Two inmates made a daring daylight escape from a Canadian prison in a hijacked helicopter, led police in a car chase and exchanged gunfire at a rural cabin before they were finally recaptured.
Police said the helicopter pilot was held hostage in the Sunday jailbreak and was not a suspect. He was treated for shock at a hospital.
The two inmates and their two alleged accomplices appeared in court on Monday in connection with the dramatic escape bid. "This is the first time this has occurred in a Quebec facility," said Yves Galarneau, correctional services manager of the Saint-Jerome prison, near Montreal.
He 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-Helico, said 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 two prisoners, 36-year-old Benjamin Hudon-Barbeau and Danny Provencal, 33, from inside the gates. The escapees dangled from the helicopter before it landed in an open field where they were able to hop aboard. Mr Le Roux said one of the convicts got tangled in the rope, upside-down, and may have been hurt.
They took off again and the pilot switched on an emergency signal during the flight to alert authorities before landing in Mont-Tremblant, about 55 miles away from the prison, he added. Police said they followed the helicopter until it landed, and then chased a car until it reached a rural cabin. "When they got out of their vehicle they started shooting at police officers," a spokesman said.
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 road.
The two alleged accomplices and the two escaped convicts appeared in court but did not enter a plea. 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 him when the key witness retracted her testimony.