Vintage Plane Crash Possibly Done For Video Views

1 Apr 22 15 Comments

I’m not much one for April Fools Day, I have to admit, but it seemed a good opportunity to look at the controversy surrounding a young man who is accused of faking an engine failure and crash in order to get more views on YouTube.

The accident took place on the 24th of November 2021 in a vintage Taylorcraft BL-65, registration N29508.

The Taylorcraft B is a single-engine high-wing monoplane designed by CG Taylor as direct competition to the Piper Cub, which was also designed by CG Taylor. Taylor had founded a company called Taylor Brothers Aircraft Corporation in 1926, later Taylor Aircraft, which struggled with financial issues during the Great Depression. William Piper, known as “an oilman” bought the company for $761, keeping Taylor as the company president. Within five years, Piper ousted Taylor from the company and changed the name to the Piper Aircraft Corporation. Meanwhile, CG Taylor went into direct competition with Piper with the Taylorcraft Aircraft Company. The B was the second model that the company produced and the BL-65 naming convention becomes obvious once you know that it had a Lycoming 65 horsepower engine.

Looking at the video, it has to be said that it looks like a Cub to me! But that’s jumping ahead.

The pilot is a former Olympic snowboarder and has a popular YouTube channel with 133,000 subscribers which shares his adventures ranging from flying to skydiving to freight train hopping.

On the day of the accident, the pilot departed Lompoc Airport in California for a flight to Mammoth Yosemite Airport, where he planned to spread the ashes of a friend. The friend had been in the public eye since he was seventeen, when he became the youngest person ever to climb the “Seven Summits”. He was killed at age 23 in a wingsuit accident after calling a California radio station to say they were shooting a very dangerous video.

The pilot had recently bought the aircraft and had it fitted with cameras inside and out. But during the flight to Mammoth, the pilot lost engine power. He was wearing a parachute and holding a handheld camera mounted on a selfie stick, the pilot bailed out of the aircraft and landed with only minor injuries. The Taylorcraft BL-65 descended and crashed in Los Padres National Forest, suffering fatal injuries, sorry, “substantial damage”.

On the 23rd of December, the pilot posted a video showing the sequence of events, with the title, “I crashed my plane”. It is his most popular video with 1.6 million views. (If you are reading this on the mailing list, you may need to click through to the Fear of Landing website to watch the videos)

The video shows the aircraft departing Lompoc Airport on a beautiful and clear California day. The pilot waves a small plastic bag at the cockpit camera which, in the introduction to the original video (since removed), he explains that these are the ashes of his friend which he plans to scatter. Coincidentally, I happen to know that in the state of California, you cannot scatter human ashes over land without the written permission of the landowner. In the case of State Parks, this permission would be granted by the Park Superintendent, who will ensure that the scattering is not over lakes, streams or sites which hold the remains of Native Americans. I never thought I’d need that information twice but I’m just saying, you can’t simply take a sandwich bag of someone’s ashes and empty it from the plane.

At any rate, at about 0:58 point, the engine cuts out. Although there are clearly multiple cameras, none of the footage gives us any view of the instruments or the controls, so it is very difficult to know what the situation is other than the propeller has stopped. At no point does the pilot appear to be attempting any sort of restart or recovery. He never appears to even consider the possibility of a forced landing. In the original video, which has since been replaced with a new version without details of the sponsor, the pilot can be heard to say “There was no safe space to land.”

There are definitely flat areas and a riverbed visible on the video around the 3:20 mark.

The original version of Fear of Landing had a page with Frequently Asked Questions and one of the questions was whether I wore a parachute while flying the Piper Saratoga. My answer was that I did not, because if I could get the aircraft stable enough to open the cockpit door and climb out for a safe jump, then I could almost certainly attempt a landing. The pilot explains in the video that he always wears a parachute while landing but, as many have pointed out, a quick scan through his other videos shows that this is not actually true.

As the pilot exits the cockpit, the aircraft can be seen descending as the propeller begins to windmill. The pilot watches the aircraft go down and then he comes down in rough ground nearby, suffering a few bruises and, he shows us later, a poison oak rash on his neck. He was able to make his way to the aircraft, after which he hiked until sunset, when he was forced to stop. At some point shortly after then, he heard a car and was able to flag down farmers passing by on a dirt road and ask for assistance.

AThe pilot reported the accident to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA). Normally, the NTSB would not investigate an engine failure such as this one, however, a preliminary report was released in January under the accident number WPR22LA049 and the status is marked as “in work”. The docket has not been released.

About four minutes have been cut by the revised video, including an explanation at the start that he posted his video so that other pilots could learn from his experience. It has been claimed that the pilot and a friend chartered an aircraft to remove the aircraft from the site. The NTSB preliminary report states that no representative travelled to the scene, so presumably they knew there was no evidence to be found there.

