants are required to check on children flying alone, but did not offer specifics on how often they are supposed to check on the minors.

Girl traveling under 'World Kids' program

The unidentified girl was traveling under Northwest's "World Kids" unaccompanied minor program, which applies to children ages 5-14, said Killian.

Program guidelines require a parent or designated adult to be with the child as they are boarding a gate. A flight attendant then accompanies the child to his or her assigned seat on the plane.

A Northwest representative will accompany minors departing the plane and must accompany them to any connecting flights and verify they are boarding the correct flight.

Once unaccompanied minors reach their final destination, a Northwest representative must check the identification of the parent or designated adult picking up the minor before releasing that child to their custody.

About 100,000 children travel unaccompanied on Northwest flights each year, said Killian. The fee for the airline chaperone is $40 per minor for a one way flight.

This is the latest of several incidents involving children traveling alone on airplanes.

America West had two recent instances where unaccompanied minors were placed on the wrong connecting flight, the latest this past weekend.

Last week, America West announced it would no longer allow minors to travel alone on non-direct flights as of September 11, 2001.

• Northwest Airlines

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