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Fact Check-A remembrance page in a magazine for pilots does not reveal skyrocketing airline deaths in 2021

A memorial page of a magazine for American and Canadian airline pilots has been used to falsely suggest COVID-19 vaccines have caused a large uptick in deaths.

The ‘in memoriam’ page of Air Line Pilot Magazine, a monthly publication by the Air Line Pilot Association (ALPA), lists names of pilots who have passed away, along with the month and year of death, and their former carriers.

In the Oct-Nov edition, social media users noted that the page had listed 111 names for 2021, while six names were listed for 2020. One name was listed under 2019.

“Here is another coincidence,” said one Facebook meme. “Shows 1 pilot passed away 2019, 6 pilots passed away 2020 and 111 pilots passed away in the first 9 months of 2021” (here).

One Twitter user, whose posts received hundreds of impressions, linked the data directly to COVID-19 vaccines.

He said in a video: “Since the vaccine started, we have almost a 2000% increase in the death of pilots flying commercial airlines” (here).

The commentator pointed underneath to the ALPA magazine, adding: “Heroes, most ex military. Dead for our politicians power grab [sic]” (here).

Other social media users have suggested the page is evidence of pilots falling seriously ill in-flight, or of planes “dropping out of the sky” (bit.ly/3p4iVMP , here, and here).

These suggestions, however, are not based in fact. They appear to be the result of a misinterpretation of the memorial page.

ALPA is the largest airline pilot union, representing 61,000 active and retired pilots across the United States and Canada (here).

Its magazine publishes lists of members who have passed away.

“We report the losses in our magazine as we receive information from the families,” ALPA said in a statement (here). “The information in one magazine edition does not provide a complete report of the total losses for each of the listed years. We salute every member for their service and honor their memories.” 

Therefore, the page shared on social media does not reveal 111 pilots died in 2021, compared with six in 2020 and one in 2019. Rather, it shows 111 families had reported prior to the Oct-Nov issue the deaths of relatives who were ALPA members in 2021.

Six families reported prior to the same issue being published of their relatives passing away in 2020 – and one family for 2019.

A previous edition available online shows the same reporting system. In December 2018, there were 29 names of pilots who died between May and October 2018, while the same page also listed two names under 2017. One additional name was listed under 2014. (here, p. 13).

In its statement, ALPA added that there had been more deaths of association members reported in the years before COVID-19 vaccines were rolled out.

“Based on verified information provided by their families, we reported the loss of more pilots in both 2019 and 2020 than in 2021,” it said (here).

VERDICT

Missing context. The memorial page in ALPA magazine lists the names of members who have passed away based on families reporting the deaths.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .

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