YouTuber who crashed plane for sponsorship dollars earns 6 months behind bars
There's an idiotic stunt, then there's obstructing a federal investigation
Of all the idiotic things people have done for views on YouTube, few are so reckless as deliberately crashing an airplane. Now, instead of sponsorship cash, Trevor Jacob has earned six months in prison for the stunt.
Professional snowboarder Jacob represented the US at the 2014 Winter Olympics. He also built a presence on the video sharing platform from 2012 with content revolving around extreme sports and aviation.
On December 24, 2021, Jacob uploaded a video to his YouTube channel titled "I Crashed My Airplane." In it, Jacob claims to be flying his dilapidated Taylorcraft BL-65 in order to spread the ashes of a friend over a mountainous region of Southern California.
Less than a minute into the video, cameras fitted to the airplane exterior capture what appears to be the engine failing over Los Padres National Forest. Conveniently, Jacob was already wearing a parachute and skydived from the falling aircraft – selfie stick in hand.
Jacob, now 30, survived the incident with minor injuries. Though his plane was obliterated, cameras caught the descent in all its cinematic glory.
As designed, of course.
He later hiked to the wreck to recover the footage and reported [PDF] the crash to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) two days after the incident. When the authority told him he had to preserve the site, he claimed not to know its location.
Early in December, he paid a helicopter company to remove the wreckage from the crash site and had it taken to his hangar at Lompoc Airport. There, he cut the remains up and hid them, all the while telling Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) investigators that he didn't know where the plane was. The US Forest Service noted the wreck's mysterious disappearance prior to the video's upload.
It wouldn't have taken a licensed pilot to figure out that the footage was staged. Viewers noted that it was unusual for a pilot of a civil aircraft to be wearing a skydiving parachute, and that he jumped out of the plane in a supposedly emergency scenario waggling a selfie stick. Plus the several digital cameras affixed to the exterior.
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No routine emergency actions were included in the video like trying to restart the engine, contacting air traffic control, or attempting a forced landing, which sparked further skepticism in aviation circles.
Following the video's upload, the FAA determined that Jacob had crashed the plane deliberately for YouTube clout. His private pilot license was revoked in April 2022 and he was charged with destruction and concealment with the intent to obstruct a federal investigation, a felony that carries a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
He pleaded guilty on May 11, confessing that the scheme was cooked up to earn commissions from a wallet manufacturer that sponsored the video.
At his sentencing in downtown Los Angeles yesterday, he said: "I apologize from the bottom of my heart. I look back in complete shame on my conduct."
US District Judge John Walter acknowledged that Jacob's regret was sincere, but said the offense required a prison sentence rather than probation, as pursued by his attorney.
"This was a scheme to gain notoriety and money," Walter said. "It's hard to reconcile his law-abiding life with the incredibly poor decisions he made."
Jacob was sentenced to six months behind bars. The prosecution had sought a 12-month term.
Yesterday, Jacob released another video titled "I Got My Pilots License Back! But Going To Prison..." ®