LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES — A YouTuber pilot who bailed out midair and deliberately sent his plane crashing into the ground to bolster viewing numbers on his channel could be jailed for up to 20 years, US authorities said Thursday.
In a video seen by nearly three million people and entitled “I crashed my aeroplane,” Trevor Jacob appears to experience engine trouble while flying over southern California in November 2021.
The dramatic footage shows Jacob, 29, ejecting from the single-engine plane — selfie stick in hand — and parachuting into the dense vegetation of the Los Padres National Forest.
Cameras placed all over the aircraft show its out-of-control descent into the forest and its eventual crash landing.
Jacob films himself hiking to the wreckage where he appears dismayed to discover the water he packed has disappeared.
Viewers see him bush-whacking through poison oak and over hills as he seemingly struggles to find civilization, giving regular updates about how thirsty he is, and how lost he feels.
Finally, he stops to scoop water from a stream, and moments later comes across a vehicle and apparent salvation as night falls.
In the weeks after the incident, investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) launched a probe into the crash, and Jacob was ordered to preserve the wreckage.
The YouTuber told officials he did not know where the plane had gone down, but, according to a plea deal lodged in Los Angeles, two weeks after the drama he and a friend winched the wreckage out of the forest with a helicopter, having earlier recovered data from the onboard cameras.
Over the next few days, he cut up the plane into small pieces and dumped the parts in trash bins in and around Lompoc City Airport.
The FAA, the body that regulates flying in the United States, yanked Jacob’s pilot’s license in April 2022.
In a plea agreement, Jacob admitted he had intended to obstruct federal authorities when he disposed of the wreckage and had created the video to make money through a sponsorship with a wallet company.
“Jacob further admitted he lied to federal investigators when he submitted an aircraft accident incident report that falsely indicated that the aircraft experienced a full loss of power approximately 35 minutes after takeoff,” a statement from the Department of Justice said.
“Jacob also lied to an FAA aviation safety inspector when he said the aeroplane’s engine had quit and, because he could not identify any safe landing options, he had parachuted out of the plane.”
He has agreed to plead guilty to one count of destruction and concealment with the intent to obstruct a federal investigation, a crime that carries a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.
The YouTuber is expected to formally enter his plea in Los Angeles in the coming weeks, and be sentenced at a later date.
The video he posted, which can be seen here, attracted a lot of criticism in the weeks and months after it was published.
Numerous pilots and aviation experts commented that Jacob had failed to take even elementary steps to restart his plane’s apparently troubled engine.
Others pointed out that he could easily have safely glided the plane to a landing spot, and that wearing a parachute while flying a small aircraft was highly unusual.