YouTuber Arrested and Facing up to 10 Years in Prison for Helicopter Fireworks Stunt

Helicopter Fireworks Stunt by YouTuber

YouTuber Alex Choi faces serious federal charges after orchestrating a dangerous fireworks stunt involving a helicopter and a Lamborghini. This case highlights the legal risks of extreme content creation and the potential consequences for social media influencers.

June 8, 2024

Popular YouTuber Alex Choi is in legal trouble after orchestrating a dangerous stunt where fireworks were shot from a helicopter at his speeding Lamborghini. Choi was arrested on June 6, 2024 and will be arraigned within the next few weeks.

The content creator, with almost 1 million YouTube followers,1.2 million Instagram followers and 295,000 Tik Tok followers, faces federal charges that could land him in prison for up to a decade, according to the Justice Department. The federal complaint was filed in the Central District Court of California.

Here’s what you need to know about the high-profile case and the serious legal issues involved.

1. Understand the Stunt That Led to Charges

    • Viral Video “Destroying a Lamborghini With Fireworks”: Choi posted the controversial clip on July 4, 2023 to his 900K subscribers (original clip was taken down from YouTube).
    • Fireworks Shot from Helicopter at Car: The video shows Choi driving his Lamborghini while a low-flying helicopter shoots Roman candles at the vehicle.
    • Filmed on Federal Land in CA: Investigators say the stunt took place on the El Mirage Dry Lake Bed managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
    • Transponder Turned Off: Radar shows the helicopter turned off its transponder during filming, a violation of 14 C.F.R. § 91.215(c) – ATC transponder and altitude reporting equipment and use
    • No Film Permits Secured: Authorities allege Choi did not obtain the required permits for pyrotechnics or filming from relevant agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management and local fire departments​

Details & Evidence:

    • In the nearly 11-min video, Choi is seen laughing while pressing a “fire missiles” button before the chopper opens fire on his car.
    • Text messages between Choi and the camera company show him outlining his vision to “make a short video of an attack helicopter shooting missiles (fireworks) at the car.”
    • FAA data confirms the helicopter took off from Pacoima, flew to the lake bed to film, then returned, turning off its transponder during the shoot.
    • Emails indicate Choi traveled to Las Vegas to purchase the fireworks used in the stunt, as they are classified as illegal fireworks in California under California Health and Safety Code § 12677.
    • Drone operators on site told the FAA there was an informal “safety talk” just before filming where Choi gave input.

Key Takeaways:

    • Carefully review an area’s rules and permitting requirements before conducting any stunt filming, especially if using pyrotechnics or aircraft.
    • Respect restricted airspace and FAA regulations regarding transponders and safe flight operations – turning off a transponder is a huge red flag.
    • Don’t discuss illegal activities like buying fireworks over text or email, as it creates a clear evidence trail for investigators.
    • Safety talks and precautions should be formalized, not improvised on the fly, and approved by experienced professionals.
    • Pursuit of views and online clout is not a defense to violating federal laws – safety of people and property must come first.

2. Grasp the Federal Charges Choi Faces

    • Placing Explosives on an Aircraft: The main charge is causing an incendiary device (fireworks) to be placed on an aircraft, punishable by up to 10 years in prison in this specific case under 18 U.S.C. § 32(a)(2). The statute generally allows for a maximum sentence of up to 20 years​.The 10-year maximum, referenced by the U.S. Attorneys office, might apply due to specific plea agreements, prosecutorial discretion, or particular details of this case that align with lesser penalties within the broader statutory range.
    • Violating FAA Regulations: Investigators allege Choi failed to secure FAA authorization for the stunt, and the helicopter violated rules by turning off its transponder, a violation of 14 C.F.R. § 91.215(c)​.
    • Lacking Film Permits: Choi is accused of not obtaining the required filming permits from the Bureau of Land Management for the shoot location under 43 C.F.R. Part 2920.
    • No Pyrotechnics License: The complaint states Choi did not have the necessary ATF explosives permit for using the fireworks.
    • Aiding & Abetting / Conspiracy Liability: Even if Choi didn’t personally place the fireworks on the helicopter or fly it, he could still face charges for his role in orchestrating the stunt.

