On this day in 2001, French criminal Pascal Payet staged the first of three daring prison escapes using a hijacked helicopter.
Born on 7 July 1963, in Vitry-sur-Seine, France, Payet quickly entered a life of crime, organising bank and armoured truck robberies. In 1997, a plan to rob an armoured truck was botched, and Payet killed the driver after shooting him 14 times. He was found guilty of the murder and received a 30-year prison sentence in France’s Luynes Prison. By 2001, Payet was raring for an escape route and put his mind to work devising a plan. During an exercise break, Payet identified the Luynes Prison’s vulnerability, and his opportunity to escape. Most European prisons are equipped with exercise yards on their roofs, yards that are open to the sky. Payet decided to use this opening to escape. Though details are scarce on the escape, this much is known: On 12 October 2001, Payet had his friends hijack a helicopter, then land on the exercise roof at a pre-determined time, pick up Payet, and simply fly off. It was a daring maneuver, and it worked.
Payet enjoyed his freedom for several years, then decided to make a repeat performance to help some of his prison friends escape. Two years after his escape, in 2003, he got in a helicopter and flew back to Luynes prison where he picked up three more inmate friends, Franck Perletto, Eric Alboreo, and Michel Valero, from the exercise roof in another daring escape. All four men were recaptured and Payet was given an extra 7-year sentence for organising the jailbreak. This time, Payet was moved to a different prison every three months to prevent another helicopter escape. The tactic didn’t stop the master escape artist. In July 2007, just as night was falling, a helicopter carrying four masked men who had hijacked the craft from a nearby airport, landed on the roof of a Grasse prison in southeast France. The men broke Payet out of his isolation ward and flew him off once again. After landing in Brignoles in southern France, near the Mediterranean Sea, the pilot was released and Payet and the four masked men disappeared. The escape occurred on Bastille Day, the French holiday that commemorates the storming of the prison at Bastille.
It was not the end for Payet. He was recaptured on 21 September 2007, in Mataro, Spain, some 18 miles northeast of Barcelona. Although he had undergone plastic surgery to alter his appearance, Spanish police recognised the notorious criminal and arrested him. Payet is now serving out the rest of his sentence in a French prison.
Credit: Alamy AS1A1B
Caption: An aerial view of the Luynes Jail, where Pascal Payet made his escape in a hijacked helicopter.