A dramatic daylight jailbreak involving two Quebec inmates climbing a rope into a hovering helicopter swiftly escalated into a large police operation on Sunday which saw both men tracked down hours after they fled.

Just before 8:30 p.m. ET, police confirmed they had arrested Benjamin Hudon-Barbeau and two other suspects.

Just hours later, police said they had located the second escapee, Danny Provencal.  Provencal later surrendered peacefully to police, Radio-Canada reporter Pascal Robidas reported early Monday.  

Much of the action took place in Chertsey, Que., located about 50 kilometres north of the jail in Saint-Jérôme from where the inmates made their brazen escape.

"We have a lot of officers working on the site," said provincial police spokesman Benoit Richard.

Police wouldn't give any details about how the arrests were made or about the charges facing those who were arrested.

"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."

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

'The suspects just took the rope in their hands'

Earlier on Sunday, authorities had said Hudon-Barbeau, 36, and Provencal, 33, 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.

'As far as I know, it's a first in Quebec.' —Yves Galarneau, correctional services manager

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.

Richard said the pilot was treated for shock and is considered an important witness in the case.

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.

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 homicide in Quebec's Laurentians.

Yves Galarneau, the correctional services manager who oversees the Saint-Jérôme 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."

Chopper-assisted escapes have colourful history

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 Saint-Jérôme 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 jail, which holds about 480 inmates, and facility staff used pepper spray to disperse the mob.


Quebec police block the road leading to a Saint-Jérôme jail where two inmates pulled off a helicopter escape on Sunday afternoon. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)