Pilot sparks hijack terror alert after ‘falling ASLEEP at the controls’ of passenger flight from New York

A CAPTAIN working for Italy's premier state airline has been fired after causing a hijack scare by allegedly falling asleep at the controls.

The flight fell under a 10 minute communications "blackout" when the pilot and co-pilot allegedly dozed off, leading to a major terror alert.

According to the Italian daily Repubblica, while the Airbus 330's co-pilot was allowed to have a nap for a "controlled rest", the captain was supposed to remain awake at the same time.

The pilots of ITA Airways flight AZ609 sparked panic when they failed to respond to air traffic controllers at around 5:20am.

The flight was travelling from New York to Rome on April 30.

When the cockpit was unreachable after entering French airspace, French authorities were forced to warn their Italian counterparts the plane might have been hijacked by terrorists.

The plane reportedly remained on autopilot during the incident, and a statement from ITA Airways sent to The Sun stated that the airline: "clearly and rigorously confirms that the safety of the flight has always been guaranteed in accordance with the highest safety standards provided for by aviation regulations."

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The captain denies he fell asleep, and claimed issues with the communications system led to the incident.

However, this was debunked by an internal investigation by ITA Airways when technicians tested the systems, leading the airline to fire the captain as "the relationship of trust in the working environment had been broken."

The dozy situation escalated to the point where two fighter jets were told to prepare to approach the plane to see inside the cockpit.

The Italian airway's command centre attempted to send messages to the aircraft, although this was met with radio silence by the napping pilots.

After eventually awaking after 10 minutes, the plane landed in Rome 20 minutes early.

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