Two Pilots' Attempt to Swap Planes in Midair Goes Wrong as Aircraft Crashes

A Red Bull plane crashed after spinning out of control during a stunt that was supposed to see two pilots swapping positions midair—a move banned by authorities amid safety fears.

The plan was for each pilot to put their Cessna 182 into a nosedive, jump out of it, then skydive across and enter the other plane to land in a different aircraft than the one they had taken off in. But the stunt went horribly wrong, with one of the planes spinning as it plunged to the ground in a crash landing in Arizona on Sunday, April 24.

The pilots, Luke Aikins and Andy Farrington, are cousins, whose World War II fighter pilot grandfather set up a skydiving school.

Farrington was forced to parachute to safety, although onlookers feared he was at risk from the plummeting plane. Aikins managed to skydive across to the other aircraft—which was also in a nosedive—and was able to land safety.

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Pilot Luke Aikins mid-way through the stunt. Red Bull

The event was livestreamed, and video footage recorded by stunt fans and posted online showed how the risky move went wrong almost immediately. The two planes were shown steeply angling down to enter a nosedive—but while one plane headed straight down, the other began to spin.

An onlooker who shared the footage online can be heard saying: "Oh, that plane's not good." While radio communications can be heard calling: "Out of control!" As the camera zooms in on the falling pilot, the onlooker says: "He's got a parachute, right?"

Footage in the other plane's cockpit shows the anxious-looking pilot talking into his microphone and craning out of his own door to see what happened to his cousin and the other plane. The footage then shows the falling pilot's parachute deploy. "Woah," the onlooker can be heard saying over the recording. "[Is he] out of the way of the plane?"

The plane crashed into Arizona scrubland. Nobody was injured in the incident.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is now investigating after denying a request from Red Bull seeking a safety exemption to carry out the stunt.

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Pilot Luke Aikins was able to complete his portion of the stunt. Red Bull

A refusal letter from the FAA stated the stunt "would not be in the public interest" and added that officials "cannot find that the proposed operation would not adversely affect safety."

It went to state that practice runs involved having an extra pilot on each plane, to take control should something go wrong. So the FAA concluded: "Because the FAA cannot conclude that the operations for which relief is sought (i.e. an operation without a pilot in the airplane and at the controls) would not adversely affect safety, and because the petitioner can continue to perform this demonstration in compliance with FAA regulations by including an additional pilot for each airplane, there is no public interest in granting the exemption request."

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Pilots and cousins, Luke Aikins and Andy Farrington. Red Bull

Red Bull promoted the stunt beforehand on its website, saying: "On Sunday, April 24th, Luke Aikins and Andy Farrington will go down in history as the first pilots to take off in one aircraft and land in another after sending their airplanes into a nosedive and jumping out of them! ....Plane Swap has been a year in the making with hours and hours put in by [the team] to ensure the plan goes off without a hitch."

Red Bull's famous slogan is "Red Bull gives you wings"—although the company lost a 2014 lawsuit after it was accused of false advertising.

After the failed stunt at the weekend, Red Bull posted a short statement on its website, titled: "Pilot Luke Aikins successfully achieves 'Plane Swap.'"

The statement said: "Two pilots, Luke Aikins and Andy Farrington, attempted to Plane Swap mid-air for the first time. The feat was partially accomplished as one pilot successfully swapped planes and landed the aircraft in the Arizona desert. The second pilot (and skilled skydiver) was unable to enter the plane he was approaching. He skydived into a safe landing. The second plane's safety mechanisms activated but the plane was damaged."

Newsweek has reached out to Red Bull and the FAA.

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The two Red Bull planes enter their nosedives before the stunt goes wrong. Red Bull

Update 04/25/22, 4:35 a.m. ET: This article was updated with additional information.