Prison escapes: Tools, tricks, helicopters or strolling out the door

Prison officials in New York state are scrambling after two men convicted of murder used power tools to hack through walls in a brazen escape effort. Here's a quick glimpse at some recent escapes that relied on tools, tricks and even helicopters.

Breakouts range from the daring to the mundane, from a hijacked helicopter to simply walking away

Two convicted murderers who used power tools to break out of the maximum security Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y., may have had help. They left a taunting note for their jailers to 'Have a nice day,' authorities said. (Chris Wattie/Reuters )

Prison officials and law enforcement in New York state are scrambling after two men convicted of murder used power tools to hack through walls to make a brazen escape. 

Here's a quick glimpse at some recent escapes that relied on tools, tunnels, tricks and even helicopters. 

Tools and tunnels

The hunt is still on for the two most recent escapees, convicted killers David Sweat, 34, and Richard Matt, 48, who broke out of the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y.

According to The Associated Press, the pair of convicted killers reportedly "cut through the steel wall at the back of their cells, crawled down a catwalk, broke through a brick wall, cut their way into and out of a steam pipe, and then sliced through the chain and lock on a manhole cover outside the prison."

How they got the tools — and whether employees or contractors helped them — are major questions as investigators try to establish how they broke out of the maximum-security section of the upstate New York prison. 

Another breakout that drew headlines happened in Mexico in 2012, when more than 100 inmates escaped using a tunnel. 

The tunnel, which was 6.4 metres long and 1.2 metres across "had been there for months," Coahuila Attorney General Homero Ramos said.

      1 of 0


      Inmates have also tried to scam their way out of prison, using tricks to gain their freedom. In 2013, two convicted killers were briefly free in Florida after using phoney papers that said they had been given an early release. 

      A convicted murderer escaped a Louisiana prison by packing himself in a pallet full of mailbags. More recently, a man convicted of fraud charges in the U.K. made up a fake website and sent an email posing as a court clerk to the prison. The email included bail instructions and the man spent three days outside before turning himself in, the BBC reported. 


      One of the more dramatic Canadian escapes in recent years unfolded in Quebec in June 2014, when three inmates soared out of the yard of a Quebec City-area detention centre in a helicopter. The escape (which didn't last long — the inmates were arrested in Montreal) prompted tighter security at several Quebec detention centres.

      The most recent helicopter case was not a first, even in Quebec. Two inmates were quickly tracked down after using a hijacked helicopter to escape a Quebec jail in 2013. 

      In Greece in 2009, an inmate escaped from prison by helicopter — for the second time.

      Police cars cluster outside the Orsainville Detention Centre near Quebec City after inmates used a helicopter to escape. (Francis Vachon/Canadian Press)

      Walking out — sometimes with help

      Some prisoners in lower-security facilities have opted for the more direct route of hopping a wall, walking out the door or climbing out a window.

      Francis Boucher, son of a Hells Angels kingpin, was recently able to walk out of a Quebec jail months before his sentence for uttering death threats against police was completed. Boucher was back in jail facing additional charges not long after the apparent "administrative error" that led to the wrong Boucher being released. 

      Boucher, who surrendered to prison after a few days out, in March faced three new charges related to the early exit. His lawyer has argued his 'escape' was a mistake. Correctional officials were investigating but exactly how it unfolded is not yet clear.

      In 2014, convicted killer Robert Gaudette escaped from a federal detention centre. It's believed he climbed out a window of the minimum-security facility in Laval, Que. 

      Another way out of prison is with the help of those meant to keep inmates locked up.

      A B.C. prison guard was handed a sentence of more than three years for his role in helping an inmate dressed as janitor escape in 2008.

      Video released by the B.C. Corrections Branch shows a guard escorting an inmate out through secure doors in the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in 2007. (B.C. Corrections Branch)

      Paul Buck, author of Prison Break: True Stories of the World's Greatest Escapes, told CBC's Anna Maria Tremonti in a 2014 interview that inmates looking to escape often make the attempt when they are being shuttled from one spot to another.

      "In the olden days, it used to be over the wall, of course, and under the wall, which is what all our imaginations play with," he said.

      That still happens, Buck said, but a weak link "always will be in transit, when you're being taken from one prison to another prison, or when you're being taken from the prison to the courthouse or something like that."

      Inmates who dug their way out of a Brazilian prison filmed their escape on a cell phone 0:35

      With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press