helicopter, helicopter prison escape

Helicopter Jailbreak in Belgium Is the Latest in Daring Prison Escapes

July 24, 2009 03:30 PM
by Haley A. Lovett
Three inmates were lifted from the yard of a prison near Bruges on July 23, but they’re not the first prisoners to escape by air; helicopter jailbreaks have succeeded in Europe and the U.S. for decades.

Helicopter Escapee One of Belgium’s Most Dangerous

On Thursday, July 23, helicopter pilot Ludwig Louwagie had been booked for what he thought was a sightseeing tour, according to CNN. Once in flight, one of his passengers put a gun to his head and demanded that he land in a prison yard. There, convicts Mohammad Johry, Abdel had Kahjary Mulloul and Ashraf Sekkaki climbed aboard the craft, and Louwagie was forced to take them to freedom.

The AFP reports that Sekkaki, who has spent a good portion of his life in jail for robbery and hostage crimes, has been described as “a real psychopath.” He escaped from prison in 2003 and elluded authorities for five months.

The trio left one accomplice at the jail because the helicopter could not take off with the extra weight. Once the craft landed near Bruges, the escapees carjacked a vehicle and drove as far as Flanders. They remain at large.

Helicopter Jailbreaks not Uncommon in Belgium, France

This escape marks the third helicopter prison escape in Belgium, according to David Brunnstrom of Reuters. “Escape king” Nordin Benallal attempted to escape from a prison near Brussels using a helicopter in 2007; the helicopter crashed and he was captured within days. Also in 2007, Erik Ferdinand escaped from a prison near Leige using a helicopter. He was also later caught.

In nearby France, there have been at least 10 successful prison breaks via helicopter in the last two decades. Perhaps the most famous helicopter escapee is Pascal Payet, who, according to Jon Henley of the Guardian, has escaped French prisons three times using a helicopter: in 2001, 2003 and 2007.

Other Famous U.S. Prison Escapes

According to Roger Schlueter of the Belleville News-Democrat, there have been four attempts to escape prison by helicopter in the United States, but all ended in the prisoners’ capture. 

On June 11, 1962, Frank Morris, John Anglin and Clarence Anglin became the only people to successfully escape from Alcatraz prison. They climbed out air vents and took to the San Francisco Bay. Although a common belief is that all three died while crossing the bay, some evidence suggests that they may have escaped alive. No trace of the escapees was ever found.

In 1977 the man who murdered Martin Luther King Jr., James Earl Ray, escaped from Brushy Mountain State Prison. A few inmates started a fight as a distraction, while escapees used a homemade ladder to climb over the prison walls. Six escaped including Ray. Ray was captured just two days later, and within a few more days all of the escaped prisoners were caught.

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