Montreal: Three inmates deemed extremely dangerous by police have escaped from a Canadian jail in a helicopter, the second such daring prison break recently in Quebec.
In March 2013, two inmates were lifted on a hijacked helicopter from a prison north of Montreal. They were both quickly re-arrested, along with the two accomplices.
Police are now asking for the public's help in tracking down Yves Denis, 35, Denis Lefebvre, 53, and Serge Pomerleau, 49 - all accused of mafia ties - after the Saturday night jailbreak in Quebec province.
The prison yard in front of the Orsainville Detention Center is seen near Quebec City on Saturday. Photo: AP
"The helicopter landed in a courtyard at the detention centre," police spokeswoman Ann Mathieu told the French news channel RDI on Sunday.
The helicopter set down at 7.45pm then took off to the west, she added.
The three escaped prisoners were accused of being the leaders of a drug trafficking network linked to the Hells Angels. They were to appear in court in January 2015 on charges of premeditated murder.
Police cars are seen in front of the prison near Quebec City after the jailbreak. Photo: AP
The fugitives were also facing charges of drug trafficking, conspiracy, and other crimes. A trial on those charges got underway on April 8.
The men were arrested in 2010 as part of an operation to dismantle a drug trafficking network in Abitibi-Temiscamingue, in western Quebec.
Authorities were put on alert across Quebec, in the rest of Canada, and in the United States, according to provincial police.
Yves Denis is one of three inmates who escaped a Quebec jail by helicopter. Photo: AP
"We have co-operation with all the police forces across the country and abroad also," said Sergeant Gregory Gomez. "We have many, many officers who are scattering all the areas possible. Investigators are, of course, checking every lead."
Police were reluctant to provide many details about their investigation for fear the escapees could be monitoring media reports.
Police released photos of the three men on social media and appealed to the public for help, but warned anyone who spotted them not to approach and immediately contact police.
Escapee Denis Lefebvre. Photo: AP
Audrey-Anne Bilodeau, another police spokeswoman, said Saturday that police were working with surrounding airports and Quebec's Valcartier military base to help track down the helicopter.
The Orsainville Detention Centre, about 10 kilometres from the centre of Quebec City, can hold up to 710 offenders.
In March of last year, a helicopter pilot was forced at gunpoint to pluck two inmates from the St-Jerome prison on a quiet Sunday afternoon. Two inmates climbed up a rope ladder into the hovering helicopter and fled.
Escapee Serge Pomerleau. Quebec Provincial Police say three inmates have escaped from the Orsainville Detention Centre in Quebec. Photo: AP
Police caught the two escapees and the two suspects who hijacked the helicopter within a few hours of the escape.