Helicopter prison escapes

A helicopter prison escape is when a helicopter either plucks inmates from the prison or lands and picks up prisoners on prison grounds. Listed below are attempts and actual escapes by helicopter. The helicopter can be either hijacked or piloted by outside conspirators.

Country Breakdown

Following shows the escape attempts broken down by country

Helicopter escapes by country
Country Number of escapes


Individual escape details:

Oct, 1973 - Mountjoy Gaol, Ireland

On Halloween 1973 in Dublin an IRA member hijacked a helicopter and forced the pilot to land in the exercise yard of Mountjoy Jail's D Wing at 3.40pm, October 31 1973. Three members of the IRA were able to escape, JB O'Hagan, Seamus Twomey and Kevin Mallon. Another prisoner who also was in the prison was quoted as saying, "One shamefaced screw apologised to the governor and said he thought it was the new Minister for Defence (Paddy Donegan) arriving. I told him it was our Minister of Defence leaving."

The Mountjoy helicopter escape became Republican lore and was immortalised by "The Helicopter Song", which contains the lines "It's up like a bird and over the prison. There's three men a missing I heard the warder say".

Jan, 1983 - Melbourne, Australia

Three men are arrested for the attempted helicopter escape from Melbourne’s Pentridge Prison in Australia. The three, all held on drug-importation charges, had hired a former SAS soldier, then living in the Philippines, to lift the prisoners from the jail’s tennis court to a nearby van fitted with panels to hide them for the 600 kilometre road trip to Sydney, where a yacht was to take them to Manila. The plan was thwarted when Lord Tony Moynihan, himself an exile in the Philippines, informed the Australian federal police, who then ran it as a sting operation. Tony Moynihan would later become an informer against Howard Marks in a Florida trial. Of the accused, only David McMillan and his accountant friend who had visited the prison, stood trial. During the hearings, few prosecution witnesses used their real names as they were mostly from Moynihan’s former West African MI6 unit, however those on trial were convicted and sentenced.

May, 1986 - La Santé Prison, France

Lena Rigon’s flight instructors looked upon her as an inspiration. While raising two kids without a father she also attended helicopter-flying lessons. Their opinion would quickly change when they learned that Lena Rigon was in fact Nadine Vaujour, wife of Michel Vaujour and mother of his two children. Michel Vaujour was a version of Papillon having spent half of his life in prison escaping a previous 3 times.

On May 26 1986; for escape attempt number 4, he made his way to the roof by threatening guards with a fake pistol and nectarines painted as grenades. On top of the jail he was picked up by his recently graduated helicopter pilot wife, Nadine. They landed at a nearby soccer field and fled using a waiting car. Vaujour still had 28 years to serve for attempted murder and armed robbery.

In late 1986, Michel Vaujour along with an accomplice were wounded in a failed bank robbery. In a gun battle with the authorities, two officers and a hostage were also wounded. Vaujour was shot in the head and lapsed into a coma. His wife had been arrested just prior to the shootout while hiding in a villa in southwestern France.

Nov, 1986 - Federal Correctional Institution at Dublin, USA

Ronald J. McIntosh walked away from a minimum security prison on October 28 then stole a helicopter on November 5. He used the helicopter to free Samantha Lopez from the Federal Correctional Institution at Dublin, east of San Francisco. Both were later caught on November 15 when they arrived to pick up wedding rings from a California shopping mall. The authorities were monitoring the account McIntosh used to write the check for the rings and the police were waiting for them.

Ron McIntosh for his role in the escape was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Samantha Lopez was given five years added to her 50-year sentence for a 1981 bank robbery in Georgia. As they were driven away to their separate prisons McIntosh was able to lean out of a car window and yell, I love you! to Lopez.

Dec, 1987 - Gartree Prison, Leicestershire, UK

At 3.16pm on December 10 1987, John Kendall and Sydney Draper were sprung from Gartree's exercise yard with the aid of a hijacked Bell 206L helicopter. Kendall was a gangland boss serving eight years while Draper was jailed for murder and serving a life sentence. The escape caused great controversy at the time and led to a tightening of security at the jail. Kendall was recaptured 10 days later but Draper remained at large for some 18 months. To date, Gartree remains the only British prison from which such an escape has been made.

Aug, 1989 - Colorado prison, USA

Colorado prison inmates Ralph Brown and Freddie Gonzales were able to escape via helicopter. They were recaptured in Holdrege, Nebraska.

