Did a drone help a notorious French gangster escape from prison?

It was a prison escape that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Hollywood action movie.

Last Sunday, at least three armed associates of notorious French gangster Rédoine Faïd flew a hijacked helicopter into the grounds of Réau prison, south of Paris.

Witnesses watched in shock as the helicopter flew in and the operation to help 46-year-old Faïd escape got underway. Three men leaped from the helicopter before letting off gas canisters to disorientate those nearby. They then used a grinding machine to destroy a door that led to the visitor room where Faïd was located.

According to France’s justice ministry, the drama was over in just “a few minutes.”

The helicopter was flown to a spot 37 miles away, where a car was waiting for them. The pilot was unharmed.

It later emerged that the helicopter had landed in a part of the prison that did not have anti-flight netting over it as it was ordinarily used by visitors only.

Hobby drone assistance?

Nicole Belloubet, France’s justice minister, revealed on Monday that investigators suspect camera-equipped hobby drones may have been used by Faïd’s gang for reconnaissance missions in the lead up to the audacious jailbreak.

Drones have been spotted flying over the prison multiple times in recent months, leading the authorities to suggest a possible link to the jailbreak.

“Someone spotted this possible way out, and it could have been done using drones,” Belloubet said.

Faïd was serving 25 years for the murder of a cop during a robbery in 2010. Before that, he’d served jail time for armed robberies of banks and vans transporting cash. And it’s not the first time he’s launched a spectacular breakout. In 2013, he escaped from a different prison by using explosives to blast his way out. He was caught six weeks later.

A nationwide hunt for Faïd and his gang is now underway.

Drones and prisons

While we’ve heard plenty of stories about hobby drones being used to fly contraband into prisons, it’s the first time we’ve happened upon a case where they may have been used to survey a jail ahead of act like this.

Quadcopters and the like are a growing problem for prisons, with the small machines able to fly right into the grounds with little difficulty. In 2017, a drone gang was jailed in the U.K. for flying contraband — including drugs, weapons, and phones — worth a total of $1.3 million into five different prisons on nearly 50 occasions over two years. A number of high-tech solutions have been tested, but the wide-scale rollout of a particular system is yet to take place.

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