Sources at the Lompoc airport have been quoted by the press as saying that the aircraft was in need of major maintenance; however, the pilot did only minor fixes on his own before the fated flight.

Other people have highlighted additional anomalies which I did not notice when I first watched the video. At the 0:53 timestamp, the cockpit door seems to be ajar although the engine had not yet failed; it appears to have been left open for easy egress. A set of three screengrabs have been posted on Reddit which appear to show that the pilot had a fire extinguisher strapped to his leg under his trousers, which is certainly not where any pilot would think to keep an extinguisher as protection against an onboard fire.

An anonymous pilot familiar with the area posted this Google Maps link to the accident location and points out that the valley east of the Manzana Schoolhouse Camp would be an obvious area for an emergency landing but is not visible from the careful framing of the pilot’s video. He or she also states that there are multiple flat areas (meadow and fields) within five miles of the aircraft at the point when the engine failed.

There are so many re-creations of the flight in Microsoft Flight Sim, I couldn’t possibly pick one. However, I did want to share this local pilot who flew to the area and pulled the throttle to idle at the same location. His video shows that not only are there a number of opportunities for a forced landing but he was able to glide to an airport for a safe landing.

I also very much enjoyed this parody video analysis of the dangers of being unexpectedly sucked out of your aircraft done by Just Plane Silly.

The FAA announced that they were investigating the crash after the video went viral, but their investigation was seen to be opened on the 29th of November, that is, after the pilot reported the accident but before he posted the video on his YouTube channel.

I’m not sure what the charge would be if evidence is found that the crash was staged. I suppose reckless and careless operation which can lead to a large fine or even jail time but most commonly results in the revocation of the offender’s airman’s certificate. When approached for comment by the Daily Mail, an FAA spokesperson said that the FAA investigation is being led by the NTSB and no comment will be made during the investigation.

It seems clear that the cameras all over the place stole the pilot’s attention when he had more important things to worry about. But that doesn’t mean the crash was necessarily staged: it is possible that the man is just an incredibly bad pilot.

However, there is also the point that the crash was exactly fifty years after an infamous parachuting event: 24 November 2071 was when DB Cooper parachuted out of a Boeing 727 with $200,000 in random money.

Coincidence? What do you think?

15 Comments

  • We.ll, the first thing that comes to my mind is: As the videos went viral, did the pilot make any money out of this and if so, how much?

    I still am of the opinion that this was all pre-planned and staged for his video. Proving it is another matter, unless maybe if the NTSB and FAA make a determined investigation. But these authorities may have bigger fish to fry.

  • Does he normally fly with cameras on the tail and wingtip? This definitely smells staged.

    I note the soundtrack shows him whinging about thorny bushes and about the time it takes to get to where someone picks him up. If he weren’t doing this as a stunt, he should have opened the parachute earlier, to give him more choice of places to land — it doesn’t look like the thorn bushes are everywhere.

    And he ruined a classic airplane….

  • I haven’t flown a Taylor but I have enough time on Cubs, Champions and the like to know you could put one down almost anywhere and walk away from it. Just the first image shows a riverbed I’d have tried happily if there was nothing better.

    I took a Tiger through Arthur’s Pass (South Island, NZ for Google Maps) once, and spent the whole trip figuring succeeding places, mostly riverbeds, where I’d go if it quit. The flight was a ferry after engine repairs, which gave me even stronger motivation.

    Have to say I’m with Rudy and Chip. Unless someone gives the guy a check flight and grounds him for incompetence.

  • Chip is right. However, if there is a strong wind at higher altitudes opening the ‘chute may have carried him away from a suitable landing place. But then, if this was an actual emergency, unplanned, unprepared, this may not have crossed his mind.
    But the whole thing is bizarre. No competent, experienced pilot – ‘chute or not – would leave his aircraft until there is no option but to jump.
    Of course, this would need to be at a safe altitude to deploy the ‘chute.
    But no, this whole thing reeks of a planned stunt.
    Obviously somehow he managed to salvage (most of) the cameras for his footage.
    So, David, a check flight would not reveal incompetence. Unless he stages that as well.

  • I grew up flying Cubs and Decathlons. Any competent pilot could make a forced landing on a football pitch with room to spare.

    Too bad we lost a classic Taylor Craft for this punk to get a few more views.

  • I haven’t watched anythong on Jacob’s channel, and I’m not going to. I do like the “pilot sucked” video that Sylvia found, it’s hilarious! I’m very sorry to hear it was a vintage plane, I hadn’t been aware.

    Some punters have suggested that the aircraft wasn’t “air legal” because Trevor had swapped the Lycoming 65 engine for another make and model, and even painted the caps red to obscure the swap. Short summary e.g. at https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=5CYlYnO-5Lc . 1) Is this true? 2) Would the FAA pull his license over it if it was?

