An unemployed Italian man has been arrested at Turin’s Caselle airport on suspicion he successfully used false IDs, a cap and uniform, to convince a crew he was a pilot and let him fly for free inside the cockpit aboard a commercial flight from Munich to Turin.
Italian police on Saturday described the arrest as a real-life sequel to “Catch Me If You Can,” the hit film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, based on a true story in which an ingenious con artist masquerades as a commercial airline pilot.
Using a fake ID, the 32-year-old man whose identity was not released, passed himself off as a Lufthansa pilot named “Andrea Sirlo.”
He also created a Facebook page that included fake flight attendant friends.
Police said two real pilots flew the Air Dolomiti plane on the flight in April and that the man did not touch the controls while in the cockpit of the Lufthansa-affiliated plane.
Authorities finally caught up with the man at the Turin airport terminal after tailing him for months and receiving a tip.
On his Facebook profile, the man bragged he was a commercial pilot and claimed he was promoted to captain’s rank while still young.
A police statement said the suspect was cited for suspicion of putting at risk the security of air transport and “usurping a title”. He was allowed to stay free on his own recognisance while the investigation continues.
“On at least one occasion in 2012, pretending to be a pilot of a foreign commercial airline, and with a fake name, he succeeded in flying as the third pilot in the cockpit,” the statement said.
When police caught up with him, the suspect was dressed in a pilot’s uniform, but without any company logo on it, and was sipping coffee at a bar near the check-in area in the terminal and had not passed through security.
A police spokesman, who declined to be identified, said it did not appear that the man was planning on using the same ruse that day and that it was not known if he had pulled off the trick on any other flights.
“We know the case,” Lufthansa spokesman Christoph Meier said.
He declined to give any details, but insisted that nobody, not even a staff pilot, would be able to fly aboard one of the carrier’s planes without having a ticket, indicating that the Italian might have had a passenger ticket.
Turin airport said in a statement that it had not issued any permits in the name of the person involved.
A profile on a website where users can track their flights shows “Pilot Andrea Sirlo” flying from Munich airport to Turin on October 23, 2011.
Munich airport did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Italian police said after being confronted the suspect led them to a garage, where officers found piles of neatly pressed white shirts with epaulets, black trousers and jackets, similar to pilots’ uniforms, and fake IDs, which were seized by authorities.
In the 2002 film, directed by Steven Spielberg, DiCaprio portrays a real-life character, a young man who successfully forges millions of dollars’ worth of cheques through various guises, including as a pilot for now defunct Pan American Airways.
So skilled was he that he won the grudging admiration of the FBI which chased after him, and eventually the US agency sought his help in catchong other cheque forgers.