LOS ANGELES – A YouTuber pilot has agreed to plead guilty to a felony charge for obstructing a federal investigation by deliberately destroying the wreckage of an airplane that he intentionally crashed in Santa Barbara County to gain online views, the Justice Department announced today.
Trevor Daniel Jacob, 29, of Lompoc, agreed to plead guilty to one count of destruction and concealment with the intent to obstruct a federal investigation, a crime that carries a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.
A plea agreement and a one-count information charging Jacob were filed Wednesday in United States District Court in Los Angeles. He is expected to make his initial court appearance in the coming weeks.
According to his plea agreement, Jacob is an experienced pilot and skydiver who had secured a sponsorship from a company that sold various products, including a wallet. Pursuant to the sponsorship deal, Jacob agreed to promote the company’s wallet in a YouTube video that he would post.
On November 24, 2021, Jacob took off in his airplane from Lompoc City Airport on a solo flight purportedly destined for Mammoth Lakes. Jacob did not intend to reach his destination, but instead planned to eject from his aircraft during the flight and video himself parachuting to the ground and his airplane as it descended and crashed, he admitted in the plea agreement
Prior to taking off, Jacob mounted several video cameras on different parts of the airplane and equipped himself with a parachute, video camera and selfie stick. Approximately 35 minutes after taking off, while flying above the Los Padres National Forest near Santa Maria, Jacob ejected from the airplane and videoed himself parachuting to the ground.
Using the video camera mounted on the selfie stick and the video cameras he mounted on the airplane, Jacob was able to record the airplane as it descended and crashed into a dry brush area in Los Padres National Forest. After parachuting to the ground, Jacob hiked to the location of the wreck and recovered the data containing the video recording of his flight and the crash of the airplane, the plea agreement states.
On November 26, 2021, Jacob informed the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) about the plane crash. The NTSB, which launched an investigation into the crash on or about that same day, told Jacob that he was responsible for preserving the wreckage so the agency could examine it. Jacob agreed to determine the crash location and provide both the coordinates of the downed plane and videos of the crash to NTSB investigators. Three days later, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) launched its own investigation into the plane crash.
In the weeks following the plane crash, Jacob lied to investigators that he did not know the wreckage’s location, according to the plea agreement. In fact, on December 10, 2021, Jacob and a friend flew by helicopter to the wreckage site. There, Jacob used straps to secure the wreckage, which the helicopter lifted and carried to Rancho Sisquoc in Santa Barbara County, where it was loaded onto a trailer attached to Jacob’s pickup truck.
Jacob drove the wreckage to Lompoc City Airport and unloaded it in a hangar. He then cut up and destroyed the airplane wreckage and, over the course of a few days, deposited the detached parts of the wrecked airplane into trash bins at the airport and elsewhere, which he admitted in his plea agreement was done with the intent to obstruct federal authorities from investigating the November 24 plane crash.
On December 23, 2021, Jacob uploaded a YouTube video titled, “I Crashed My Airplane,” that contained a promotion of the wallet and depicting him parachuting from the plane and the aircraft’s subsequent crash. Jacob admitted in his plea agreement that he intended to make money through the video.
Jacob further admitted he lied to federal investigators when he submitted an aircraft accident incident report that 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 FAA revoked Jacob’s pilot license in April 2022.
The United States Department of Transportation – Office of Inspector General investigated this matter. The NTSB and FAA provided substantial assistance.
Assistant United States Attorney Mark A. Williams, Chief of the Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Section, and Assistant United States Attorneys Dennis Mitchell and Dominique A. Caamano, also of the Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Section, are prosecuting this case.