  • Mendel,
    I have flown a Cub that had an original Continental 65HP which was upgraded to 90HP. It flew fine, still soloed from the rear seat But a worse conversion was a “Suoer Cub” 90 HP with a 150 HP engine. The elevator was smaller than the “real” 150 HP Super Cubs and the wings were different too. The 150 had a slightly larger wing span and flaps. The 90 did not have flaps.
    The result was a bit disconcerting, certainly for a new Super Cub pilot – and even for the experienced ones. When cruising, let’s say with 2100 RPM and the aircraft in trim, adding full power resulted in an uncommanded and fairly steep nose-up attitude (and climb).
    When pulling back to idle, the aircraft instantly would tend to drop the nose. It took a little bit of time to get used to it – we flew on average 80 hours a week in the Super Cubs, so it was not a big problem. But was it an officially sanctioned modification? I never found out. Better not, jobs were hard to come by then.

  • Did I publish the previous comment on April 1st? I was commenting on the speculation that changing a “standard” engine to one of a different specification, and power, might not have been sanctioned by the FAA or counterparts in different parts of the world.
    I bragged about an “average of 80 hour a week”. On Super Cubs, in a Western European country.
    These aircraft had a liquid compass and an altimeter. Not even a transponder, not in those days.
    The weather conditions were not always VMC. We would start flying when the weather “improved” to one mile visibility. Which we, conveniently, translated in 1.5 km. We got paid by the hour, so if the weather deteriorated it did not necessarily stop us. Once in the air would, we often continued for as long as possible. In uncontrolled airspace there were no official weather observations.
    Anyway, weather permitting we flew two missions of four and a half hours a day, six days a week. Sometimes the weather grounded us, but 40 hours a week is not far from the truth.

    • Rudy, if your mission was banner towing, wouldn’t that be pointless in low visibility?

      The engine swap theory says that Jacob swapped the good Lycoming engine for an old one (“out of hours”) Continental, and did so without the benefit of a certified mechanic or the required paperwork. I can’t tell how much of this is true, though I expect the FAA knows.

      • The banners I saw every day I was at the beach (Ocean City MD) when I was young, and the ones I sometimes notice flying over Fenway Park, were/are a lot closer to their viewers than a mile. I can imagine such banners being legible in <1 mile visibility, although that certainly wouldn’t be allowed at Fenway (3-4 miles from BOS); there might not be as many people on the beach in gray weather, but between the stubborn (“I paid $$$ for this beach vacation so I’m going to the [email protected]#$%^&*!!! beach!”) and the people with beachfront rooms ISTM that advertising there could be worthwhile even in mediocre weather. Note that I don’t know what the formal rules are or were, but OCB/OXB had plenty of nothing around it the one time I flew into it so “special VFR” might have applied in the 1950’s/60’s. These days the area is more built-up; I do NOT remember a 2nd runway 46 years ago, and ISTR that the field was so minor that it had a number in the official abbreviation.

  • Chip,
    Looking back, I can only say that we got away with a lot. I can own up to it now. We were young and the only jobs were banner towing. And that only because the German authorities had suddenly decided that a copilot in an airline had to have an ATPL. Many only had a CPL, so suddenly there was an exodus of first officers to go back to school to get an ATPL.
    There were quite a few light aircraft pilots who had completed their ATPL but had not managed to get a job in an airline; they were not hiring… until then. These lucky guys rolled straight into the airline jobs. That in turn suddenly left a lot of vacancies at the very bottom of the pile for those who at that time only had a basic CPL, like myself.
    We were not picky, a job AND getting paid for it, although it would not be sufficient to support a family.
    Banner towing aircraft had to carry a barograph – or at least the formation leader. They were sealed by the “Luftaufsicht”, the supervisory authority at the airport. After return, we would go to the control tower where the controller would break the seal, remove the barogram, stamp and sign it, put a new strip on the drum and seal it again. We got paid on the basis of these barograms, so we kept flying as long as ;possible. Which was very long. Were the banners visible from the ground? In many cases the answer is: probably not. We would form a circle of Super Cubs. We could see maybe two or three that we were following,. but this way there was no risk of a midair collision: We just followed one another round and round. Sometimes we would stay over a known landmark until called back. This often happened when the people on the ground could no longer tolerate the noise of 21 odd banner towing aircraft over their home, and called the airport to complain.
    Sounds cazy? Yes it now sounds crazy even to me.

    • One of the pilots applied to the FAA for an exemption, since regulations don’t really allow leaving the aircraft mid-flight, but it was denied: they had practiced the stunt a few times with safety pilots staying aboard the aircraft, and the FAA suggested to simply perform the stunt the same way for the broadcast.

      AOPA wrote a thorough article on it, and they also published the FAA letter denying the exemption, which has more details. https://download.aopa.org/eMedia/2022-0315_Luke-Aikins_No_19096_FAA_Decision.pdf

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