Police: there was a gunfight after inmates escaped by helicopter

Police block the road leading to a detention centre in St. Jerome, Que., Sunday, after two prisoners escaped by helicopter. (Graham Hughes/CP)

MASCOUCHE, Que. – There was an exchange of gunfire after police tracked down two inmates who staged a dramatic helicopter escape from prison, police said Monday.

The two Quebec inmates, who have been found, could face attempted murder charges.

Provincial police spokesman Benoit Richard said the gun shots rang out at a rural cabin where the fugitives had been tracked down the previous day. He said nobody was injured.

“When they got out of their vehicle they started shooting,” he said.

“We shot back.”

Richard told a news conference that two men and two accomplices are scheduled to appear in court in St-Jerome this afternoon.

The men staged their dramatic daylight jailbreak on Sunday when they climbed a rope into a hovering helicopter.

Their freedom was shortlived as police moved swiftly to track them down at the cabin.

Just before 8:30 p.m. E.T., about six hours after the escape, police confirmed they had arrested Benjamin Hudon-Barbeau and two other suspects.

Much of the action took place in Chertsey, Que., about 50 kilometres north of the jail in Saint-Jerome from where the inmates escaped.

Officers had blocked off the main road in Chertsey, not far from the village of St-Marguerite, and were pulling over cars Sunday night.

Earlier Sunday, authorities said 36-year-old Hudon-Barbeau and 33-year-old Danny Provencal had broken out of the jail by clambering up a rope into a waiting helicopter.

“The suspects just took the rope in their hands and started fleeing,” Richard recalled the jail’s warden saying.

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.

Richard said the pilot was treated for shock and is considered an important witness in the case. Reports said police believe the pilot was coerced into participating 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.

Richard said Hudon-Barbeau had suffered a non-firearm related injury during the incident and was under guard in hospital.

According to a provincial police release, Hudon-Barbeau was arrested in November 2012 on two firearm related charges and associating with people who have a criminal record. The arrest came as part of an investigation into a double murder in Quebec’s Laurentians.

Yves Galarneau, the correctional services manager who oversees the St-Jerome jail said he’d never seen anything like Sunday’s 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.”

While the tactic may have been a first for Quebec, using a chopper to break out of jail has a long and colourful 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 facility at the centre of Sunday’s escapade in Quebec is a provincial detention centre with a maximum-security wing.

The St-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.

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