Greece helicopter prison escape plan foiled
Prison officials said that they recovered well over 500 bullets fired from the helicopter.
A¬†helicopter¬†swooped down on a¬†prison¬†courtyard Sunday as armed men on board fired on guards and lowered a rope to help a convicted killer make his fourth attempt to¬†escape¬†from a Greekprison.
But the plot was foiled after the¬†prisoner¬†was shot and the chopper forced to land in the¬†prison's¬†parking lot.
The dramatic¬†escape¬†attempt was one of a handful involving¬†helicopters¬†in¬†Greece, and the first time such plans have failed.
Authorities said the chartered¬†helicopter¬†‚ÄĒ carrying two armed passengers, a pilot and a technician ‚ÄĒ first tried to rip off the chicken-wire fence surrounding Trikala¬†prison¬†with a hook dangling from a rope. But that didn't work, so a rope was lowered down to whisk away Panagiotis Vlastos. Another¬†prisoner, an unnamed Albanian national also in the courtyard at the time, may also have been part of the¬†escape¬†plan.
At the same time, the armed passengers used AK-47 assault rifles to fire on the¬†prison¬†guards. One guard, who was inside a post, was slightly injured by shards of flying glass. He and others returned fire, injuring Vlastos, who had managed to climb into the¬†helicopter, as well as the¬†helicopter's¬†technician. Vlastos fell from a height of about 3 meters (10 feet) into the courtyard, and the¬†helicopter¬†was eventually grounded in the parking lot.
Vlastos, 43, is a convicted murderer and racketeer serving a life term who had tried and failed three times before to¬†escape¬†from¬†prison.
Prison¬†officials told TV stations Mega and NET that they recovered well over 500 bullets fired from thehelicopter. The Ministry of Justice, in statements describing the¬†escape¬†attempt, added that the¬†helicopterpassengers also carried, but did not use, "improvised explosive devices."
Authorities said Vlastos was wounded in the legs but is being treated in the¬†prison¬†hospital because his injuries were not deemed serious enough for a transfer elsewhere. The technician's hand was slightly wounded.
It was not immediately clear if the pilot and flight technician had willingly participated in the¬†escape¬†attempt or had been forced to fly to the¬†prison, which is located 328 km (205 miles) northwest of Athens. Also unclear was whether the second would-be escapee was in on the scheme or just happened to be in the courtyard and tried to take advantage of the situation.
The¬†helicopter¬†was hired from a western Athens suburb and was supposed to fly to Thessaloniki, in northernGreece. But it deviated from is flight path to head to the¬†prison.
This is the third time a¬†helicopter¬†has been used in an attempted¬†prison¬†escape¬†in¬†Greece. Convicted criminals Vassilis Paleokostas and Alket Rizaj were whisked by¬†helicopter¬†from the high-security Korydallos¬†prison¬†in Athens in June 2006. They were caught, but¬†escaped¬†for a second time ‚ÄĒ again using a¬†helicopter¬†‚ÄĒ in February 2009. Paleokostas is still at large.
Vlastos was first arrested in 1994 in the murder of two members of a rival criminal gang. He was convicted last year as the behind-the-bars mastermind of the kidnapping of shipping tycoon Pericles Panagopoulos. Panagopoulos was kidnapped in January 2009 and released after eight days, when a ransom of ‚ā¨30 million was paid.
While awaiting trial for the kidnapping, Vlastos tried to¬†escape¬†in December 2011 from Korydallos¬†prison¬†along with three members of armed anarchist group Conspiracy Nuclei of Fire. The four used a pistol and knives to take hostage three¬†prison¬†guards and 25 visiting relatives of other¬†prisoners. The four surrendered to authorities after a five-hour standoff.
Vlastos had also tried to¬†escape, unsuccessfully, in 1994 and 1998.