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
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Put yourself in the shoes (and sixth-century black robes) of ISIS' Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the mysterious boss of the terror group.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0500 GMT (1300 HKT)
China's Xi Jinping and India's Narendra Modi, leaders of the most populous nations face similar challenges. Can they learn from each other?
September 17, 2014 -- Updated 2236 GMT (0636 HKT)
The U.S. is not returning combat troops to Iraq, President Barack Obama insists.
September 17, 2014 -- Updated 0038 GMT (0838 HKT)
A man abducted alongside killed U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff tells CNN that no one from the U.S. government has tried to talk with him.
September 17, 2014 -- Updated 1508 GMT (2308 HKT)
Mulatu Astatke is the founding father of ethio-jazz: a fusion of Ethiopian music with western jazz.
September 17, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Have you been to these? The global museum list, released Tuesday, ranks 25 of the world's best museums.
September 17, 2014 -- Updated 1703 GMT (0103 HKT)
iOS 8, the latest version of Apple's mobile operating system, comes with new features that you'll enjoy.
September 17, 2014 -- Updated 0927 GMT (1727 HKT)
Psychedelic drugs are being researched as a potential treatment for conditions ranging from anxiety to tobacco and alcohol addiction.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0142 GMT (0942 HKT)
It's a surfer's paradise -- but Diah Rahayu is out on her own when it comes to professional women's wave-riding in Bali.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1409 GMT (2209 HKT)
Even death couldn't part two skeletons excavated from a lost chapel in an English county, found with their fingers entwined.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT