Twenty-nine-year-old YouTuber, skydiver, and formerly certificated pilot Trevor Jacob signed a plea agreement that he will not oppose spending up to two years in federal prison for destroying and discarding the wreckage of his Taylorcraft BL-65, which he crashed intentionally to gain online attention—and profit.
Jacob agreed to plead guilty to one count of destruction and concealment with the intent to obstruct a federal investigation (18 U.S.C. § 1519), a crime that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. Jacob’s agreement with prosecutors, subject to a federal judge's approval, was announced May 11 in a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.
Two days after the incident, on November 26, 2021, Jacob reported the accident to the NTSB. On or around the same day, the NTSB opened an investigation into the crash and told Jacob that he was responsible for preserving the wreckage so the agency could examine it. Jacob also agreed to share the coordinates of the airplane’s location and videos of the crash with NTSB investigators. Three days later, the FAA launched its own investigation into the accident.
It’s important to note that every aircraft operator has a duty to preserve their accident wreckage per 49 CFR 830.10.
According to the plea, in the weeks that followed, Jacob repeatedly lied to investigators about not knowing where the aircraft wreckage was located, when, in fact, Jacob had hiked to the crash site after the incident and removed the video recordings of the flight and the crash. Then, on December 10, 2021, Jacob and a friend had the aircraft airlifted by helicopter to Rancho Sisquoc in Santa Barbara County, California. From there, the wrecked aircraft was placed onto a trailer that was attached to Jacob’s vehicle, and driven to Lompoc Airport, where it was unloaded into Jacob’s hangar.
Next, Jacob took apart and destroyed the aircraft wreckage, depositing pieces into various trash receptacles at the airport and elsewhere, which he admits in the plea agreement that he did with the intent to obstruct federal authorities from investigating the crash.
On December 23, 2021, Jacob uploaded I Crashed My Airplane, YouTube video that showed the flight; the supposed engine failure; and Jacob parachuting to safety as his airworthy, antique aircraft plummeted. In the video Jacob also purported that he was making the flight to Mammoth Lakes, California, to spread his friend’s ashes.
The video was quickly pulled apart by internet sleuths, pilots, and aviation enthusiasts who commented that Jacob made no attempt to glide the aircraft to a safe landing spot, took his camera on a selfie stick with him as he exited the aircraft, was already wearing a parachute, and appeared to have what looked like a fire extinguisher in his pant leg.
Prior to the infamous flight, Jacob secured a sponsorship from a company that sells various products, including a wallet that Jacob promoted in a video found elsewhere on YouTube, but apparently omitted or deleted from the YouTube video Jacob posted that documents his exit from the aircraft, inspection of the wreckage, and hike to a farm. According to the plea agreement, Jacob “intended to make money by promoting the wallet in the video that would depict, among other things, defendant [Jacob] parachuting from the airplane, and the airplane descending and crashing.”
Prosecutors noted in the press release that Jacob also admitted to lying to federal investigators when he “falsely indicated that the aircraft experienced a full loss of power approximately 35 minutes after takeoff. Jacob also lied to an FAA aviation safety inspector when he said the airplane’s engine had quit and, because he could not identify any safe landing options, he had parachuted out of the plane.”
The plea agreement also notes that with his guilty plea, should Jacob’s sentence be no more than 24 months, Jacob waives his right to appeal several aspects of his sentencing including the length of imprisonment and any fine imposed by the court within the statutory maximum, which is "$250,000 or twice the gross gain or gross loss resulting from the offense, whichever is greatest," according to the plea agreement.