Credit: Courtesy

YouTube personality and former Olympic snowboarder Trevor Jacob has stirred controversy and sparked a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) investigation after he posted a video in which he parachutes out of a small airplane that allegedly experienced an engine failure over Los Padres National Forest and crashed into a mountainside near New Cuyama.

The video, which was uploaded on December 23 and has drawn more than 370,000 views, documents Jacob’s escape from the stalled plane from multiple camera angles, including a handheld selfie stick. But viewers and aviation experts have grown suspicious of his decision to abandon the aircraft mid-flight, and some have publicly wondered if the entire incident was staged.

“During the flight, I experienced an engine failure over some mountains,” Jacob states in the video. “There was no safe space to land.” The Independent reached out to Jacob for comment, but he did not respond. 

Jacob’s short-lived flight took place on November 24. His plan, he says, was to fly the small Taylorcraft plane from the Lompoc City Airport in Santa Barbara County to Mammoth Lakes to snowboard, paraglide, and spread the ashes of his late friend Johnny Strange, who was killed in a 2015 BASE-jumping accident. Strange was the subject of another popular video on Jacob’s channel, titled “My Best Friend Died BASE Jumping,” which has received more than 2 million views. Jacob shows the camera a small plastic baggie of Strange’s ashes and explains that Strange had loved spending time in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

During the first portion of the video, the flight seems to be without any issues, when suddenly Jacob is heard cursing repeatedly and attempting to open the pilot-side door. He does not explain what is happening ― the video only shows the nose propeller coming to a stop before Jacob hesitates for a moment, then leaps out, selfie stick in hand. The camera stays perfectly framed on Jacob’s face as he falls with the pilot-less plane above him. Cameras attached to the plane’s wing and tail capture it slowly losing altitude before plummeting into the mountains.

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It is unclear when or how Jacob acquired the plane. Up until January 4, a search of its registration number identified the owner as Laura Smith from Lincoln, California, though Jacob is now listed as the current owner. 

Sources inside the Lompoc airport said it appeared Jacob never intended to make the full journey to Mammoth. They described the aircraft as in a state of disrepair and in need of major maintenance. Jacob attempted to complete a few fixes on his own, the sources claimed, but seemed to struggle. 

“It’s all very suspect,” said Robert “Captain Bob” Perry, a flight instructor based out of the nearby Santa Ynez Airport. Perry explained a Taylorcraft plane like the kind Jacob was flying would normally need to be inspected and repaired before a trip by an FAA-certified mechanic, which Jacob is not. “If a plane is out of maintenance, that’s the most dangerous time to fly,” Perry said.

Perry pointed to other red flags that suggest Jacob choreographed the event. In the video, Jacob implores viewers to always wear a parachute while they fly and credits his for saving his life. But “wearing a parachute is difficult when you’re flying a plane that small,” Perry said. “It would require removing the seat cushion or some other modification.” In several other YouTube videos that feature Jacob piloting small aircraft, he’s shown without a parachute.

Perry also took issue with Jacob’s quick decision to exit the plane instead of looking for a place to land. Jacob claimed there was “no safe place,” but the footage depicts a large, flat expanse not far in the distance. “From the looks of it, he could’ve guided that plane 15 or 20 more miles and landed it on more level ground,” Perry said.

A few days after the crash, sources at the airport say Jacob returned with cuts and bruises and told the story of what had allegedly occurred. Employees informed Jacob that the incident would need to be reported to the FAA, but soon after, Jacob and a friend allegedly chartered a helicopter to remove the wreckage from the forest and transport it to an unknown location.

The FAA said the investigation remains ongoing, and the agency is therefore not able to comment.

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