CHERTSEY, Qc – A dramatic daylight jailbreak involving two Quebec inmates climbing a rope into a hovering helicopter swiftly escalated into a large police operation Sunday night in which at least one escapee was tracked down hours after he fled.
By Sunday night, police confirmed they had arrested Benjamin Hudon-Barbeau and two other suspects.
Authorities were still searching for the second escapee, Danny Provencal.
Police said an operation was underway in Chertsey, Que., located about 50 kilometres north of the jail in Saint-Jerome from where the inmates made their escape.
“They are all being transported to the nearest police station to be questioned by the investigators,” provincial police spokesman Sgt. Benoit Richard said of those in custody.
“They will be due in court tomorrow morning.”
Richard wouldn’t give any details about how the arrests were made or what those who had been arrested would be charged with.
Officers blocked off the main road in Chertsey, not far from the village of St-Marguerite, and were pulling over cars Sunday night.
Earlier on Sunday, authorities had said 36-year-old Hudon-Barbeau and 33-year-old Provencal had broken out of the jail by climbing a rope into a waiting helicopter.
Police had tracked down the helicopter about 85 kilometres away in Mont-Tremblant, but only the chopper’s pilot was still at the scene.
The pilot was taken to an area hospital where investigators were expected to speak with him. Police said it was too early to know what role the pilot had played in the escape.
Hours after the jailbreak, a Montreal radio station, 98.5 FM, received a call from a man claiming to be Hudon-Barbeau, who said he was “ready to die” as he tried to evade police.
“The way they’re treating me in there, it’s unreal,” the man told the radio station. “They won’t let me be. They put me back in prison for nothing.”
Authorities did not immediately speak to the claims made in the radio station interview.
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.”
The Saint-Jerome jail, located some 60 kilometres northwest of Montreal, experienced a mini-riot by about a dozen prisoners a little over a month ago.
In that incident, police had been asked to secure the outside of the prison, which holds about 480 inmates, and facility staff used pepper spray to disperse the mob.