Convicts repeat helicopter escape

In a massive security blunder for the government, the country’s most notorious criminal and an Albanian accomplice escaped from Attica’s high-security Korydallos Prison yesterday in a helicopter breakout all the more spectacular for being a repeat of a 2006 performance. Vassilis Palaiocostas, 43, and Alket Rizai, 34, who had been in solitary detention but exercised in the same area, were collected from the roof of the prison shortly before 4 p.m. yesterday by a helicopter that circled the prison grounds twice before dropping a rope ladder to lift them away. The two men had escaped from the same jail in almost exactly the same way in June 2006. Rizai was arrested in July of that year, while Palaiocostas was caught only last August, following his suspected involvement in the abduction of prominent Thessaloniki industrialist Giorgos Mylonas. Both men had been due to stand trial this week for the original breakout. As the helicopter rose away from the prison grounds yesterday, guards opened fire. One officer sustained minor injuries after shooting himself in the hand. It was unclear whether the fugitives fired back, though guards reported seeing a woman passenger wielding an assault rifle. The helicopter used in the escape was found by police a few hours later abandoned in a field in Polydendri, eastern Attica. Officers found the pilot gagged and bound with a hood over his head. The pilot told police that the helicopter had been chartered by a couple who had rented it twice before in recent weeks. The helicopter left Athens airport at 1.30 p.m. with one male passenger and stopped near Itea, central Greece, to pick up a woman, according to the pilot, who lost radio contact with the airport shortly before 4 p.m. With the ranks of ruling New Democracy reportedly in turmoil over the scale of yesterday’s security lapse, Justice Minister Nikos Dendias fired the ministry’s general secretary in charge of prisons, another ministry official and the head of Korydallos Prison. He said crime charges would be brought against all those found responsible. «I will not tolerate this insult – all necessary measures will be taken, however harsh,» he said. A statement by opposition PASOK said: «There is no state, no government.»

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