Prisoners escape from Quebec jail in a helicopter, get arrested again

Saint-Jérôme jail. Radio Canada photo

In a twist befitting a movie plot, two men suspended from a helicopter managed to escape from a Quebec prison on Sunday afternoon. It may have been a first for Quebec, but the daring freedom run didn't last very long.

Benjamin Hudon-Barbeau, who allegedly has ties to the Hells Angels, was caught along with two suspects by dinner time. The second prisoner, Danny Provencal, was tracked down just an hour later. The surrounded second fugitive surrendered early on Monday morning, the Globe and Mail reports.

The two high-security prisoners had escaped from the Saint-Jérôme detention centre, about 50 kilometres northwest of Montreal, around 2:30 p.m. EDT. 

According to CBC, the helicopter hovered over the area until Hudon-Barbeau, 36, and Provencal, 33, climbed on board using a rope or a cable. One of the witnesses described the daylight escape as “a James Bond moment” to CTV.

“The inmates came out and appeared to attach themselves to cables that were attached to the helicopter,” CTV's Derek Conlon reports. "The helicopter then took off with these two men suspended underneath and it flew away, much to the surprise and astonishment of everyone in the area.”

Police located the helicopter and its pilot in a wooded Mont-Tremblant area around 3:30 p.m. The pilot was taken to the hospital to be treated for shock.

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

But according to the Globe and Mail: "The helicopter was reportedly hijacked earlier in the day from Heli-Tremblant, a tour company in Mont-Tremblant. Two men posing as tourists hired the chopper. As soon as they were aloft, the men brandished a gun and ordered the pilot to fly to St-Jérôme."

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Police search for the two prisoners. Radio Canada photo When it came to the arrests, much of the action took place in Chertsey, Que., located about 50 kilometres north of the jail. But police have not released further details yet, the Canadian Press reports.

"They are all being transported to the nearest police station to be questioned by the investigators," Richard said of those in custody.

"They will be due in court [Monday] morning."

Provencal ended up at the facility after being charged for a Montreal home invasion followed by a police chase in 2011. Hudon-Barbeau was arrested on two firearm related charges and alleged association with the biker gang in 2012.

During the search, a man claiming to be Hudon-Barbeau had celled Montreal's 98.5 FM radio station, saying that he was "ready to die" for his freedom.

"The way they're treating me in there, it's unreal," the man said. "They won't let me be. They put me back in prison for nothing."

The identity of the caller has not been confirmed.

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Earlier this February, Saint-Jérôme detention centre made the news when a small-scale riot broke out inside its walls. The riot, according to the union representing Quebec corrections officers, was  caused by overcrowding in the facility that holds about 480 inmates, CBC reports.

And though he didn't use a helicopter, Claude Dorion Jr., another Saint-Jérôme facility prisoner, had also escaped from the facility in September.

With files from CBC, The Canadian Press