1990 - Federal Holding Facility, Miami, FL, USA

Famous Boat Builder and racer (Apache Boats) Ben Kramer tries helicopter escape from Federal Holding Facility in Miami in 1990. The escape failed when too many other inmates jumped on the helicopter and the helicopter crashed from being overloaded. Ben Kramer was serving life without parole for RICO charges resulting from drug trafficking, and also pled guilty to the murder of fellow boat builder and racer Don Aronow (Cigarette Off Shore Boats).

1991 - Las Cucharas prison, Puerto Rico

Inmates were able to escape when a helicopter plucked them from the prison. The escape prompted the Puerto Rico House Government Committee to pass a regulation that allowed penal officials to fire on any helicopter aiding an escape attempt.

1992 - Prison near Lyon, France

After a successful helicopter escape from this prison, cables were strung across the central yard at five-metre intervals.

Sept, 1997 - De Geerhorst jail, Netherlands

A September 18 1997 escape attempt ended in failure when the helicopter crashed into the prison ground of the Dutch prison, De Geerhorst. The helicopter had been stolen earlier in Belgium. The pilot was killed and the Colombian prison escapee (who was serving a long-term sentence for drug trafficking) walked away with slight injuries.

March, 1999 - Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre Australia

In March 1999, librarian Lucy Dudko hijacked a helicopter supposedly to check out the upcoming Olympic site in Sydney. Using a gun she forced pilot, Tim Joyce, to land on the Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre grounds. Waiting was John Killick, who was serving 28 years for armed robberies. He jumped in the helicopter making an escape while being fired on by guards and cheered on by inmates. They landed in a park where Killick hijacked a taxi at gunpoint. The two were able to elude authorities for six weeks before being arrested at the Bass Hill Tourist Park.

Lucy Dudko, dubbed Red Lucy by the media, was sentenced to the maximum of 10 years and was sent to Mulawa Correctional Centre women's prison. On May 9 2006 she was released on parole after serving 7 years of her sentence. John Killick is eligible for parole in 2013 when he will be 71.

2000 - Prison near Lyon, France

Three men were able to escape a prison near Lyon by having an accomplice fly a hijacked helicopter over the prison. A net was lowered and three inmates were able to grab hold and lifted to freedom. Guards were able to fatally shoot one of the convicts. The remaining two were recaptured after a gun battle with police.

2001 - Luynnes prison, southern France

Pascal Payet, 43 escaped from Luynnes prison using a hijacked helicopter.

Payet gained notoriety for using a helicopter in 2001 to escape from Luynnes prison in southern France and then while still on the run in 2003 organized another escape for fellow inmates from the same Luynnes prison.

Mar, 2001 - Draugignan prison, France

On March 24 2001 an armed man hijacked the helicopter from a nearby airfield. The pilot was forced to land in the courtyard of the prison. Three convicts managed to get aboard before flying 60 kilometers (37 miles) away. Landing in the village of Auribeau-sur-Siagne the pilot was released and the men got into a waiting getaway car. Later the escapees were identified as convicted armed robbers Emile Forma-Sari, Jean-Philippe Lecase and Abdelhamid Carnous.

May, 2001 - Fresnes prison, south of Paris, France

In May, 2001 a hijacked helicopter flew over Fresnes prison, south of Paris and dropped weapons in the exercise yard. Two prisoners armed with a bulletproof vest, an automatic pistol and a Kalashnikov dropped by the copter were able to take three guards hostage in an attempt to escape from prison. The hostage drama lasted about 24 hours before the prisoners surrendered.

Jan 2002 - Parada Neto Penitentiary, Brazil

The Brazilian prison system is notorious for over crowding and corruption. Of the many frequent escapes, one of the most daring was when a helicopter was flown into the prison and freed two inmates serving time for murder and bank robbery.

Earlier in the day two men rented a helicopter pretending to be tourists wanting a panoramic ride over the city. While in the air the men drew guns and forced the pilot to land in the central yard of the prison. The inmates jumped aboard and when the pilot took off again guards opened fire. The helicopter was found abandoned on a football pitch 50 km away full of bullet holes.

Dec, 2002 - Las Cucharas prison, Puerto Rico

In Puerto Rico five prisoners escaped from Las Cucharas prison in Ponce. Two men had earlier rented the helicopter saying they wanted to inspect construction sites. They forced the pilot at gunpoint to land on the roof of the jail where they picked up the five convicts. To reach the roof the inmates cut a hole in the chain link fence. One was forced to hang on to the skids outside the helicopter as there was no room inside.

