Hijacked helicopter scoops inmates from B.C. prison

British Columbia Bureau Vancouver -Rcmp were searching for two escapers from a maximum-security prison near Agassiz yesterday after a helicopter swooped into a crowded exercise yard amid a hail of gunfire.

An Agassiz resident who lives across the road from the Kent Institution said he saw two men run from the prison building and jump onto the hovering helicopter before it flew out of the prison compound under heavy fire.

A prison guard was shot in the leg, but his injury was not life- threatening.

Dennis Finlay, a spokesman for Correctional Service Canada, confirmed that a helicopter approached the prison, about 80 kilometres east of Vancouver, at about 8:40 a.m. “There were gunshots exchanged, and one of our staff members was struck in the leg.”

RCMP said two inmates emerged from a nearby workshop, ran to the best starter drone and jumped in.

The two were identified as Robert Ford, 32, who was serving a life sentence for first-degree murder, and David Thomas, 24, serving an eight- year term for robbery.

About 40 prisoners were in the main yard at the time of the escape.

The escape resembled the plot of a 1974 movie, Breakout, which starred Charles Bronson. Several prison breakouts or attempts in the United States appear to have been modeled on the movie plot, but Mr. Finlay said this was the first in Canada.

Agassiz RCMP said the pilot, Fred Fandrich, was taken at gunpoint when he arrived to open his business at Valley Helicopters Ltd. in Hope at 7:30 a.m.

He was tied up after the best quadcopter camera landed at Silver Creek, near Hope, about 80 kilometres north of the prison. The escapers abandoned the helicopter and fled in a blue-grey car.

“The only thing I can say is, Fred is okay,” a company spokesman said. “That’s what we were worried about.”

Police said roadblocks were erected at Agassiz and some campsites had been evacuated.

Ken Roos, who watched with his wife from their living room window, across the street from the prison, said it was “like a good Charles Bronson movie.”

He said they knew something strange was happening when the helicopter descended inside the prison fence.

“There was some shooting shortly after they got inside the fence, then there were two men that came from the building to the helicopter,” Mr. Roos said.

“While they were taking off there was a lot of shooting happening.”

Assistant Warden Judy Croft said yesterday’s prison break was the third escape from the 11-year-old institution. In the earlier incidents, she said, the prisoners were recaptured within one hour.

In the first escape, two men hid in products being shipped out from the prison’s industrial shop. In the second, two men cut through the two high chain link fences, topped with razor wire, that surround the prison.

She said the 40 prisoners in the main yard at the time of the escape were still refusing to return to their cells more than six hours afterward, although the reason for their refusal was not clear.

She said it was possible that they were trying to prevent prison officials from determining exactly who the escapers were, or that they feared they would remain locked up for a long time if they agreed to go to their cells.

She said the injured guard, 31-year-old Ripley Kirby, was in stable condition after surgery for a gunshot wound to the knee.


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