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Police vehicles block the road leading to a detention centre in St. Jerome, Que., Sunday, March 17, 2013, where two prisoners made a daring escape by helicopter. (GRAHAM HUGHES/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Police vehicles block the road leading to a detention centre in St. Jerome, Que., Sunday, March 17, 2013, where two prisoners made a daring escape by helicopter. (GRAHAM HUGHES/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Four epic helicopter jailbreaks in history Add to ...

Brazen prison escapes are not limited to the plotlines of action movies. A host of real-life inmates have mounted spectacular jail breaks using all manner of exploits, including, perhaps improbably, helicopters.

Here are some notable aerial getaways:

1. Frenchman Pascal Payet orchestrated three prison escapes – each one using a helicopter.

The convicted murderer was serving a 30-year sentence for murder in France when he escaped by helicopter in 2001. While on the lam for six years, he hijacked a helicopter to free three former fellow inmates from the same northwest French jail in 2003.

After he was recaptured and jailed again, Mr. Payet again escaped from a prison in southeast France by helicopter in 2007. Four men hijacked the chopper from nearby Cannes and landed on the roof of the prison, using heavy machinery to break open two doors and enter the isolation ward where Mr. Payet was held.

He was arrested two months later carrying forged documents and two guns in a suburb of Barcelona, media reported.

2. Greek Vassilis Paleokostas and Albanian Alket Rijai escaped from the same prison in Athens twice in three years.

In 2009, a helicopter flew over a high-security prison in Athens, lowered a rope ladder and whisked the pair off the roof as guards watched. The helicopter pilot later said he had been hijacked. Mr. Paleokostas, who was Greek’s most notorious prisoner, was serving a sentence for robbery and kidnapping and was to appear in court the day after he escaped.

Mr. Rijai, who was serving time for multiple counts of murder and robbery, was arrested a few months after his second escape while sleeping in a hideout in a village northeast of Athens. Mr. Paleokostas remains at large.

Their exploits deeply embarrassed the government, which was heavily criticized for not taking measures to avoid the repeat escape. “Carbon-copy fiasco, Embarrassment,” one newspaper said.

The pair had escaped using the exact same method in 2006.

On Saturday, Mr. Rijai tried to break out of prison again, but this time authorities said he took hostages and demanded a getaway car. After a 24-hour standoff, he surrendered to police.

3. French bank robber Michel Vaujour escaped from a prison in Paris in 1986 in a helicopter piloted by his wife Nadine, who had taken flying lessons to be able to free him.

Mr. Vaujour – who had previously escaped from jail several times, including while once using an imitation gun fashioned from slivers of soap – was recaptured four months later after being wounded in a shoot-out with police as he tried to rob a bank. His wife served 16 months in jail.

In 1996, Mr. Vaujour was sentenced to eight more years in jail for two similar, though unsuccessful, helicopter escape attempts in 1993.

4. New York businessman Joel David Kaplan used a helicopter to escape from a federal prison in Mexico in 1971.

While most of the prison guards were watching a movie, Mr. Kaplan, a millionaire who was serving a 28-year sentence for murder, was spirited out by a helicopter that landed within the prison walls.

Mr. Kaplan switched to a small plane and managed to enter the United States, where he passed through customs and disappeared.

The escape was told in the book, The 10-Second Jailbreak: The Helicopter Escape of Joel David Kaplan. It also inspired the 1975 movie Breakout, which starred Charles Bronson and Robert Duvall.

With reports from Reuters and The Associated Press

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