For the second time in just over a year, inmates used a helicopter to make a brazen escape from jail in Quebec.

Three men fled Saturday evening from the Orsainville Detention Centre in suburban Quebec City with the help of a green-coloured helicopter, Quebec provincial police said.

Yves Denis, 35, Denis Lefebvre, 53, and 49-year-old Serge Pomerleau​ escaped Saturday around 8 p.m. ET. The men were awaiting trial on drug-related charges, as well as charges of murder and gangsterism. 

"It certainly seems like it was well-planned," said Sûreté du Québec spokeswoman Sgt. Ann Mathieu.

Police suspect the men did not go far in the helicopter at the risk of being seen. They now believe the men are hiding in a nearby forest. 

Retired SQ inspector Michel Martin said the timing was key in the escape. The helicopter picked the men up right before sundown and likely dropped them off in the thick forest surrounding the jail, Martin said.

The men were arrested in 2010 by provincial police after a drug operation bust in Abitibi known as Project Crayfish that led to dozens of arrests. They were reported to have had ties to the Hells Angels.

Jail security 'minimal'

Police are wondering how a helicopter was able to touch down in one of the yards inside the jail’s walls.

Orsainville jailbreak

(Canadian Press)

“They used an helicopter and we can say the helicopter briefly touched down in one of the courtyards before taking off again with the three prisoners,” said Sgt. Mathieu.

A spokesman for the union of prison guards, Mathieu Lavoie, said he's not surprised they were able to get away. He said security at the Orsainville detention centre is minimal, with only a few layers of barbed wire protecting the courtyard.

Lavoie said there aren’t enough guards and resources at the facility to take on a helicopter possibly carrying armed men.

A spokesman for Quebec's public security minister said the department will look at what changes could possibly be made to prevent further escapes by helicopter. 

The men’s possible connection to the Hells Angels and the nature of the charges has led the SQ to warn the public to not approach the men should they see them.

“Those people who escaped don't want to be seen by anyone," Mathieu said. "There is a potential of danger.” 

Two inmates escaped in 2013

The Orsainville Detention Centre, about 10 kilometres from the centre of Quebec City, can hold up to 710 offenders. It is the second-largest provincial detention centre after Montreal’s Bordeaux jail.

In 2010, Orsainville was the scene of a fire and a violent skirmish that ended with two inmates dead and another six rushed to hospital.

It was also the scene of a riot in February 2008, which was apparently triggered by a smoking ban at the facility.

Saturday's helicopter escape had similarities to another bold jailbreak last year.

Two inmates made a similar jailbreak from a St-Jérôme, Que. prison in March 2013.

Those escapees were caught by police within a few hours.

With files from The Canadian Press