French jailbirds stage yet another helicopter escape
Matthew Campbell in Paris
USING a tried and tested method of escape from French jails, three convicts broke out of a prison in eastern France yesterday aboard a helicopter hijacked from a nearby airport.
Two armed men hijacked the helicopter in Albertville as it was about to take off to pick up skiers in the Alps and forced the pilot to fly to a prison about 10 minutes away. The helicopter landed in the courtyard and three prisoners clambered aboard.
The five men later fled on foot, taking the pilot’s telephone and radio, after the aircraft landed in open country near the city of Grenoble. They had not been found by nightfall despite roadblocks set up by police.
Such escapes are becoming embarrassingly common in France with at least 10 helicopter jail breaks reported since 1981. The most spectacular happened in 1986 when the wife of Michel Vaujour, a bank robber, flew low over central Paris in a white helicopter and plucked him off the roof of his fortress prison.
Officials declined to name yesterday’s escapees from the prison at Aiton but said that one was serving time for drug trafficking, another for armed robbery and the third — considered especially dangerous — for leading a gang in a robbery. The prison’s courtyard had no security mesh to prevent such incidents.
A similar attempted jailbreak in central France failed in July when a helicopter landed on a prison roof but set off alarms. Yet a large number of prisoners have managed to flee aboard helicopters chartered for the occasion or hijacked at gunpoint.
In 2000 a gunman hijacked a helicopter and plucked three inmates from the roof of their prison near Lyons. Guards opened fire on the aircraft but could not stop the daring escape, in which prisoners clung to a large net lowered from the helicopter.
One of the escapees was shot dead by guards firing from watchtowers; but after the helicopter landed in a field not far from the prison, four men fled in cars commandeered from motorists. The escaped prisoners were later recaptured after a gun battle with police.
After a 1992 escape from the same prison, cables were strung across the central yards at five-metre intervals. Other prisons already have nets over the exercise yards, which were put up after Vaujour’s escape from La Santé prison in 1986.
Nadine, the mother of his two children, piloted a helicopter to La Santé and hoisted him to freedom after he had made his way to the roof with a fake pistol and nectarines painted as grenades.