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The Guy Who Flew Thousands of Passengers As a Fake Pilot

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This is Thomas Salme, a maintenance engineer who became a Boeing 737 pilot by flying a few nights in a flight simulator and printing a fake airliner pilot license. Amazingly enough, he flew passengers for thirteen years without any incidents.

Thirteen years of back and forth from Sweden to everywhere else in Europe. Nobody noticed until a couple of months ago, when Salme was caught by the police as he was getting ready for take off. He was in the cockpit of a Boeing 737, with 101 passengers at Amsterdam's Schipol airport. He admits that it was all a crazy idea:

I got the crackpot idea to apply as a co-pilot at a real airline so I made myself a Swedish flying permit with a logo out of regular white paper. It wasn't laminated, and looked like something I'd made at home. It was surprisingly easy. The documents look different everywhere in Europe. An Italian airline doesn't know what a Swedish licence looks like. And you can forge all the IDs you need. I'd train there for two or three hours at a time—at least 15 to 20 times over one and a half years.


Despite putting the lives of thousands at risk, Salme only got fined a couple thousand dollars and was banned from flying for a year. Thinking twice about it, it's kind of reasonable. Despite being crazy enough to pull such a stunt, it's not entirely his fault. After all, how can a company and the flight agencies involved be so absolutely inept? How can they accept a simple printout and put a random guy in the cockpit of a passenger plane without running any background checks? A simple computer search would have probably turned out enough information to stop this from the beginning. I can imagine Frank Abagnale Jr. pulling this stunt in the 60s, but now? There are no excuses.

If anyone needs to be nailed, that's the useless authorities that make us follow all kinds of stupid security procedures to get into an airplane, but can miserably fail to check the identity and qualification of the pilots flying the plane. [Focus]