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2 inmates escape from Quebec jail in helicopter

Published March 17, 2013 8:46 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

SAINT-JEROME, Quebec • Two Quebec inmates climbed up a rope into a hovering helicopter to make a daring daylight escape Sunday from a jail northwest of Montreal, authorities said.

Quebec provincial police said later that they had arrested three people about 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of the Saint-Jerome jail from which the inmates escaped. One of those arrested was 36-year-old inmate Benjamin Hudon-Barbeau.

Authorities late Sunday located the second inmate and said a security perimeter had been set up around the area where 33-year-old Danny Provencal was found.

Earlier on Sunday, police received a call from the staff at the Saint-Jerome jail, reporting the escape around 2:20 p.m., said Quebec provincial police Sgt. Benoit Richard.

The jail's warden told police that Hudon-Barbeau and Provencal had grabbed a rope dropped from the helicopter to make their getaway, Richard said.

Quebec provincial police tracked down the helicopter used in the escape on Sunday afternoon to Mont-Tremblant, about 53 miles (85 kilometers) away from the jail but only the chopper's pilot was still at the scene. He was taken to a local hospital, Richard said.

"He's going to be questioned later on by investigators, within the next couple of hours," Richard said, adding that it's too early to say what the pilot's role was in the escape.

According to a provincial police, Hudon-Barbeau was arrested in November on two firearm related charges and associating with people who have a criminal record. The arrest came as part of an investigation of a double murder in Quebec

A Montreal radio station, 98.5 FM, said it received a call Sunday from a man claiming to be Hudon-Barbeau, who said he was "ready to die" as he tried to evade police.

Yves Galarneau, the correctional services manager who oversees the Saint-Jerome jail, said he'd never seen anything like the dramatic escape in more than three decades on the job.

Galarneau said there are no security measures in place at the jail to prevent a helicopter from swooping down from above.

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

Although the tactic may have been a first for Quebec, using a chopper to break out of jail has a long and colorful history, and not just in the movies.

A New York businessman, Joel David Kaplan, used a chopper to escape from a Mexican jail in 1971, and went on to write a book about it. Pascal Payet, a French prisoner, used a helicopter to escape on three occasions, only to be caught by authorities every time.

The jail at the center of Sunday's escapade in Quebec is a provincial detention center with a maximum-security wing.

Saint-Jerome jail, located about 37 miles (60 kilometers) northwest of Montreal, experienced a mini-riot by about a dozen prisoners a little over a month ago. In that incident, police were called in to secure the outside of the jail, which holds about 480 inmates, and jail staff used pepper spray to disperse the mob.