A pilot who’s been trying to grow his YouTube following admitted to the Department of Justice that he intentionally crashed his plane to make money from video views and close a sponsorship deal.
Trevor Jacob, 29, filmed himself jumping out of his single-propeller plane above the Los Padres National Forest in Southern California in November 2021. Jacob has 140,000 subscribers and his video, aptly titled “I Crashed My Airplane” has over 4 million views — by far his most successful upload.
In the video, Jacob announced he was flying the 1940 Taylorcraft with the ashes of his friend Johnny Strange, who died in a wingsuit accident in 2015. Jacob’s third most successful video is a documentary on his friend.
Jacob claimed in the video he was experiencing engine failure and filmed himself jumping out of the plane with a parachute. The rest of the footage details the alleged aftermath of the crash; he claims he spent hours hiking through woods and brush to find help.
Immediately after the video went live, aviation experts and enthusiasts shared their takes on the footage and questioned its authenticity. Moments that raised suspicions included Jacob not contacting air traffic control; opening the door before he said the engine had failed; not attempting to restart the engine or find a safe place to land and, most notably, wearing a parachute to fly the plane in the first place.
Dan Millican, who runs the YouTube channel “Taking Off,” said in a video that it was unusual that Jacob would wear a skydiving parachute while flying a small aircraft. The parachute is too heavy and can become “problematic” in such limited space. Millican also thought it would’ve been safer for Jacob to try to land the plane than parachute out.
A month after Jacob uploaded the video, the Federal Aviation Administration confirmed in a statement that it was investigating the crash. In April 2022, Jacob’s pilot’s license was revoked.
On May 11, Jacob pleaded guilty to one count of destruction and concealment with the intent to obstruct a federal investigation. He could face up to 20 years in prison.
“According to his plea agreement, Jacob is an experienced pilot and skydiver who had secured a sponsorship from a company that sold various products, including a wallet,” the Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California wrote. “Pursuant to the sponsorship deal, Jacob agreed to promote the company’s wallet in a YouTube video that he would post.”
The Justice Department added that Jacob had told investigators that he would help them find the wreckage, but then said he didn’t know where it was, despite having filmed footage of the crash. The DOJ then discovered that Jacob and a friend flew a helicopter to the site and brought the remains to a hangar at the Lompoc Airport in Lompoc, Calif., where Jacob took it apart further and disposed of its parts.
In January, Jacob told the New York Times that he “did not purposely crash my plane for views on YouTube” and added that he is always “filming everything I do.”
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