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Canadian prisoners captured after daring helicopter escape

By Holly Yan, CNN
March 19, 2013 -- Updated 0046 GMT (0846 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Police say there was shootout with the suspects, but no one was injured
  • It was a real "James Bond moment," a witness says
  • By early Monday, both inmates had been captured
  • "It's a first in Quebec," a correction officer says

(CNN) -- Even by dramatic jailbreak standards, this escape was particularly brazen.

Two men posing as tourists reportedly commandeered a helicopter from a Canadian tour company, ordered the pilot to fly over a detention center near Montreal, hoisted two inmates using cables or ropes into the hovering aircraft -- and zipped away.

All in broad daylight. All in full view of incredulous witnesses.

It was a real "James Bond moment," witness Francis Emond told CNN affiliate CTV about Sunday's escape from the correctional facility in Saint -Jerome, about half-hour northwest of Montreal.

But despite the movie-worthy getaway, the prisoners' freedom didn't last long.

By early Monday morning, authorities arrested both inmates and two other people.

Sky's no limit: 5 epic helicopter prison escapes

A pilot roped into the plot?

Authorities have not yet said how long they believe the plot had been percolating.

But it was put into play early Sunday afternoon.

The helicopter belonged to a tour company in Mont-Tremblant, a city in Quebec about 130 kilometers (80 miles) northwest of Montreal.

Two men posing as tourists hired the chopper for a tour, said a reporter from LCN television network who said he knows the pilot.

Once they were in the air, the men held a gun to the pilot's head and reportedly ordered him to fly to Saint-Jerome.

Quebec provincial police spokesman Benoit Richard would not comment on the reports.

Reaction time 'probably too slow'

Once at the detention center, the helicopter hovered as two inmates climbed aboard using cables or ropes lowered for them, police said.

Slack-jawed prison guards watched as the helicopter then spirited away as two of their prisoners clung on.

One of them, police said, was 36-year-old Benjamin Hudon-Barbeau who had beaten a double murder conviction on an appeal. But he was in prison in connection with an attempted murder investigation.

The other, 33-year-old Danny Provencal, was serving a seven-year sentence for various offenses, including arson, police said.

The prison, which houses 480 inmates, knows how to handle the expected. About a month ago, it quelled a riot before it got out of hand.

But, Yves Galarneau, the deputy director general of Correctional Services Western Quebec, said he'd never seen anything like this escape in his three-decade-long career.

"The reaction time was probably too slow," he told reporters, adding that everything happened very quickly.

Galarneau also acknowledged the jail did not have security protocol in place to prevent a helicopter from swooping in.

"As far as I know, it's a first in Quebec," he told reporters at the scene. "It's exceptional."

A manhunt for the fugitives followed.

Calls to a station

Adding an extra layer of audacity to an already extraordinary caper, a man claiming to be Hudon-Barbeau called a Montreal radio station to say he'd been shot in the calf during the escape -- and to justify his departure.

"I don't want to cause any harm to anybody. I am not a killer. I never did anything bad to an innocent," the man told 98.5 FM.

"I know that (the escape) wasn't the best thing to do, but I didn't want to stay in prison anymore. I am ready to die."

The man then said the escape was Provencal's idea.

"It was not my idea to get away but Danny convinced me it was his friends who arranged it outside," the man said.

Chopper found

Authorities found the chopper back in Mont-Tremblant, where the flight originated.

The pilot was inside but the men had fled.

The pilot was taken to a hospital for a medical assessment and later for questioning.

Police later said they had ruled him out as a suspect.

The men, meanwhile, escaped in a white Cadillac Escalade -- with police on their tail.

A short-lived breakout

Authorities tracked the SUV to the town of Chersey, about 50 minutes north of Saint-Jerome.

The men got out of the vehicle there and began shooting, said Richard, the police spokesman.

Police shot back, he said, but no one was injured.

LCN, the television station, showed images of a cottage where the men were believed to be hiding. Outside, the white Cadillac stood, its driver's side door open.

Six hours after the escape, police arrested three men.

One of them was Hudon-Barbeau. Police did not release the names of the other two.

But Provencal was still missing.

Several hours would go by before he too was in custody.

Police found him holed up inside a sugar shack in the same city.

He eventually surrendered early Monday morning.

All four men will appear in a court in Saint-Jerome Monday to face charges.

Escapes not unheard of

While spectacular, airborne escapes are not unheard of.

Albanian inmate Alket Rizaj broke out of a maximum security prison in Greece twice -- in 2006 and 2009.

On both occasions, accomplices swooped in to the prison's courtyard on helicopters and inmates climbed aboard using rope ladders.

Both times, Rizaj was recaptured.

Last month, another prison escape in Greece tried to use the same tactic.

But the plot was foiled when the prisoner was shot and the chopper was forced to land on the prison parking lot.

In 1971, Joel David Kaplan escaped from a Mexican jail aboard a helicopter. The New Yorker's flight inspired the book "The 10-Second Jailbreak: The Helicopter Escape of Joel David Kaplan" and the 1975 movie "Breakout."

And in France, Pascal Payet escaped not once, not twice but three times from French prisons.

Each time, he was recaptured.

Fleeing to the sky: 5 epic helicopter prison escapes

CNN's Susan Candiotti, Ross Levitt, Paula Newton, Alexander Hunter and Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.

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