Relevant Federal Statutes:

    • 18 U.S.C. § 32(a)(2) – Placing incendiary devices on an aircraft​
    • 49 U.S.C. § 46306(b)(8) – Registration violation involving aircraft not providing air transportation
    • 18 U.S.C. § 844(a)(1) – Importation, manufacture, distribution and storage of explosive materials
    • 43 C.F.R. Part 2920 – Leases, permits, and easements on public lands​
    • 14 C.F.R. § 91.215(c) – ATC transponder and altitude reporting equipment and use

Elements Prosecutors Must Prove:

    • Choi knowingly & willingly caused fireworks to be placed on the helicopter
    • The helicopter and stunt operations violated specific FAA safety regulations
    • Choi & crew filmed on federal land without securing the required BLM permits
    • The fireworks were purchased and used without proper ATF licensing
    • Choi aided, abetted or conspired with others to violate federal laws even if he didn’t directly commit each illegal act himself

3. Analyze Choi’s Potential Defenses

    • Lack of Knowledge or Intent: Choi may argue he was unaware that placing fireworks on the helicopter or transponder use violated specific laws.
    • Reliance on Production Crew: A defense could be that Choi delegated permitting, licensing and safety precautions to his team and experts.
    • No Actual Explosives Used: If the fireworks don’t meet ATF’s definition of regulated “explosives”, those charges may not stick.
    • Arguing Charges are Overbroad: Creative arguments that the incendiary device law shouldn’t apply to this type of stunt and that the charges overreach.
    • 1st Amendment Protections: Asserting that the stunt was expressive free speech as a video production, so some regulations improperly infringe on constitutional rights.

Hurdles to Potential Defenses:

    • Choi’s texts & emails show significant personal involvement in planning specifics of the dangerous stunt.
    • As the video creator, Choi likely had a duty to ensure proper licenses, permits and precautions were in place.
    • Consumer fireworks can still be considered explosives under federal law based on their composition and effects.
    • Stretching laws too far beyond their plain meaning risks further losing credibility with judge and jury.
    • Expressive speech that creates clear public safety dangers enjoys less 1st Amendment protection.

Key Considerations for Choi’s Defense:

    • Consult with experienced federal criminal defense attorneys to assess which arguments have the best chance of prevailing.
    • Carefully review all correspondence and contracts to determine Choi’s actual vs. delegated responsibilities for legal compliance and safety.
    • Have experts analyze the fireworks to make technical arguments about whether they meet the legal definition of explosives.
    • Focus defense on most serious charges like the incendiary device and only pursue novel constitutional arguments as a last resort.
    • Consider a plea bargain to accept responsibility and mitigate public safety charges in exchange for reduced sentence.

4. Understand the Prosecution’s Strategy

    • Emphasizing the Danger Created: Prosecutors will argue Choi put the helicopter pilot, passengers, and public at major risk for a viral video.
    • Demonstrating Choi’s Leadership Role: Expect the government to characterize Choi as the mastermind who spearheaded the reckless scheme.
    • Establishing Intentional Law-Breaking: The prosecution will use Choi’s own words to argue he knew he was violating several laws and regulations.
    • Pursuing Maximum Sentences: Given the high-profile nature of the case, prosecutors will likely seek close to the 10-year maximum penalty as a deterrent to copycats.
    • Painting Choi as Reckless & Remorseless: The government will portray Choi as an unrepentant thrill-seeker who callously risked lives for fame and fortune.

How Prosecutors Will Use Choi’s Content Against Him:

    • Snippets from the dramatic video itself showing the dangerously close proximity of the chopper to the speeding car launching fireworks
    • Behind-the-scenes footage and narration of Choi gleefully coordinating and executing the dangerous stunt with little regard for safety
    • Texts and emails showing Choi giving specific directives to make the scene as dramatic and explosive as possible
    • Any other clips from Choi’s YouTube channel highlighting a pattern of risky behavior and taunting of authorities
    • Social media posts before or after the shoot where Choi appears to revel in the danger or achieving online notoriety

What to Expect as the Case Moves Forward:

    • Ongoing investigation to uncover more evidence of Choi’s intent and indifference to laws and safety
    • Elevated media attention on the case as an example of social media stars crossing the line
    • Prosecutors painting Choi as the poster child for online influencers needing to be held accountable for reckless behavior
    • Potential for additional charges against other participants like the helicopter pilot and fireworks suppliers
    • Drawn-out legal proceedings and intense pressure on Choi to admit guilt to avoid decades behind bars

5. Grasp the Broader Legal & Social Implications

    • Evolving Legal Landscape for Content Creation: As online platforms incentivize more extreme behavior, the law struggles to keep up.
    • Increased Scrutiny of Influencer Culture: Choi’s case may prompt further crackdowns on dangerous social media stunts and challenges.
    • Reputational Fallout for Choi and Associates: Even if he gets lenient treatment, Choi’s brand and business relationships will likely suffer.
    • Potential Changes to Platform Policies: YouTube and other sites may institute harsher rules and penalties for creators whose content breaks the law.
    • Debates Over Creative Expression vs. Public Safety: The case reignites tensions between defending artistic freedom while protecting against real-world harm.

