Catch me if you can… Oh, they did. Italy grounds its real-life 'pilot' con-man

Life imitates film – only this imposter proves to be not so convincing

The right suit and a properly-ironed shirt can get you into a surprising number of places, as one chancer masquerading as a pilot discovered when he blagged his way into the cockpit of a passenger jet.

Police in Italy have revealed how the 32-year-old unemployed man, who was arrested in Turin last week, flew in the cockpit of an Air Dolomiti plane from Munich to the northern Italian city on 6 April this year.

No motive has been suggested for the man's actions, but the incident immediately drew comparisons with the real life case of Frank Abagnale, a con-man who flew as a fake Pan American pilot in the 1960s. He was played by Leonardo Di Caprio in the 2002 Hollywood film Catch Me If You Can.

A police statement said: "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." Officials insist that he did not touch the controls. However, investigators are now trying to establish if the man flew on other planes.

The suspect was seized at a bar outside Turin Airport's check-in area. He was said to be sipping a coffee and dressed in a pilot's uniform. Investigators have accused him of endangering air transport security, and impersonation.

The fake pilot even led police to a garage containing neatly pressed white shirts with epaulets, black trousers and jackets, like those worn by pilots.

They also found forged IDs and fake flight theory manuals. Before his arrest, police had been tracing the suspect for several months after it emerged that he had created a fake identity as a Lufthansa pilot named Andrea Sirlo, complete with a Facebook page, which included fake flight attendant friends.

According to press reports yesterday, investigators were alerted after he introduced himself as a captain to a civil aviation lieutenant, who was immediately suspicious because he appeared too young for the position.

Photos on his bogus Facebook profile showing him posing in a pilot's uniform and dark glasses, enabled police to trace him.

It also emerged that a profile on the website that allows users to track the flights of pilots shows a "Pilot Andrea Sirlo" flying from Munich Airport to Turin on 23 October last year.

Air Dolomiti is part of the German airline Lufthansa, which declined to provide details when quizzed about the case. But its spokesman Christoph Meier insisted that even a staff pilot could not have boarded the plane without a ticket.

The incident is the latest that has seen Italian airport safety come under the spotlight. In July, security officials at Rome's Fiumicino airport were caught napping when a drunken Norwegian tourist fell asleep on his luggage and travelled down a check-in conveyor belt before finally being spotted on an X-ray machine.

Italy's civil aviation authority Enac asked Rome's Fiumicino airport operator to explain how the tourist was able to travel unchallenged for 50 metres on the luggage belt.

That incident occurred on 23 July – the same week as the "Rome Alone" case in which an 11-year-old boy was able to flight to Rome from Manchester, passing five security checks, by himself without any documents.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - A great new opportunity with real pot...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - An outstanding senior opportunity for...

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower