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A prison van containing four suspects in a daring helicopter prison break leave the courthouse after being arraigned, Monday, March 18, 2013 in Saint-Jerome, Que. (Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
A prison van containing four suspects in a daring helicopter prison break leave the courthouse after being arraigned, Monday, March 18, 2013 in Saint-Jerome, Que. (Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Quebec jailbreak a tense collision of fear and flying Add to ...

The victim in the spectacular helicopter hijacking and jailbreak was a young aviator whose main mission in life was to soar. One of the escapees apparently lived in mortal fear he would be buried by enemies in the prison system.

The destiny of the two men collided on a rooftop of the Saint-Jérôme detention centre, where the escape had people around the world marvelling at the skillful manoeuvres of the pilot and the pure desperation of the fugitives.

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While the pilot in his 20s, Sébastien Foray, was recovering from the shock of his ordeal Monday, the two men who allegedly forced him to fly at gunpoint, and the two inmates who hitched a ride before allegedly shooting at police, were in court to face two dozen counts, including kidnapping. Police said more charges are in the works.

Originally from Albertville, France, Mr. Foray is a relatively young pilot who received his commercial licence just last year, according to his online resumé. He and his aircraft, a Robinson R44, were subcontracted out by his employer, Passport-Hélico, to fly tourists for a Mont-Tremblant company.

On Sunday afternoon, two men hired him at the going rate of $800 an hour to take them on a tour. Within minutes, one of the men pulled out a pistol and ordered him to fly to the jail, according to officials from Passport-Hélico, which runs a fleet of 17 helicopters.

In the ensuing minutes, Mr. Foray would land his helicopter on a rooftop, fly away with two men dangling from ropes, lower the men carefully onto a field – including one who was hanging upside-down – before landing on an uneven piece of terrain, and finally being set free by his captors in a parking lot. He flew back to base in Mont Tremblant.

Luckily for the escapees, Mr. Foray took obvious pride in conducting such manoeuvres. Videos and photos posted by Mr. Foray documented his piloting skills, including landings on uneven terrain and gently raising and lowering packages by rope.

Mr. Foray was in shock and still pumped on adrenalin after the incident, but he seemed to be doing fine, according to Yves Le Roux, president of Passport-Hélico. “It’s certainly traumatic for our pilot, but it ended about as well as you could hope,” Mr. Le Roux said. “He performed exceptionally well.”

Mr. Foray tried to radio an emergency signal to air-traffic control, according to Mr. Le Roux, but the hijackers became suspicious. “He did what he had to do, but they knew something was going on. They ripped off his headset,” Mr. Le Roux said.

The two suspects accused of first hijacking the aircraft were identified in court as 24-year-old Yagé Beaudoin and 21-year-old Mathieu Marchisio. The alleged rope-dangling jailbreakers were identified as Dany Provençal, 33, and Benjamin Hudon-Barbeau, 36.

Mr. Hudon-Barbeau is best known to police and media as a Hells Angels sympathizer, but he portrayed himself as an innocent who feared so much for his life while behind bars that he had to escape.

His father, Michel Barbeau, says his son was desperate to escape prison violence while police and prison officials seemed determined to make him pay for crimes he never committed. Mr. Barbeau says his son had just gotten out of solitary confinement after fighting with two inmates. The gang members thought Mr. Hudon-Barbeau had killed two of their brethren in a gunfight at a Laval nightclub in 2006, despite his acquittal in 2012 after a witness recanted.

Mr. Barbeau has long publicly proclaimed his son’s innocence and accused authorities of running a campaign to lock him up, or turn him informant. Mr. Hudon-Barbeau became increasingly unhinged after spending six years in prison while awaiting trial on the murder charge, Mr. Barbeau said. He was in the Saint-Jérôme jail on a weapons-possession charge. He felt he needed the protection, according to his father.

“They’re trying to destroy him, and they’ve burned his brain,” said Mr. Barbeau, who has his own criminal past. He pleaded guilty and served three years in prison in the 1990s for his part in a gangland double homicide linked to the drug trade.

“He’s no angel, I’m no angel,” Mr. Barbeau said. “He’s not a Hells Angel. He’s 36 years old and doesn’t have a patch. He would have one by now. They took a picture of him once at a golf tournament with a Hells Angel. Who doesn’t know a Hells Angel in this province?”

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