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updated: 3/18/2013 9:28 AM

2 inmates escape from Quebec prison in helicopter

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  • Police vehicles block a road just outside the town of Chertsey, Quebec, Sunday, during a search for escaped prisoners. A dramatic daylight jailbreak involving two Quebec inmates climbing a rope into a hovering helicopter swiftly escalated into a large police operation Sunday night in which at least one escapee was tracked down hours after he fled.

      Police vehicles block a road just outside the town of Chertsey, Quebec, Sunday, during a search for escaped prisoners. A dramatic daylight jailbreak involving two Quebec inmates climbing a rope into a hovering helicopter swiftly escalated into a large police operation Sunday night in which at least one escapee was tracked down hours after he fled.
    Associated Press

  • Police vehicles block a road just outside the town of Chertsey, Quebec, Sunday during a search for escaped prisoners.

      Police vehicles block a road just outside the town of Chertsey, Quebec, Sunday during a search for escaped prisoners.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

SAINT-JEROME, Quebec -- Two Quebec inmates climbed into a hijacked helicopter to make a daring daylight escape from a prison outside Montreal, authorities said Monday. Both were later recaptured.

Police said they believe the pilot was held hostage in the Sunday jailbreak and consider him a victim. He was treated for shock in hospital.

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Quebec provincial police said early Monday that they had arrested four people about 30 miles north of the Saint-Jerome prison from which the inmates escaped.

Two of those arrested Sunday were inmates Benjamin Hudon-Barbeau, 36, and Danny Provencal, 33. Hudon-Barbeau was arrested first and police cornered Provencal later in the evening, after establishing a security perimeter around a building where he had barricaded himself.

Quebec Provincial Police Sgt. Benoit Richard said early Monday that Provencal had surrendered peacefully after negotiations continued through the night.

Earlier Sunday, police received a call from the staff at the Saint-Jerome jail, reporting the escape at about 2:20 p.m. local time, Richard said.

The prison's warden told police that Hudon-Barbeau and Provencal had grabbed a rope dropped from the helicopter to make their getaway, Richard said.

Quebec provincial police tracked down the helicopter used in the escape to Mont-Tremblant, about 53 miles away from the jail but only the chopper's pilot was still at the scene. Richard called the pilot "an important witness" in the case.

"We were called early in the process of the prison break. We were able to locate the suspects quickly. They ended up in a car and there was a chase and we were able to find them," Quebec Provincial Police spokesman Gregory Gomez Del Prado said. "Three were in custody within five hours. The fourth was in custody around midnight."

Gomez Del Prado said the two inmates escaped from the prison yard.

"It's spectacular. It's out of the ordinary," he said.

According to a provincial police report, Hudon-Barbeau was arrested in November on two firearm related charges and associating with people with criminal histories. The arrest came as part of an investigation of a double murder in Quebec.

A Montreal radio station, 98.5 FM, said it received a call Sunday from a man claiming to be Hudon-Barbeau, who said he was "ready to die" as he tried to evade police.

"The way they're treating me in there, it's unreal," the man told the radio station. "They won't let me be. They put me back in prison for nothing."

Authorities did not immediately respond to the claims made in the radio station interview.

Yves Galarneau, the correctional services manager who oversees the Saint-Jerome jail, said he'd never seen anything like the dramatic escape in more than three decades on the job.

Galarneau said there are no security measures in place at the jail to prevent a helicopter from swooping down from above.

"As far as I know, it's a first in Quebec," he told reporters at the scene. "It's exceptional."

Although the tactic may have been a first for Quebec, using a chopper to break out of jail has a long and colorful history, and not just in the movies.

A New York businessman, Joel David Kaplan, used a chopper to escape from a Mexican jail in 1971, and went on to write a book about it. Pascal Payet, a French prisoner, used a helicopter to escape on three occasions, only to be caught by authorities every time.

The prison at the center of Sunday's escapade in Quebec is a provincial detention center with a maximum-security wing.

Saint-Jerome jail, located about 37 miles northwest of Montreal, experienced a mini-riot by about a dozen prisoners a little over a month ago. In that incident, police were called in to secure the outside of the jail, which holds about 480 inmates, and jail staff used pepper spray to disperse the mob.

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