I had to laugh at this - it reminded me of the famous ‘death of Doc Daneeka’ bit in Heller’s novel Catch-22. In order to claim his flight pay, the Doc logs onto flights but doesn’t actually go up in them. He is among a group of airmen who see a flight in trouble - somebody checks the log and…
“Who’s in the plane?”
“McWatt” said Serjeant Knight, “He’s got 2 new pilots up there on a training flight. Doc Daneeka’s up there too.”
“I’m right here”, contended Doc Daneeka.
[They see 2 parachutes come from the plane.]
“Two more to go,” said Sergeant Knight. “McWatt and Doc Daneeka.”
“I am right here, Sergeant Knight,” Doc Daneeka told him plaintively. “I am not in the plane.”
“Why don’t they jump?” Sergeant Knight asked, pleading aloud to himself. “Why don’t they jump?”
“It does not make sense,” grieved Doc Daneeka biting his lip. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
But in the terms of the novel it does make sense - for this is a world in which paperwork matters more than real lives. Recorded as killed, Daneeka’s insurance and USAF pension is paid to his wife, who subsequently refuses to acknowledge him. Like the woman in the newspaper story, he finally realises that, without papers “I’m nothing” - and indeed he gradually just fades into the novel’s background.
Catch-22 is a double-layered satire: first on the American conduct of the war and it’s accompanying profiteering, but via this on the way American society itself was developing - remarkably prescient for a book written in the late 1950s.