Skip to main content

Sky's no limit: 5 epic helicopter prison escapes

By Holly Yan, CNN
March 18, 2013 -- Updated 0952 GMT (1752 HKT)

(CNN) -- The spectacular, airborne escape of two Canadian inmates Sunday stunned witnesses and showcased the illicit ingenuity behind one of the more creative styles of prison breaks.

But while astonishing, helicopter escapes are not unheard of. For decades, crafty inmates have fled into the sky -- some with more success than others.

Here are five epic helicopter escapes:

1. The French lovebirds

Nadine Vaujour was so determined to get her husband out of prison she took helicopter flight lessons just for the escape.

Her husband, Michel Vaujour, was serving a lengthy sentence for attempted murder and armed robbery. In May 1986, he forced his way to the roof of a Parisian prison by wielding nectarines painted as grenades.

His wife then picked him up in the helicopter and fled to a football field, where they drove away.

But their luck soon ran out.

Nadine Vaujour was discovered and arrested in southwestern France, and Michel was shot in the head during a failed bank robbery.

2. The American in Mexico

In 1971, Joel David Kaplan hopped on a chopper in a Mexican prison yard, never to return again.

Kaplan, who was convicted for the death of his business partner in Mexico City, always insisted he was innocent.

The New Yorker's daring escape inspired the book "The 10-Second Jailbreak: The Helicopter Escape of Joel David Kaplan" and the 1975 movie "Breakout."

3. The frequent flier

Pascal Payet holds the record for planning the most number of escapes by helicopter, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

The Frenchman first used a helicopter to flee from a Luynes prison in 2001.

Two years later, while still a fugitive, he helped inmates from the same prison escape by chopper.

He was eventually caught, but then escaped for the third time from another prison using a helicopter hijacked by four men.

Payet and his accomplices fled, and the pilot was not harmed.

4. The Belgian flock

When Nordin Ben Allal dreamed up his escape, he didn't mean for others to join him.

In 2007, when Ben Allal's accomplices landed at a Belgian prison, other inmates tried to jump on board.

The chopper spun out of control, injuring the pilot and several of the prisoners, The Telegraph reported.

Ben Allal managed to escape -- only to get recaptured.

5. The Greek foil

In February, accomplices swooped over a prison in Greece and tried to whisk away convicted murderer Panagiotis Vlastos with a rope.

The accomplices reportedly unleashed a hailstorm of bullets from AK-47 assault rifles toward prison guards, who fired back.

Vlastos was shot, and the chopper eventually landed on the prison parking lot.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2317 GMT (0717 HKT)
While aspects of the fighting in Gaza resemble earlier clashes, this time feels different, writes military analyst Rick Francona.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 0309 GMT (1109 HKT)
The death of an American from Ebola fuels fears of the further global spread of the virus.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 0903 GMT (1703 HKT)
Nearly two weeks after MH17 was blown out of the sky, Dutch investigators have yet to lay eyes on the wreckage. How useful will it be now?
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 0056 GMT (0856 HKT)
The U.S. and EU are imposing new sanctions on Moscow -- but will they have any effect?
This looks like a ghost ship, but it's actually the site of a tense international standoff between the Philippines and China.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
The reported firing of artillery from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle, says CNN's military analyst Rick Francona.
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 0846 GMT (1646 HKT)
The young boy stops, stares, throws ammunition casings at the reporter's feet without a word.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 0048 GMT (0848 HKT)
Sure, Fido is a brown Lab. But inside, he may also be a little green.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Photograph of an undisclosed location by Patrycja Makowska
Patrycja Makowska likes to give enigmatic names to the extraordinarily beautiful photographs she shoots of crumbling palaces.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 0804 GMT (1604 HKT)
When the Costa Concordia and its salvage convoy finally depart Giglio, the residents will breathe a sigh of relief -- and shed a tear.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT