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YouTuber who crashed plane for views pleads guilty to obstructing feds

Doing anything for 15 minutes of fame could mean up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

(CN) — It’s hard finding an audience on YouTube between videos of teenage pranksters and people playing video games as fast as they can, but one YouTuber admitted he went too far in his search for fame and money by crashing his plane for views.

For years, Trevor Daniel Jacob from the California town of Lompoc posted a wide variety of self-produced videos on his YouTube channel which mostly involved him performing high-adrenaline sports like skateboarding, snowboarding and skydiving, and flying small planes. With titles like “A Helicopter Left Me In The Ocean” and “I Brought My Dog Flying (Bad Idea),” as well as videos about giving away hotdogs and money to homeless people, and videos about dealing with addiction and depression, Jacob’s viewership ranged from a couple thousand for some videos, to a couple million for others.

His third most popular video, with almost 3 million views, shows Jacob flying his prop plane above the Los Padres National Forest when some sort of engine trouble seems to force Jacob to parachute out of the plane cabin — selfie stick in hand — while the plane crashes into shrubbery. We later see Jacob trek through the forest to get a view of the wrecked plane, and perilously try to find a way home without water or food through thorny shrubs until he ultimately is rescued by local farmers.   

It's high drama worthy of a big budget movie, but in a plea deal with the feds, Jacob admitted it was all staged in part to promote a sponsorship he had with a company that makes wallets and other products. 

On Thursday, Jacob agreed to plead guilty to obstructing the federal investigation into the cause of the crash. His plea deal details how Jacob, an “experienced pilot and skydiver," took off from Lompoc in November 2021 with a supposed destination of Mammoth Lakes.

“However, defendant did not intend to reach that destination. Instead, pursuant to a scheme to gain notoriety and to make money, defendant planned to eject from his airplane during the flight and to video himself parachuting to the ground and his airplane as it descended and crashed," the plea agreement says.

Federal investigators noted Jacob mounted cameras on his airplane to film the plane crashing and he had a selfie stick mounted with a camera to film his jump from the falling craft.

Two days after the crash, Jacob reported the incident to the National Transportation Safety Board which launched an investigation. In a written incident report Jacob told the investigators that his plane lost power, and that he didn’t know the location of the crash site. The Federal Aviation Administration also launched an investigation.

While the two agencies investigated, Jacob hired a helicopter company to help him remove his wrecked plane from the crash site. Eventually the wreckage ended up at the Lompoc airport where Jacob cut it into pieces and threw out parts of it in trash bins at the airport.   

In December 2021, after the investigation started, Jacob posted the video titled “I Crashed My Airplane” to his YouTube channel. The video contains footage of him hiking to the crash site and examining the wreckage of his plane. 

The FAA revoked Jacob’s pilot license in April 2022. 

A felony count of destruction and concealment with the intent to obstruct a federal investigation carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

When Jacob gets out of prison, he won’t be able to apply for a pilot’s license during his probation or supervised release.

Both Jacob’s attorney and the attorneys for the government declined to comment. 

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