Police have tracked down and arrested four men they say were responsible for a daring helicopter escape from a Quebec prison.
The breakout had all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster.
Two men, one with alleged biker-gang affiliations, clung to a hijacked helicopter as it lifted off from a detention centre in St-Jérôme, Que., 60 kilometres northwest of Montreal, on Sunday afternoon, touching off a manhunt by land and air.
Word of the escape reached provincial police at 2:20 on Sunday afternoon, shortly after panicked prison guards watched the helicopter spirit away two of their high-security prisoners.
The helicopter was reportedly hijacked earlier in the day from Heli-Tremblant, a tour company in Mont-Tremblant. Two men posing as tourists hired the chopper. As soon as they were aloft, the men brandished a gun and ordered the pilot to fly to St-Jérôme.
Hovering over the prison, the hijackers hoisted the inmates using cables or ropes, according to police.
Both fugitives were reportedly injured in the escape.
Provincial police identified the fugitives as Benjamin Hudon-Barbeau, 36, and Danny Provençal, 33.
As if the breakout lacked audacity, a man identifying himself as Mr. Hudon-Barbeau began phoning Quebec media outlets – TVA and Montreal radio station 98.5 FM. “It will end badly,” he said, according to the radio station’s website. “I’ll kill myself, I’m 36 years old, I was told that I would die in prison.”
The fugitive said he was shot in the leg during the escape.
Police eventually found the helicopter about 85 kilometres away in Mont-Tremblant, but the fugitives had fled. Only the pilot remained inside. He was taken to an area hospital.
“He’s going to be questioned later on by investigators,” said police spokesman Sergeant Benôit Richard, adding that it was too early to say what the pilot’s role was in the escape.
The aerial pursuit over, a ground chase began with provincial police tailing an SUV believed to be ferrying the two men toward the town of Chertsey.
Local all-news station LCN broadcast images of a cottage near the town where the two suspects were said to be hiding. A white Cadillac Escalade with its doors open on the driver’s side could be seen.
By 8 p.m., police had arrested three men, including Mr. Hudon-Barbeau. The second fugitive, Mr. Provençal, surrendered early Monday morning after being surrounded by police.
Sgt. Richard said Mr. Provençal was holed up in a sugar-shack type of structure and had surrendered peacefully and there were no injuries.
Sgt. Richard said all four suspects would be in court Monday in St-Jérôme to face charges that had yet to be determined.
The escapees have long criminal records.
Mr. Hudon-Barbeau was arrested and charged with several weapons offences in November during an operation targeting Ryan Wolfson, a hitman who worked for the Hells Angels. Police alleged that Mr. Hudon-Barbeau also had ties to the biker gang. Earlier in 2012, the Quebec Court of Appeal overturned a 2010 attempted murder conviction against Mr. Hudon-Barbeau when a witness recanted their testimony.
This is not the first time Mr. Provençal has tried to evade police. He was charged in 2011 for his part in a Montreal home invasion that resulted in a police chase. Police shot and killed Mr. Provençal’s accomplice, Patrick Saulnier, at some point during the pursuit.
Yves Galarneau, the correctional services manager who oversees the St-Jérôme jail, said he’d never seen anything like Sunday’s dramatic escape in more than three decades on the job.
Mr. 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.”
The 480-prisoner St-Jérôme facility erupted in a small riot last month. Police were called in to secure the prison perimeter while staff quelled the mob using pepper spray.
With a file from The Canadian PressReport Typo/Error