SciCheck Digest

The number of U.S. plane accidents has been about the same this year as it was last year. But posts on social media falsely claim that there has been a significant increase due to pilot reactions to the COVID-19 vaccines. The Federal Aviation Administration says it has seen “no evidence of aircraft accidents or pilot incapacitations” associated with COVID-19 vaccines.

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The number of airplane accidents in the U.S. has remained steady over the last five years, even during the pandemic, according to data from the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates all civil aviation accidents.

In 2020, the NTSB investigated 986 accidents, including 168 fatal crashes. In the previous four years, the NTSB investigated just over 1,000 accidents each year, including about 180 fatal accidents a year.

Accidents in the first nine months of this year rose slightly from the same time frame a year ago — 795 this year, 777 last year.

But misinformation peddlers are spreading the falsehood that there’s been a significant increase in accidents due to COVID-19 vaccinations, claiming that pilots have been suffering from side effects while flying.

“There’s a silent epidemic of plane crashes happening around the country and nobody is connecting the dots,” says the voice-over in one widely viewed video.

That video focuses on an Oct. 11 crash in Southern California in which the pilot of a small plane went down over a residential community, killing one person on the ground and injuring two others.

“It’s clear that the pilot was having a stroke,” the video claims. “The pilot was a doctor from a hospital and was required to get the vaccine. We know of many cases of pilots suffering strokes after getting the vaccine. That’s why they’re going on strike. It’s one of the many known side effects of this vaccine.”

But it’s not clear that the pilot had a stroke, nor is it true that strokes are a “known” side effect of COVID-19 vaccines. The most common side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines include injection site pain, fatigue, headache, muscle pain and fever, as we’ve explained before. In rare cases, the vaccines may cause more serious problems, such as anaphylaxis, an allergic reaction that has occurred in 2 to 5 people per million, according to the CDC. Such a reaction “can occur after any vaccination,” not just the COVID-19 vaccines, the CDC says. 

The FDA also has warned of an observed increased risk associated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine of the neurological disorder Guillain-Barré Syndrome and a blood clotting disorder coupled with low levels of platelets that has appeared almost exclusively in women below the age of 50. There is also emerging evidence that the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines may very rarely cause inflammation of the heart muscle or of the surrounding lining, particularly in young men.

It’s also false that airline pilots have been striking — a claim we addressed in another story.

The investigation of the accident in California is ongoing, but there’s no evidence to suggest that the pilot, who also died, was having a vaccine-related reaction. While it’s true that the pilot was a doctor, it’s false that his employer required vaccination. Dr. Sugata Das worked at the Yuma Regional Medical Center, which does not currently mandate COVID-19 vaccination, a spokeswoman told us.

NTSB’s preliminary report makes no mention of the COVID-19 vaccine. When we asked the Federal Aviation Administration about the claim, a spokeswoman provided a statement saying, “The FAA has seen no evidence of aircraft accidents or pilot incapacitations caused by pilots suffering medical complications associated with COVID-19 vaccines.”

It’s pure conjecture to claim that the pilot had a stroke. It’s an even further stretch to claim that the assumed stroke was related to vaccination, since strokes are not associated with COVID-19 vaccines. We could find no evidence of the pilot’s vaccination status.

The video then moves on to a clip from the conservative Stew Peters Show that featured Dr. Jane Ruby, who has made dubious claims about the COVID-19 vaccines before.

A Delta Air Lines pilot “died in flight within the last, I’d say, 10 days,” Ruby said on the Oct. 11 episode of the show, later claiming that the pilot had received his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine “several days” earlier.

“The captain was speaking normally one moment, then said a few weird things, and then died,” she claimed. “They did land the plane safely.” She concluded, “So, guys, there’s a lot going on in the skies, there’s a lot of risk right now.”

But there’s no evidence to support the claim.

Delta issued a statement two days later, saying, “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.”

And, as we said, the FAA is unaware of any such situation.

We asked Ruby for evidence of her claims, but she didn’t provide any.

Ruby wears a white coat and stethoscope in her photos on social media and uses the title of doctor. She also filed paperwork in Florida for a company called “Dr. Jane Ruby” and runs a website under that name. However, she is not a physician.

When we asked Ruby about her credentials, she responded by email, “I’ve never claimed to be a medical doctor.”

Her LinkedIn page, which is no longer active, lists a doctor of education degree from the University of Rochester, which describes that degree as being more practical than a Ph.D. in education and explains that it is meant for those seeking school leadership roles.

The university confirmed to us that Ruby did complete that degree.

Editor’s note: SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project is made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over FactCheck.org’s editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation. The goal of the project is to increase exposure to accurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines, while decreasing the impact of misinformation.

Sources

National Transportation Safety Board. Case Analysis and Reporting Online. Accessed 25 Oct 2021.

Figueroa, Teri, Karen Kucher and Alex Riggins. “‘Climb immediately’: Santee plane crash probe under way.” San Diego Union-Tribune. 12 Oct 2021.

FactCheck.org. “What side effects should you expect if you get a COVID-19 vaccine?” Updated 16 Jul 2021.

Hale Spencer, Saranac. “Partisan Claims About Flight Cancellations Lack Evidence.” FactCheck.org. 14 Oct 2021.

Spokeswoman, Yuma Regional Medical Center. Telephone interview with FactCheck.org. 26 Oct 2021.

National Transportation Safety Board. Aviation Accident Preliminary Report. 25 Oct 2021.

Spokeswoman, Federal Aviation Administration. Email to FactCheck.org. 22 Oct 2021.

Ferreira, Fernanda. “There is no conclusive evidence that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine contains graphene oxide.” Health Feedback. 8 Jul 2021.

Reuters Fact Check. “Fact Check-Video does not prove COVID-19 vaccines cause blood anomalies.” Reuters. 26 Aug 2021.

Delta Air Lines. Press release. “Delta comment: False employee allegations.” News.Delta.com. 13 Oct 2021.

Ruby, Jane. Email to FactCheck.org. 25 Oct 2021.

Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations. Electronic articles for organization for Florida limited liability company. 4 Feb 2021.

Spokeswoman, University of Rochester. Telephone interview with FactCheck.org. 25 Oct 2021.