Catch Me If You Can: Italian Man Caught Posing as Airline Pilot

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A 32-year-old Italian man going by the alias Andrea Sirlo scammed at least one free international plane flight by posing as a Lufthansa airline pilot. The man, whose real identity hasn’t been revealed, was arrested last Friday when police caught up with him at Italy’s Turin airport.

Sirlo reportedy flew from Munich to Turin as a “third pilot” on the flight deck at least once for free. The Italian had gone as far as setting up fake Facebook and Twitter accounts for the made up persona, complete with fake imaginary flight attendant friends.

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Police began looking for him after a civil aviation lieutenant’s suspicions were raised after he met the fake pilot: “Sirlo” had looked far too young to be a pilot. When authorities finally caught up with the imposter, they found fake ID cards, pilot uniforms, training manuals and even fake resumes at his home.

“Sirlo” had taken a cue from infamous con man Frank Abagnale, Jr., who once flew over a million miles by impersonating a PanAm pilot back in the 1950s. Abagnale’s story was later turned into a Spielberg-directed motion picture, Catch Me If You Can, starring Leonado DiCaprio. “I saw that film and I wanted to be like [him],” Sirlo reportedly told police.

(MORE: Almost 200 Chinese Pilots Falsified Their Flight Experience)

Lufthansa has declined to comment.

Erica Ho is a contributor at TIME and the editor of Map Happy. Find her on Twitter at @ericamho and Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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