Canadian fugitives sought after brazen helicopter jailbreak

(Reuters) – Authorities in Canada and the United States were searching today for three fugitives who escaped from a Quebec jail in a helicopter, the second airborne prison break in the Canadian province in just over a year.

Police say the three men, who were arrested in 2010 and are believed to have ties to organized crime, were picked up by a green helicopter, which touched down in the courtyard of the medium-security Orsainville Detention Centre on Saturday evening.

“It happened really quickly, which makes us think it was well planned,” Anne Mathieu, spokeswoman for the Surete du Quebec, the provincial police force, told reporters on Sunday.

The jail is located on the outskirts of Quebec City, the capital of the French-speaking province, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of the U.S. border.

The three fugitives, Yves Denis, 35, Denis Lefebvre, 53, and Serge Pomerleau, 49, were arrested on drug and gang-related charges in 2010. They also face murder charges, according to the Quebec police website, which added the three to its 10 most wanted list on Sunday.

They had been in Orsainville awaiting trial.

Quebec police said other law enforcement agencies in Canada and the United States had been brought into the search.

Contacted on Monday by Reuters, Mathieu said she did not want to provide details on the manhunt, or on the investigation, for fear of tipping off the fugitives.

The escape is similar to one in March 2013, when two men broke out of a prison in Saint-Jerome, Quebec, after climbing a rope to a helicopter hovering above the prison’s yard. Both were captured within hours of the escape.

It’s also similar to the escape of U.S. businessman Joel David Kaplan, who was plucked from a Mexican prison by a helicopter in 1971. That escape was dramatized in the 1975 film “Breakout”, starring Charles Bronson.

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