The Federal Aviation Administration has found that Trevor Jacob, a daredevil YouTuber who posted a video of himself last year parachuting out of a plane that he claimed had malfunctioned, purposely abandoned the aircraft and allowed it to crash into the Los Padres National Forest in Southern California.
In a letter to Jacob on April 11, the FAA said he had violated federal aviation regulations and operated his single-engine plane in a “careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.”
The agency said it would immediately revoke Jacob’s private pilot certificate, effectively ending his permission to operate any aircraft.
Reached by email Wednesday, Jacob appeared unaware of the FAA’s ruling and replied, “Where’d you get that information?”
He did not immediately respond to follow-up emails.
In a video posted on his YouTube channel last week, Jacob, a former snowboarding Olympian turned YouTuber with more than 100,000 subscribers, briefly addressed the airplane controversy, saying, “I can’t talk about it, per my attorney.
“But the truth of that situation will come out with time,” he added, “and I’ll leave that at that.”
The FAA does not have the ability to prosecute; it can only revoke and suspend certificates and issue fines. The agency ordered Jacob to surrender his private pilot certificate and said he could face “further legal enforcement action” if he did not do so, including a civil penalty of up to $1,644 for each day that he did not return it.
A spokesperson for the Transportation Department’s Office of Inspector General said in a statement that the agency, which oversees the FAA, could “neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation” into Jacob’s flight Nov. 24.
A 13-minute video of the crash, titled “I Crashed My Plane,” has more than 1.7 million views. It shows Jacob piloting a small 1940 Taylorcraft plane with several cameras attached, recording the sweeping views of Los Padres National Forest.
Jacob said in a statement in January that he had flown that day to spread the ashes of his best friend, Johnny Strange, over the top of a Sierra Nevada mountain. Strange died in 2015 while BASE jumping, an extreme sport in which people parachute from a fixed object or structure, such as a cliff.
In the video, Jacob unleashes a flurry of expletives when the propeller stops spinning. He opens the plane’s door and jumps out with a parachute, abandoning the plane as he descends toward the forest, a selfie stick in hand to record it all.
“I’m just so happy to be alive,” he says after landing in prickly brush. He documented his hike through the forest, which, he says in the video, lasted at least six hours until a farmer found him at dusk. Earlier, he had found the wrecked, mangled plane in a thicket of dried shrubs.
Almost immediately after he posted the video Dec. 24, viewers and aviation experts expressed doubts online over his portrayal of the crash. It was orchestrated, they claimed, for views and likes, and several steps Jacob took, such as wearing a parachute in the first place, were evidence of a preconceived publicity stunt.
Jacob turned off comments for the video.
The FAA agreed about the parachute in its letter, which it released in response to a request from The New York Times, and pointed out other revealing details that officials had uncovered during an investigation.
“During this flight, you opened the left side pilot door before you claimed the engine had failed,” the FAA wrote.
Before jumping out of the plane, the agency said, Jacob made no attempt to contact air traffic control on the emergency frequency, did not try to restart the engine by increasing airflow over the propeller and failed to look for a place to safely land, “even though there were multiple areas within gliding range in which you could have made a safe landing.”
After the crash, Jacob also “recovered and then disposed of the wreckage,” the FAA said.
“You demonstrated a lack of care, judgment and responsibility by choosing to jump out of an aircraft solely so you could record the footage of the crash,” the agency said. “Your egregious and intentional actions on these dates indicate that you presently lack the degree of care, judgment and responsibility required of a certificate holder.”