Italian police describe it as a real-life sequel to "Catch Me If You Can," the hit movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio in the true story about an ingenious con artist masquerading as a commercial airline pilot.
An unemployed 32-year-old Italian man was stopped 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, Germany, to Turin, Carabinieri paramilitary police said Saturday.
Police said two real pilots flew the Air Dolomiti plane on the flight in April. The man, who wasn't identified, didn't touch the controls while in the cockpit. Police caught up with the man at the Turin airport terminal Wednesday after tailing him for months and receiving a tip. On his Facebook profile, the man also falsely 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," and was allowed to stay free on his own recognizance 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 hadn't passed through security. A police spokesman, who declined to be identified, said it didn't appear that the man was planning on using the same ruse that day and that it wasn't known if he had pulled off the trick on any other flights.
Air Dolomiti is part of the German airline Lufthansa.
"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.
Italian police said the suspect, after they confronted him, 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 movie, directed by Steven Spielberg, DiCaprio portrays a real-life character, a young man who successfully forges millions of dollars' worth of checks 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 U.S. agency sought his help in nabbing other check forgers.
AP reporter Juergen Baetz contributed from Berlin.