(KTLA) – With multiple camera shots and slick editing, former pilot Trevor Jacob documented the dramatic moments when his small plane crashed into a California hillside in Santa Barbara County, just moments after he jumped from the cockpit and parachuted to safety.
The 2021 video, uploaded to YouTube with the title “I Crashed My Airplane,” quickly amassed hundreds of thousands of views.
It was all staged.
On Wednesday, Jacob, 29, pleaded guilty to a felony charge of obstructing a federal investigation after admitting to intentionally crashing the plane to get views on his YouTube channel, the United States Department of Justice announced. He faces up to 20 years in federal prison.
Prosecutors say Jacob took off from the Lompoc City Airport in Santa Barbara County on Nov. 24, 2021, in his single-engine Taylorcraft BL-65 on a solo flight purportedly destined for Mammoth Lakes.
In the YouTube video, Jacob claimed he intended to spread someone’s ashes over the Los Padres National Forest. Once over the mountains, the video shows Jacob saying the plane’s lone engine had failed.
“Holy s—! I’m over the mountains and I … [got] an engine out,” he said.
With a parachute already strapped to his back, Jacob then jumped out of the plane, gripping a selfie stick to record himself. Cameras mounted inside and outside of the aircraft showed it descending over the hills and eventually crashing into dry brush.
“Thank you, God. Thank you, universe. Thank you, higher power, for watching over me,” he said, after hiking to the wreckage.
He then trekked out of the forest and flagged down a driver.
Prosecutors say Jacob waited two days to report the crash to the National Transportation Safety Board, which told him to preserve the wreckage. He stalled the investigation by telling NTSB officials that he didn’t know where the plane went down, according to the DOJ.
More than two weeks after the crash on Dec. 10, he and a friend flew a helicopter to the crash site and airlifted the wreckage 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,” prosecutors said. “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.”
Prosecutors also say Jacob lied to federal investigators and an FAA safety inspector when he told them the plane had lost power and he could not identify a safe place to land.
The FAA revoked Jacob’s pilot’s license in April 2022.
“Your actions … were careless and reckless so as to endanger the life and property of another,” the agency wrote in a letter to Jacob, dated April 11, 2022. The FAA also detailed several pieces of evidence that suggested the video was staged, including: Jacob wearing his backpack prior to the propeller stopping; Jacob opening his plane door prior to the propeller stopping; Jacob making no attempt to contact Air Traffic Control; Jacob making no attempt to restart the engine; and Jacob grabbing a selfie stick to film himself parachuting from the plane, among other suspicious behavior.
As of Thursday, “I Crashed My Airplane” was still posted on Jacob’s YouTube channel and had amassed nearly 3 million views.