FAA Investigates Former Olympian

Administration looking into possible staging of an aircraft accident for social media.

Trevor Jacob jumps out of his Taylorcraft BL-65. [YouTube Screengrab]

The FAA is investigating YouTuber Trevor Jacob for allegedly staging an aircraft accident in November. Jacob—the former Olympic snowboarder turned YouTuber—was flying solo over the Los Padres National Forest north of Los Angeles on November 24, when the engine on the Taylorcraft BL-65 allegedly quit. Jacob, a private pilot, was wearing a sport parachute and bailed out of the aircraft.

The pilotless airplane crashed as Jacob floated to earth.

At the time of the event, Jacob was allegedly enroute from Lompoc City Airport (KLPC) in Santa Barbara County to Mammoth Lakes (KMMH) in order to snowboard. He had recently purchased the aircraft and according to several reports in local newspapers, there is some question as to whether the aircraft was airworthy at the time of the flight, as it needed maintenance.

Trevor Jacob [YouTube screengrab]

The aircraft had several cameras mounted on it and in it. The video shows Jacob's reaction to loss of engine power. Although there is a camera mounted inside the cockpit that faces the panel, there are no shots of the panel that show the position of the throttle or mixture knobs, or the position of the magneto switch at the time of the power loss or after.

The video shows the aircraft cockpit as viewed from the left wing and from the tail of the aircraft, and inside the cockpit Jacob has a handheld camera which is mounted on a selfie stick before he bails out. As he falls away from the aircraft, he keeps the camera pointed on his face.

The video was posted to YouTube on December 23, and since then it has been shared and copied numerous times. There have been over a million views of the video on YouTube alone. Jacob's other YouTube videos of his athletic activities garner on average a few thousand hits a day. 

The video has been heavily scrutinized. For example, it has been noted that there was a flat, open area in the distance. Ostensibly, Jacob could have attempted an emergency landing in that area instead of jumping from the aircraft.

Other things noticed in the video are what appears to be a significant amount of fuel in the header tank of the aircraft, as shown by the tube fuel gauge atop the cowling, and a freeze frame of Jacob's separation from the aircraft shows a cylindrical object strapped to his left calf—under his pant leg—that has the same dimensions as a fire extinguisher. A fire extinguisher is usually not carried as part of a pilot's personal equipment.

After the event, as he hikes out of the brush Jacob talks about the benefit of wearing a parachute, stating that he always wears one when he flies. However a search of his other flying videos shows this statement to be incorrect. 

The wreckage of the aircraft was allegedly recovered by Jacob a few days after he reported the accident to the National Transportation Safety Board and FAA. 

The NTSB normally does not investigate unscheduled, off-airport landings of vintage light aircraft unless there is a failure of a flight-control system, damage to something other than the aircraft in excess of $25,000, or serious injuries as the result of the accident. However, the NTSB has filed a preliminary report. 

Jacob sustained minor injuries in the form of a few cuts and bruises from landing in the brush.

If the FAA concludes that the accident was intentional and therefore staged, Jacob could be cited for violation of FAR 91.13: careless and reckless operation of aircraft. If it is determined that the aircraft was unairworthy at the time of the flight and there was no ferry permit, more citations could follow.

The FAA does not comment on ongoing investigations. It will be several months before the final report is released. For more information, pilots can reference the NTSB report by its file number: WPR22LA049.

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

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