Questions This Case Raises Going Forward:

    • What responsibility do content creators bear for the safety and legality of their productions, even if they hire professionals to handle logistics?
    • Should platforms be accountable for policing dangerous and illegal content by their most popular creators and removing it swiftly?
    • How can the legal system adapt to effectively prosecute conduct arising from cutting-edge technologies and digital media trends?
    • Where should society draw the line between daring entertainment and unacceptable endangerment in the quest for online fame?
    • What message does the outcome of Choi’s case need to send to other creators about the consequences of reckless behavior disguised as content?

Key Takeaways for Creators and Consumers:

    • Vet all video ideas, locations and logistics through experienced professionals to uncover potential safety and regulatory issues
    • If industry experts raise red flags that a shoot seems unsafe or illegal, take those concerns very seriously and change plans
    • Secure all required permits, licenses and permissions in writing well before filming anything dangerous or unusual
    • Be extremely cautious of how private communications could be interpreted if used as evidence of intent to break the law
    • Prioritize the safety of your cast, crew and the public over the potential shock value, view counts or revenue of any piece of content

Key Takeaways

The federal charges against YouTuber Alex Choi for his explosive video stunt serve as a stark warning about the serious legal consequences of clout-chasing content creation.

Prosecutors aim to prove Choi recklessly endangered lives by orchestrating a dangerous helicopter fireworks attack on his Lamborghini, breaking numerous laws in the process.

The high-profile case is likely to have a ripple effect on the world of online influencers and how platforms handle edgy content going forward.

Helicopter on ground with "Arrested" sign in the background

Fireworks used in the stunt were purchased in Las Vegas and brought into California, where they are classified as illegal under state law.

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YouTuber Federal Charges Quiz


  1. What was the title of Alex Choi’s July 2023 video that led to his federal charges?
    1. Fireworks vs. Lamborghini
    2. Helicopter Rocket Launcher Attacks My Car!!
    3. Destroying a Lamborghini With Fireworks
    4. Fireworks Lamborghini Helicopter 4th of July Gone Wrong
  2. Where did Alex Choi film the controversial fireworks video?
    1. An abandoned mall parking lot in L.A.
    2. El Mirage Dry Lake Bed in San Bernardino County
    3. The Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah
    4. Glamis Sand Dunes in Imperial County
  3. What type of explosives were launched from the helicopter at Choi’s Lamborghini?
    1. Bottle rockets
    2. Roman candles
    3. M-80s
    4. Mortars
  4. What serious federal charge does Alex Choi face for the fireworks stunt?
    1. Domestic terrorism
    2. Placing an incendiary device on an aircraft
    3. Destruction of federal property
    4. Conspiracy to commit arson
  5. How much prison time could Choi face if convicted of placing explosives on an aircraft?
    1. 6 months
    2. 2 years
    3. 5 years
    4. 10 years


    1. C) Destroying a Lamborghini With Fireworks – According to the criminal complaint, Choi’s video was titled “Destroying a Lamborghini With Fireworks”
    2. B) El Mirage Dry Lake Bed in San Bernardino County – Investigators say Choi filmed his ill-fated video at the El Mirage lake bed managed by the Bureau of Land Management
    3. B) Roman candles – The helicopter appears to be launching Roman candle-style fireworks at Choi’s speeding Lamborghini in the video clips
    4. B) Placing an incendiary device on an aircraft – Federal prosecutors charged Choi with violating 18 U.S.C. § 32(a)(2), causing the placement of an explosive/incendiary device on an aircraft
    5. D) 10 years – The federal charge of placing explosives on an aircraft carries a potential maximum sentence of 10 years in prison if convicted


This article discussing the federal charges against YouTuber Alex Choi is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute formal legal advice. Laws, charges, and case details may have changed since publication. Application of the information to specific situations will vary based on individual facts and circumstances.

For expert legal counsel on defending against federal criminal charges, please consult an experienced federal defense attorney licensed in your jurisdiction. Most reputable law firms offer free and confidential consultations to review your case and advise you of your rights and options.