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Helicopter plucks inmates from prison

AGASSIZ, British Columbia -- Two inmates escaped from a maximum-security prison Monday aboard a helicopter that plucked them from an exercise yard and sped off in a hail of gunfire, officials said.

The stolen helicopter touched down just before 9 a.m. amid a crowd of prisoners in the yard at the Kent Institution in Agassiz, 80 miles east of Vancouver, said Dennis Finlay, a spokesman for Correctional Services of Canada.

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Two inmates jumped into the aircraft, which lifted off while an armed man inside exchanged gunfire with prison guards, hitting one of them in the knee, Finley said. He added none of the escapees was believed injured.

Finlay said about 40 of the facility's 260 inmates refused to return to their cells after the breakout, making it impossible to determine immediately the identities of the two who escaped.

He said the helicopter's pilot had been kidnapped at gunpoint from his nearby business and later was found tied up but unharmed. A Royal Canadian Mounted Police spokesman said the suspects abandoned the helicopter and escaped in a car, but could not say if the aircraft was found.

Finlay said the incident was similar to the helicopter escape in the Charles Bronson movie 'Breakout.' He said it was the first such prison break in Canada, although inmates have escaped from U.S. prisons using similarmeans.

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