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No evidence for claim that a vaccinated pilot died during flight

October 14, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: A Delta Airlines pilot who had recently been vaccinated for COVID-19 died mid-flight within the last 10 days, forcing the plane to make an emergency landing.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. There’s no truth to this claim, according to a Delta Airlines statement issued Wednesday. An internet search found no credible news stories reporting that this happened, and the Federal Aviation Administration told The Associated Press it had not heard of any incident matching this description.

THE FACTS: The false claim circulated widely on video-sharing websites, blogs and Instagram this week following a Monday segment on the conservative talk show “The Stew Peters Show.” The show featured a guest, Jane Ruby, who describes herself as a “New Right political pundit” and as a doctor, though she does not appear to be a practicing medical doctor. Ruby said that she had heard about the incident from three whistleblowers.

“A pilot died in flight within the last, I’d say, 10 days, according to these sources,” Ruby said. “The co-pilot told the flight attendant that the captain was speaking normally one moment, then said a few weird things and then died. The flight had to make an emergency landing.”

Ruby added that the pilot was based at the Los Angeles International Airport and that staff on board “did land the plane safely.” She also said she had heard from one of the whistleblowers that the pilot had recently received his second COVID-19 vaccine dose.

But the claim is entirely false, Delta Airlines said in a statement addressing the topic on Wednesday.

“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,” the statement read. “All of these allegations are false.”

The FAA also told the AP in an email it “has found no evidence such an event occurred.”

Emergency landings or medical issues on commercial flights frequently appear in news articles, but an internet search turned up no news article matching any similar incident from October 1 to 11, 2021, the time period that the claim referenced.

A search on a website tracking global aviation-related incidents also turned up no emergency landing incidents involving Delta Airlines during this time period.

Ruby went on to make a series of vague, unverifiable claims about vaccine-related incidents involving airline crews and airplanes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that airline crews including pilots get the COVID-19 vaccine, which has been tested and found to be safe and effective.

The media company that hosts “The Stew Peters Show” did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Peters or Ruby.

The Los Angeles International Airport did not respond to an email requesting assistance evaluating the claim.

The misinformation was spreading as unverified rumors have surged online this week surrounding airline pilots and COVID-19 vaccinations. When Southwest Airlines canceled more than 2,000 flights over the weekend, social media users claimed it was because of employees walking out to protest impending employee vaccine mandates. Southwest Airlines denied these claims, saying bad weather and air traffic control issues caused the disruptions.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.