Fact check: Pilot arrested in 2019 after flying internationally without a license for 20 years

·3 min read

The claim: Pilot resigned after flying planes without license for 20 years

Years after his story came to light, social media users are still fascinated by how he did it.

"William Chandler; a South African pilot, had to resign after it was found he had a fake licence (sic). He was flying for the last 20 years," reads the screenshot of an apparent tweet shared on Facebook Sept. 30.

The image accrued more than 1,200 shares in the first few hours of being online. Other recent versions of the image accumulated more than 28,000 shares.

A version posted to the meme website iFunny shows the tweet is from Twitter user Eyan Ronaldo, who posted it on Sept. 16. The original tweet accumuulated more than 5,300 retweets as of Sept. 30.

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Surprisingly, the claim is true. After twenty years working for South African Airways, Chandler was arrested and charged in 2019, local news outlets reported at the time.

USA TODAY reached out to the poster for comment.

Investigation found forged documents

Chandler started working at South African Airways as a senior first officer, or co-pilot, in 1994, the South African newspaper Mail and Guardian reported in 2019.

The airline found out Chandler had forged his airline transport pilot license in March 2019 after an investigation was opened due to a reported turbulence issue during an international flight in November 2018, USA TODAY reported in 2019.

The airline transport pilot license is required to operate as captain on a "large commercial multi-crew aircraft," according to the Johannesburg School of Flying.

The certification requires a minimum of 1,500 hours of flying, out of which 250 must be as captain. One hundred out of those 250 hours must also happen at night.

The airline said in a statement Chandler's lack of license hadn't presented "any safety risk to SAA's operations as the pilot in question was in possession of a valid commercial pilot's license and was the monitoring pilot and not the commander of the aircraft," USA TODAY reported.

It remains unclear when Chandler forged his license, but the airline's policy requires pilots to obtain it within five years of employment. Chandler had a commercial pilot's license, which allows pilots to operate commercial flights – but not long, international flights.

Tlali Tlali, a company spokesperson, said South African Airways was opening a criminal case of fraud against Chandler. He said, "necessary steps will be taken to recover the money unduly paid to him."

Chandler was arrested and charged with fraud in March 2019, the Mail and Guardian reported. His second appearance in front of a court was expected on May 14 of that year. USA TODAY didn't find any records of what happened.

Chandler isn't the first or only pilot to forge a license, however.

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In 2010, a Swedish pilot was arrested in the Netherlands as he sat in the cockpit ready to fly a Boeing 737 aircraft with 101 passengers to Turkey, the Seattle Times reported. The pilot was suspected of flying with a forged license for more than a decade.

Our rating: True

Based on our research, we rate TRUE the claim that a pilot resigned after flying planes without a license for 20 years. The pilot's forged documents were discovered after an investigation in 2019.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Pilot flew for two decades without a valid license

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