A cult leader jailed for sex attacks on children escaped in a helicopter from a prison on the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion today, the regional administration said.
Juliano Verbard, who was serving a 15-year term for rapes and sex assaults on children, and two of his jailed followers were hauled on board a chopper hijacked by three accomplices, senior regional officials said.
Verbard's flight was France's 11th helicopter jailbreak since 1986, and is bound to revive questions about security in its jails.
"It's a great first for the island, one that Reunion could well have done without," said prefect Pierre-Henry Maccioni, the French state's representative and police chief in the territory.
"We would never have imagined anyone would use a helicopter to escape on a island where there's very little chance of getting away abroad," he explained, adding that an emergency manhunt had been launched.
The helicopter landed on waste ground a short distance from the jail and the gang escaped in a van that had been waiting for them, officials told AFP.