Risk of aircraft-assisted suicide spiked after September 11 terror attacks, study finds

There was a temporary rise in aircraft-assisted pilot suicides following the September 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, according to new research in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. The findings suggest that media exposure could have led to copycat behavior.

The study found an increase in the risk of aircraft-assisted suicide in the United States in the year after the attack. However, there was not a statistically significant increase in the two years after that.

The researchers examined data from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, which keeps track of aviation-related accidents and fatalities. They found a 3.68-fold increase in the risk of aircraft-assisted suicide from September 12, 2001 to September 11, 2002, compared to the previous five years.

But even with the increase, aircraft-assisted suicides were extremely rare. Of the 337 fatal aircraft accidents in the year after the attack, only 4 were determined to be suicides.

“The use of aircraft as the means to commit the terrorist attacks in the U.S. on 11 September 2001, may have had a negative effect on a few acutely vulnerable pilots. This vulnerability warrants further investigation, particularly with reference to the copycat phenomenon and it needs to be taken into account in aviation medical safety risk assessments,” the researchers concluded.

(If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741).

The study, “Aircraft-Assisted Pilot Suicides in the General Aviation Increased for One-Year Period after 11 September 2001 Attack in the United States“, was authored by Alpo Vuorio, Tanja Laukkala, Ilkka Junttila, Robert Bor, Bruce Budowle, Eero Pukkala, Pooshan Navathe, and Antti Sajantila.