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Pilot in botched Arizona Red Bull plane stunt apologizes

Luke Aikins said Friday that he disregarded a denial from the Federal Aviation Administration before moving forward with the failed plane-swapping stunt in Arizona.

ELOY, Ariz. — 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, the lead pilot, 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,” Aikins wrote.

He said he would cooperate fully with the FAA and any other regulatory agencies.

Aikins and another pilot flew separate single-engine Cessna 182 airplanes up to 14,000 feet (4 kilometers) Sunday evening as part of a stunt to promote the energy drink company. They tried to switch planes as the aircraft descended.

One plane spun out of control and crashed near Eloy, roughly 65 miles (104 kilometers) southeast of Phoenix. The pilot was able to parachute out safely. The second pilot regained control of the other plane and landed safely.

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.

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