FAA investigates plane swap stunt that led to crash
Event organizers said two pilots on separate planes planned to parachute into each other’s planes, leaving each plane unmanned for less than a minute. But one of the pilots failed to reach the other plane. That plane “crashed after losing control” and its would-be pilot “landed safely by parachute,” the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said.
Both pilots survived the botched pilot swap, which involved two Cessna 182 single-engine aircraft flown at 14,000 feet, then nosedived in close formation.
Organizers applied to the FAA for special permission to hold the event, which was sponsored by energy drink company Red Bull and broadcast on the Hulu streaming service.
They outlined a number of safety precautions, including training drills using “safety pilots”; organize the event on a remote stretch of desert; and equip planes and pilots with parachutes in case of an accident.
“At this point, we have completed over 100 vertical dive test flights without any safety issues,” the organizers wrote in a request to the FAA in February.
On Friday, the FAA denied the request to leave the planes empty during the televised stunt, noting that the team “may continue to perform this demonstration in accordance with FAA regulations by including an additional pilot for each plane.”
Representatives for Red Bull and Hulu did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment. Emails to pilot Luke Aikins – who is also a world-renowned skydiver – and a California Polytechnic State University professor whom organizers said they consulted also did not receive an immediate response on Monday.
Video of the three-hour show featuring the event was not available on Hulu’s website Monday morning.
The event involved Aikins and his cousin Andy Farrington, both pilots and stuntmen whose bios log thousands of flight hours. Organizers said the pilots planned to recover the planes before they reached 4,000ft.
Aikins’ notoriety includes a successful jump from 25,000 feet without a parachute. A veteran of some 21,000 jumps, Aikins has worked as a stuntman and consultant on Hollywood blockbusters and trained US Navy SEALs.
The FAA did not say what type of punishment those involved could face.