Apparently helicopters are the getaway vehicle of choice for high-profile inmates in Greek prisons. But this time the attempt failed. Last Sunday, convicted murderer and racketeer Panagiotis Vlastos was waiting in the courtyard of Trikala Prison, about 205 miles northeast of Athens, when the chartered helicopter swooped down. It is not yet clear if the pilot and another crewmember were part of the plot, or if they were victims of a hijacking.
Two passengers opened fire on prison guards with AK-47 assault weapons as Vlastos climbed a rope to the helicopter. Another unnamed prisoner joined him, though it isn’t clear if he was part of the scheme or just seized the opportunity to escape.
Guards returned fire, wounding Vlastos in the legs and causing him to fall about 10 feet from the hovering helicopter, which later made a forced landing in the prison parking lot. Police counted at least 500 bullet holes in the downed helicopter, though only one person on board — the non-flying crew member — was slightly injured. One guard was injured by flying glass.
Vlastos, 43, was convicted of the murders of two rival gang members in 1994 and is serving a life term. Last year, he was also convicted of masterminding the 2009 kidnapping of shipping tycoon Pericles Panagopoulos, in which a ransom of $39.2 million was paid for his safe return. This was Vlastos’ fourth unsuccessful escape attempt — and his first with a helicopter.
Two other criminals escaped from another prison via rotorcraft in 2006, were recaptured, then escaped again the same way in 2009. One is still at large.