The Oscars may have been last night, but the real theatrics occurred yesterday in Greece, where a helicopter prison escape was foiled as a convicted murderer’s attempted his fourth escape from the facility.
As if in a Hollywood action flick, a helicopter swooped into Trikala prison’s courtyard yesterday in to free a convicted murderer, 43-year-old Panagiotis Vlastos, serving a life sentence. On board the chopper were a pilot, a flight technician and two men armed with AK-47 assault rifles. At first the helicopter tried to rip out the fence surrounding the prison with a dangling hook, when that didn’t work the helicopter attempted to swoop away Vlastos with the same rope.
While stationary, the two armed men opened fire on the guard sentries within the prison courtyard. One guard was injured via shards of flying glass; but he and the other guards returned fire, injuring Vlastos in the process and forcing the helicopter to land in a nearby parking lot.
Authorities closed in on the downed helicopter and subdued all involved. More than 500 bullets were fired from the helicopter and the passengers were in possession on “improvised explosive devices.”
Authorities are investigating whether or not the pilot and flight technician were willingly involved in the escape plot or if they were forced to partake in the incident. The helicopter was hired to fly from Athens to the northern city of Thessaloniki, but diverted its flight path to head to the prison which is located 205 miles northwest of Athens.
Vlastos sustained leg injuries from falling roughly 10 feet out of the helicopter; the flight technician also slightly injured his hand.
Yesterday was the fourth time Vlastos failed to break out of prison. He was first arrested for murdering two rival gang members in 1994. While behind bars, Vlastos orchestrated the kidnapping of Pericles Panagopoulos, an import/export tycoon. 1994, 1998, 2011 and yesterday’s incident mark failed escape attempts by Vlastos.
Sunday’s events marks the third time a helicopter was used in a prison break, but the first to fail. Convicted criminals Vassilis Paleokostas and Alket Rizaj were sprung from Korydallos maximum-security prison in 2006. They were eventually caught, but escaped a second time via help from a helicopter in February 2009. Rizaj was captured months later while Paleokostas remains a fugitive.