YouTuber and former Olympian Trevor Jacob ignited discussions and countless breakdowns in aviation media after jumping out of a perfectly flyable plane. The video of the incident has many calling it staged. Now, the Federal Aviation Administration has launched its own investigation.
On December 23, 2021 Trevor Jacob posted a video to YouTube titled I Crashed My Plane. Jacob, a former U.S. Olympic Team snowboarder, hopped into a 1940 Taylorcraft BL-65 to spread the ashes of his late best friend Johnny Strange. The November 24 flight departed Lompoc City Airport in Santa Barbara destined for Mammoth Lakes, California. The flight would never reach its destination.
During the flight, the aircraft’s engine appears to stall before failing. Inside of the cockpit, Jacob is wearing a parachute. The video shows him looking around briefly before popping open the door and hopping out, selfie stick in hand. Cameras mounted around the aircraft show its unfortunate demise.
If you’ve read my previous posts about engine failures, you know this looks odd. For a good example, check out the excellent landing a student pilot made after an engine failure in a populated area at lower altitude.
One of the things I learned before I even hit 10 hours in my flight training was how to handle an engine failure. There’s a process to follow covering engine failures in a variety of situations, including his. The Cessna 172 I train in even has a simple checklist. You’ll be unsurprised to learn that “jump out of the plane” is not taught and not on a checklist.
Jacob says he always wears a parachute, but his own videos show that to be untrue. Regardless, putting on a parachute for every flight is also not something you’ll be taught, nor will you see pilots doing it.
Instead, you learn how to pitch the plane for its best glide, find to a safe place to land, then put the aircraft down. And while that is happening, you can work through the aircraft’s starting procedure to see if the engine can be restarted. It seems none of that happened here.
It’s unsurprising that Jacob is under investigation by the FAA, as AVWeb reports. It’s unclear what penalties or charges Jacob could face, but it is illegal to fly a plane in a reckless manner. And if the crash is found to be intentional, the aircraft’s insurance company may not be pleased.
The video has sparked a lot of pushback from experts and other pilots. This analysis on the Taking Off YouTube channel takes a look at the crash from a professional perspective:
The channel points out that for the FAA, the investigation will likely be about intent, not how weird Jacob was acting. A pilot with experience in a BL-65 offered up his own observations and found that the plane likely had plenty of fuel in it and that the engine could have been restarted by pointing the nose down and building up some speed.
Others have noted that it appears Jacob’s headset and the fuel selector valve were both disconnected.
The Santa Barbara Independent spoke to sources at Lompoc City Airport, who indicated that it looked like Jacob never actually intended to make the full journey:
They described the aircraft as in a state of disrepair and in need of major maintenance. Jacob attempted to complete a few fixes on his own, the sources claimed, but seemed to struggle.
A flight instructor interviewed by the Santa Barbara Independent further questioned Jacob’s decision to jump as the plane could have had 15 to 20 miles of glide. There was a road only a few miles away that could have made for a makeshift runway.
The FAA investigation could take a year or longer. Until then, we don’t truly know what happened up there. If you’re getting into flying and you run into engine troubles, here’s what you need to do: aviate, navigate and communicate. Don’t crash a flyable plane if you don’t have to.