The escapees were:

  • Orlando Valdes Cartagena, who was serving a 254-year sentence for murder
  • Jose A. Perez Rodriguez, who was serving a 319-year sentence for murder
  • Victor Gonzalez Diaz, who was serving a 113-year sentence
  • Hector Marrero Diaz, who was serving 109-year sentence
  • Jose M. Rojas Tapia, who was serving a 100-year sentence.

Of the five only Victor Gonzalez Diaz wasn’t recaptured. The inmates claimed to have killed him soon after the break-out but no body was ever found.

2003 - Luynnes prison in southern France

Pascal Payet organized the helicopter escape of three men Franck Perletto, Eric Alboreo, and Michel Valero from Luynnes prison using a hijacked helicopter. Payet himself escaped from the same Luynnes prison in 2001. He and the three men were later captured but in July 2007 again escaped by helicopter from Grasse prison in south-east France.

July, 2005 - central France

A helicopter escape attempt was foiled when alarms were set off as the helicopter tried to land on the roof.

Dec, 2005 - Aiton Prison, France

On December 10 2005 two men rented a helicopter under the pretense of using it to do some back country cross-country skiing. Brandishing guns the men forced the pilot to land in the yard of the Aiton prison where three inmates boarded the helicopter. One inmate was serving time for drugs, one for armed robbery and the third for leading a robbery. The helicopter landed in open country near Grenoble where they left the pilot after relieving him of his phone and radio.

June, 2006 - Korydallos Prison, Greece

On June 6 2006 Nikos Paleokostas and another man hijacked a helicopter forcing it to land on the roof of the Korydallos Prison. Two convicts scrambled on, Nikos’s brother, Vassilis Paleokostas who was sentenced to a 25-year sentence for kidnapping and bank robbery and Alket Rizai, who was serving a life sentence for manslaughter. The helicopter flew to a nearby graveyard from where they fled on motorcycles.

April, 2007 - Liege, Belgium

On April 15 2007 two men hijacked a rented helicopter at an airstrip near the city of Sint-Truiden, about 40 miles east of Brussels, saying they were tourists from Marseilles in southern France. RTL-TVI identified the fugitive as a Frenchman who was in pretrial detention on charges of fraud and theft. RTBF said he had previously escaped from prisons in France and Spain..

July 15, 2007 - Grasse prison, south-east France

Pascal Payet, 43, escaped for the 3rd time from Grasse prison using a helicopter that was hijacked by four masked men from Cannes-Mandelieu airport The helicopter landed some time later at Brignoles, 38 kilometres north-east of Toulon,France on the Mediterranean coast.

Payet and his accomplices then fled the scene and the pilot was released unharmed. Payet gained notoriety for using a helicopter in 2001 to escape from Luynes prison in southern France and then while still on the run in 2003 organized another escape for fellow inmates from the same Luynes prison. Payet had been serving a 30-year sentence for a murder committed during a robbery on a security van.

October 28, 2007 - Ittre, Belgium

On Oct 28, 2007 Nordin Benallal, self-styled "escape king" arranged accomplices to hijack a helicopter near a prison in Ittre, 30 km (19 miles) south of Brussels, Belgium. However, the helicopter was swarmed by other prisoners, floundered and crashed. Benallal and his cohorts then seized two prison guards as hostages and fled in a car parked nearby. He was arrested again two days later by Dutch police in The Hague.

Nordin Benallal who faces over 50 years of jail time has several convictions for armed robbery, carjacking, and previous escape attempts. He has previously run from a prison van, walked out of jail wearing a wig and sunglasses and scaled a prison wall with a rope ladder.

Helicopter prison escapes in fiction

Breakout is a 1975 movie starring Charles Bronson and Robert Duvall.

In the Australian soap opera Prisoner, Marie Winter (Maggie Millar) escaped in a 1984 episode by dangling from the landing gear from a helicopter.

In the film XXX: State of the Union, the character Darius Stone (played by Ice Cube) escapes the US disciplinary barracks by jumping to a waiting helicopter.

The third season of the TV series Prison Break features an abortive attempt to escape by helicopter from the fictional Sona prison in Panama.

In the end of the film Amerikanskaya doch (American Daughter) an adolescent American girl (played by Allison Whitbeck) helps her Russian father Alexei (Vladimir Mashkov) and an inmate to escape from the prison using the helicopter.


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