Pilot in botched Arizona Red Bull plane stunt apologizes

Pilot in botched Red Bull-sponsored mid-air plane swap stunt that ended in a crash admits the FAA refused to approve the feat and he didn’t tell his teammates

  • The pilot in charge during a forbidden Red Bull plane-swapping stunt said Friday he takes full responsibility for the ensuing crash over the Arizona desert
  • Luke Aikins admitted in a post on his Instagram that he disregarded a denial from the Federal Aviation Administration two days before Sunday’s mid-air crash
  • ‘I made the personal decision to move forward with (the) plane swap. I regret not sharing this information with my team and those who supported me,’ he wrote
  • FAA said it never gave permission for the stunt to take place and will be investigating the crash 
  • He said he would cooperate fully with the FAA and any other regulatory agencies

Luke Aikins, the lead pilot who planned to swap cockpits with his cousin in midair earlier this week, he takes full responsibility for the crash that took place over the Arizona desert Sunday, after ignoring FAA rebukes banning the stunt

A pilot whose mid-air plane swap stunt ended in disaster Sunday has said he’s to blame for one of the aircraft crashing, and admits he went ahead with the stunt despite the FAA refusing its approval.  

Luke Aikins, the lead pilot who planned to swap cockpits with cousin Andy Farrington, 39, more than 10,000 feet in the air over the Arizona desert, admitted in a post to Instagram that he ignored rebukes from the Federal Aviation Administration prohibiting him from performing the never-before-seen – but went through with it anyway.

‘As project lead and chief pilot it was entirely my responsibility to operate within the regulatory framework to ensure a successful outcome. Aikins, 48, wrote of the crash, which occurred crashed west of Eloy.

‘I received email notice April 22, 2022, from the FAA that a specific exemption was not granted and I made the personal decision to move forward with (the) plane swap,’ he said of the FAA’s blocking of the never-before-seen stunt, which he received two days before Sunday’s mid-air crash.

‘I regret not sharing this information with my team and those who supported me.’

If successful, the stunt would have seen the two cousins swap planes via skydive in mid-air

The pilot, who has been planning the stunt for more than a decade, admitted in a post to Instagram that he ignored rebukes from the Federal Aviation Administration prohibiting him from performing the never-before-seen – but went through with it anyway

The Sunday stunt – which the cousins had been reportedly planning for more than a decade, according to the pilots’ sponsor, Red Bull – began well, with both men leaping out while their aircraft flew in a pre-prepared formation.

Aikins completed the swap and landed into his cousin’s plane safely. Farrington, meanwhile, approached the other plane, but was unable to enter it.

Farrington then safely deployed his parachute, while the unmanned plane began to spiral and nosedive to the ground.

The plane’s safety mechanisms then activated, deploying an aircraft-sized parachute that allowed the two-engined Cesna to descend to the ground. The plane still sustained damage in the landing.

Miraculously, though, both men walked away unscathed, and actually celebrated the failed stunt once safely on the ground.

 ‘It just went and instead of stopping in that 90 degree dive, it just kept going and got over on his back,’ Farrington said afterwards. ‘It was just not a chance.’

Skydiving cousins Aikins, 48, and Andy Farrington, 39, attempted to perform the stunt, which began smoothly, but ended in failure

Initially it appeared as though the switchover was going well, but things suddenly spiraled out of control

Although things appeared to be going well, seconds later, Harrington’s aircraft went into a spin

The FAA are currently investigating the incident. 

It was not clear what possible penalties Aikins could face. Elizabeth Isham Cory, an FAA spokeswoman, said the agency does not comment on open investigations. But the FAA provided a copy of a letter denying Aikins’ request.

Aikins had petitioned for an exemption from the rule that pilots must be at the helm with safety belts fastened at all times. He argued the stunt would ‘be in the public interest because it would promote aviation in science, technology, engineering and math.’

Robert Carty, FAA deputy executive director of flight standards service, denied the exemption.

Red Bull, known for organizing wild promotional stunts, said in a statement it looks forward to continuing to work with Aikins. The company called him a ‘courageous, highly skilled athlete’ who has been honest about his role in the incident.

The cousins, meanwhile, say they are happy to walk away from the near-fatal stunt alive.

‘I thought I left Andy a good plane. I’m trying to think of what else I could have done to make it better for him when I left,’ Aikins said to USA Today. ‘We do what we can to prepare for this stuff and we hope it never happens. This is the best outcome of a bummer situation, really.’ 

‘You’re just happy everybody’s here and good and all that stuff, but just disappointed,’ he added.   

The FAA said it did not grant a safety exemption for the stunt, which was livestreamed by Hulu, and will now investigate.

‘One of the two single-engine Cessna 182 aircraft used in the stunt crashed after it spun out of control. The pilot landed safely by parachute. The other pilot regained control of the second aircraft and landed safely,’ the FAA said. 

It remains unclear what, if any, authority it had to prevent the flight from taking off, and what consequences its organizers could now face.  DailyMail.com has contacted the FAA for a comment. 

The jump appeared to be on track as both pilots leapt out of their planes at exactly the same time

The experienced skydivers can be seen jumping out of their aircraft

Just as both skydivers attempted to switch, one of the planes lost control and ended up crashing into the Arizona desert floor 12,000 feet below


Luke, left, and Andy, right, are experienced pilots and free fallers who have been skydiving for decades

https://youtube.com/watch?v=ODCzlEyaSDM%3Frel%3D0%26showinfo%3D1%26hl%3Den-US

The stunt was denied a permit by the FAA over safety concerns even before the planes took off

It stated that the aerial demonstration was not in the public interest and that the flight would impact safety.

It is unclear what authority the body had to stop the flight from going ahead, and what penalties may now result from both pilots breaching FAA regulations.

The cousins, based out of Washington, are experienced pilots and free fallers who have been skydiving for decades. 

In 2019, Luke became the first person ever to survive a skydive with no parachute. He jumped out of a plane at 25,000 feet, then used special sensors to guide himself to a landing net.  

In 2016, Aikins set a world record by freefalling 25,000 feet without a parachute and Farrington won the Red Bull Championship in 2003 and has recorded over 27,000 jumps- 100 of those with his older cousin. 

On Sunday the pair took off from Sawtooth Airport in Elroy, Arizona, both piloting their own Cessna aircraft.

Once side by side in the air the planes were pushed into a nosedive at 120 mph, using a custom airbrake that was supposed to hold the aircraft in a controlled decedent. 

On Sunday the pair will take off from Sawtooth Airport in Elroy, Arizona, both piloting their own Cessna 182 single-seat aircrafts 14,000 feet in the air

Aikins and Farrington will freefly skydive into the others aircraft and once inside the cockpit disengage the airbrake systems and take control of the planes, completing the plane swap

The cousins worked with fellow pilot and engineer Paulo Iscold to make the ‘plane swap’ stunt come to life

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