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Influencer Pleads Guilty To Crashing Plane In YouTube Video For Clicks

29-year-old Trevor Jacob, a snowboarder who participated in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, faces up to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to crashing his plane into a California mountain to get YouTube clicks and sell merch in 2021.
Neil Campbell
Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
Published: May 17, 2023
Trevor Jacob crashed his plane into the side of a California mountain to get clicks, a plea bargain confirms
A file photo of a social media influencer wearing a toad costume in mainland China in February of 2023. A 29-year-old California man and 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic snowboarder plead guilty to crashing his plane in the mountains to generate YouTube clicks and revenue for a product sponsorship, according to a plea bargain reached with the U.S. Attorney’s office. (Image: JADE GAO/AFP via Getty Images)

A plea bargain emerging from charges related to a California light airplane crash featured in a video by a social media influencer reveals that the man staged the event as part of a sponsorship deal and in order to get clicks.

“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,” states a May 11 press release by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Central District of California published on the federal Department of Justice website.

The video in question is titled I Crashed My Airplane and was published by Trevor Jacob in December of 2021.

“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,” the presser reads.


The 12 minute video, which is still available on YouTube, shows Jacob ejecting himself from the craft shortly after the 3 minute mark.

He then emerges in the rough of the California mountains complaining of a lack of cellular service and being cut by tree brush and poison oak.

The release states that Jacob threw himself from his plane 35 minutes into the flight. However, before taking off, he affixed cameras to different parts of the craft and equipped himself with a parachute and a selfie stick.

“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,” the Attorney’s Office stated.

Continuing, “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.”

A report by The Santa Barbara Independent states that the plane crashed into the side of a mountain.

The crash occurred in November and Jacob waited two days before informing the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which told the man it was his responsibility to preserve the wreckage at the site.

The FAA launched its own investigation just days later.

Unfortunately, “In the weeks following the plane crash, Jacob lied to investigators that he did not know the wreckage’s location,” the release cited the plea bargain as stating.

In fact, according to the press release, Jacob “and a friend” took a helicopter to the crash site, lifted the wreckage to his pickup truck where a trailer was waiting, and transported it to a nearby small airport and placed it in a hangar before destroying the evidence and throwing it into bins, the release states based on the plea agreement.

It didn’t take long before the video brought significant heat to Jacob, who competed in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics as a snowboarder, when The New York Times ran a January of 2022 article titled A YouTuber’s Plane Crash Draws Doubts From Aviation Experts that directly questioned whether “the crash was a publicity stunt.”

A flight instructor in the area with over 40 years of flight experience was paraphrased as pointing out, “Another discrepancy is that many small airplanes, such as Mr. Jacob’s, can be landed safely from a high altitude when they malfunction. They can glide to a landing at about 40 miles an hour, with pilots often suffering only minor injuries.”

This fact was further used to reinforce the point that wearing a parachute during flight was outside of the norm—and may have required removing the seat cushions because of cabin size restraints.

Jacob turned off comments on the video, which only had 1 million views at the time, after criticism emerged, NYT stated.

He openly told the public in a statement following the controversy that, “I’ll happily say I did not purposely crash my plane for views on YouTube,” according to the article.

His pilot’s license was revoked in April of 2022 and the guilty plea, one count of “destruction and concealment with the intent to obstruct a federal investigation” carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

An NBC article on the revocation of Jacob’s license in April of 2022 quoted the FAA’s letter to the influencer notifying him of the decision as directly levying, “…you demonstrated a lack of care, judgment, and responsibility by choosing to jump out of an aircraft solely so you could record the footage of the crash.”

The ability to comment on the video is currently enabled. The number one position was posted May 14, has 6,100 likes, and quips, “This was epic. Please try again after 20 years.”

May 11 Reporting on the story by The Los Angeles Times notes that Jacob was reached by email following the release, but declined to comment.

The piece is notable in that it states “a previous version of the video” showed the 29-year-old influencer “advertising a promotional link” that included his name for the merch in question—an expensive metal wallet that claims to block RFID—while standing in front of the plane before takeoff.

LA Times added that the link was still active on the company’s website as of the time of writing.

The wallet maker also declined to comment for the story.

Jacob’s lawyer told The Washington Post in a statement, “Trevor is taking full responsibility for his mistake in judgment” and wants “to be a source for good in society.”

Although the plea bargain has been reached, Jacob still must “make his initial court appearance in the coming weeks,” according to the Attorney’s Office release.