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2 inmates escape from Quebec jail in helicopter

  • Associated Press
  • March 18, 2013 - 12:23 AM

SAINT-JEROME, Quebec - Two Quebec inmates climbed up a rope into a hovering helicopter to make a daring daylight escape from a jail northwest of Montreal, authorities said, but one was later recaptured and the other surrounded by police.

Quebec provincial police said they had arrested three people about 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of the Saint-Jerome jail from which the inmates escaped earlier on Sunday. One of those arrested was 36-year-old inmate Benjamin Hudon-Barbeau.

Authorities late Sunday located the second inmate and said a security perimeter had been set up around the area where 33-year-old Danny Provencal was found.

Quebec Provincial Police Sgt. Benoit Richard said just before midnight that negotiations were continuing. He could not say if Provencal was holed up in a house, commercial structure or some other type of building.

"We are trying to meet with him and to have him surrender as soon as possible," said Richard, who added that he had no knowledge of any possible hostages.

Richard added that Provencal was presumed to be "armed and very dangerous."

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

The jail'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 on Sunday afternoon to Mont-Tremblant, about 53 miles (85 kilometers) away from the jail but only the chopper's pilot was still at the scene. He was taken to a local hospital and was treated for shock, Richard said. He called the pilot "an important witness" in the case.

According to a provincial police, Hudon-Barbeau was arrested in November on two firearm related charges and associating with people who have a criminal record. 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 jail 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 (60 kilometers) 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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Associated Press writer Benjamin Shingler in Montreal contributed to this report.

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