By Benjamin Shingler
Two inmates made a daring daylight escape from a prison outside 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 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 Yves Galarneau, correctional services manager of the Saint-Jerome prison.
Galarneau said there are no security measures in place at the prison to prevent a helicopter from swooping down from above.
Yves Le Roux, president of the helicopter rental company, Passport-Hilico, said Monday 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 the prisoners from inside the gates and then had the pilot land at a nearby field where the inmates got on board, Le Roux said.
The pilot switched on an emergency signal during the flight to alert authorities and that they eventually landed at Mont-Tremblant, about 55 miles (85 kilometers) away from the prison, he added.
Quebec provincial police spokesman Benoit Richard said Monday that they had arrested four people including the two inmates Benjamin Hudon-Barbeau, 36, and Danny Provencal, 33, near a rural cabin where they exchanged gunfire with police.
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 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 center of Sunday’s escapade in Quebec is a provincial detention center with a maximum-security wing.
Associated Press Writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.