Two inmates escape from Montreal prison in hijacked helicopter

MONTREAL (AP) - Two inmates made a daring daylight escape from a prison northwest of Montreal in a hijacked helicopter, then led police in a car chase and exchanged gunfire at a rural cabin before they were finally recaptured, authorities said on Monday.

Police said the helicopter pilot was held hostage in the Sunday jail-break and was not a suspect. He was treated for shock at a hospital.

"This is the first time this has occurred in a Quebec facility," said Mr Yves Galarneau, correctional services manager of the Saint-Jerome prison.

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

Mr Yves Le Roux, president of the helicopter rental company, Passport-Hélico, said that two men posing as tourists pulled a gun on the pilot, 23-year-old Sebastien Foray, and told him to fly over the prison.

The hijackers used a rope to hoist two prisoners, 36-year-old Benjamin Hudon-Barbeau and 33-year-old Danny Provencal, from inside the gates. Th escapees dangled from the helicopter before it landed in an open field where they were able to hop aboard.

Mr Le Roux said one of the convicts got tangled in the rope upside-down, and may have been hurt.

They took off again and the pilot switched on an emergency signal during the flight to alert authorities before landing the chopper in Mont-Tremblant, about 85km away from the prison, he added.

Police said they followed the helicopter until it landed, and then chased a car until it reached a rural cabin.

Two of the suspects then broke into the cabin and the residents fled unharmed.

Hudon-Barbeau and another suspect were arrested at the scene and Provencal surrendered peacefully after barricading himself in a building for several hours. Another suspect was arrested on a nearby highway.

The two alleged accomplices and the two escaped convicts appeared in court on Monday but did not enter a plea. They were expected to do so as early as their next court appearance on April 16.

Police said the charges include attempted murder, hijacking an aircraft, evasion, possession of restricted weapons, and breaking and entering.

Hudon-Barbeau was serving time on firearms related charges, but it was not immediately clear what Provencal was convicted of.

Both prisoners, however, have long criminal records. Hudon-Barbeau has ties to the Hells Angels biker gang, according to Quebec court records. In January 2012, the Quebec Court of Appeal overturned a 2010 attempted murder conviction against Hudon-Barbeau when the key witness retracted her testimony.

Although the helicopter jailbreak is a first for Quebec, it has a long and colorful history.

A helicopter swooped down on a prison courtyard in Greece last month as armed men on board fired on guards and lowered a rope to help a convicted killer make his fourth attempt to escape from the prison. But the plot was foiled after the prisoner was shot and the chopper was forced to land in the prison's parking lot.

In 1971, New York businessman Joel David Kaplan used a chopper to escape from a Mexican jail and went on to write a book about it.

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

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