On Monday, far-right commentators and social media users started sharing what they claimed to be information from several whistleblowers who work for Delta Air Lines that alleged a pilot had died mid-flight and that the First Officer was forced to make a solo emergency landing.
The Captain who died, according to the social media posts, had just had the second dose of a two-shot COVID-19 vaccine. The incident occurred at the start of October but other than stating that the pilot worked for Delta and was based at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), few other details have been shared about the flight.
Appearing on a right-wing internet talk show hosted by Stew Peters, a guest who goes by the name of Dr Jane Ruby shared the story that she claimed had been corroborated by three sources at Delta:
“Let me just share with you a breaking story that I’ve had corroborated now from three separate whistleblowers directly related to Delta Air Lines. A pilot died inflight within the last, I’d say, 10 days according to these sources.
The co-pilot told the flight attendant the Captain was speaking normally one minute then said a few weird things and then died. The flight had to make an emergency landing. We are now learning this is an LAX-based Captain and they did land the plane safely.
I’m not sure what they told the passengers on board. The co-pilot also shared with the flight attendant, who was one of the three whistleblowers, that the pilot who died that told the co-pilot had just several days prior completed the second shot in the series.”
Ruby also made several other claims about adverse reactions suffered by flight crew after being vaccinated:
- A Seattle based pilot was found dead on his floor at home after suffering an embolism.
- Two Atlanta-based flight attendants were found dead at home days after receiving the second shot.
- A fully vaccinated pilot died from kidney faliure after suffering a breakthrough infection.
Ruby describes herself as a health economist and New Right political pundit. She is not a medical doctor but does have a doctorate in psychology.
She has previously made a number of claims about COVID-19 vaccines and alleged side effects that have proved to be incorrect or completely false. In the past, she claimed the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine contained graphene oxide and that as many as half a million people could die from side effects related to the vaccines.
Ruby’s account on Twitter remains suspended, as does the Twitter account for Stew Peters.
Delta has moved quickly to reassure staff and passengers that the reports have been fabricated. A statement provided by the airline explains:
“Delta is aware of reports suggesting one of the airline’s pilots passed away from vaccine complications while operating a flight, resulting in an emergency landing. All of these allegations are false. The pandemic has been an incredibly tragic time for many, and our hearts go out to the hundreds of thousands of families of those who have passed away from the horrific virus”.
The U.S. airline industry has found itself at the center of speculation and rumor being propagated by anti-vaxxer commentators after vaccine mandates were backed by a slew of airlines.
In recent days, the rhetoric has been notched up several gears because of a highly publicized operational meltdown at Southwest Airlines. There have been unfounded accusations that the disruption was caused by a pilot sickout in protest at Southwest’s vaccine mandate.
Pilot unions at American Airlines and Southwest Airlines have demanded that their members be granted an “alternative means of compliance” with the mandate. The Allied Pilots Association (APA) linked vaccination concerns with the potential for “career-ending” side effects from having the shot.
APA president Captain Eric Ferguson maintains that the union will continue fighting for an alternative means of compliance but has since urged all members to get vaccinated “if you are medically able as recommended by your personal doctor, and if permitted by your faith.”
“Please keep personal politics and medical opinions out of the flight deck and focus foremost on the well-being of your crew and the safety of our operation,” Ferguson told members on Tuesday.
This isn’t the first time that conspiracy theorists and anti-vax groups have targeted the airline industry. In June, a fake audio recording of a British Airways insider claimed four pilots had died in quick succession after having a COVID-19 vaccine.
The claims were quickly debunked by independent fact-checkers and British Airways.
United Airlines has achieved a >99.5 per cent vaccination rate amongst non-exempt employees which include pilots, with no reports suggesting that vaccination has caused any side effects that would be a cause of alarm for passengers or crew.
Canada has also mandated COVID-19 vaccination for all aircrew with no safety issues so far raised.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledges that temporary and mild side effects from the COVID-19 vaccines are common and provides information about the risk of rare but serious side effects.
Conclusion: Reports that a Delta Air Lines pilot died just days after receiving the second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine have been debunked by the airline. There is no evidence to suggest this incident, or other claims made about vaccinated aircrew, occurred.
The COVID-19 vaccines have been proved to be safe and effective. Although two pilot unions have raised concerns about the vaccine mandates, they are not “anti-vaccination” and have encouraged their members to get the shot.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.