Two convicted murderers serving life sentences in adjoining cells have staged an elaborate escape from New York’s largest state-run prison.
The two fooled guards with makeshift dummies made out of sweatshirts and used power tools to drill out of their cells and past the prison’s 30-foot-tall walls, officials said.
The men remain at large and a troop of law enforcement personnel are conducting an extensive manhunt radiating outward from the Clinton Correctional Facility, where nearby residents hoped for a quick end to an unprecedented occurrence.
Police officers clad in bulletproof vests and armed with rifles manned roadblocks on routes leading to and from the town, peering into cars and checking trunks as red flares lit the pavement on a chilly night.
Floodlights filled the street around the maximum-security facility, whose thick walls loomed high over the north side of the town’s main street, which was closed to most traffic. Dozens of law enforcement officials stood guard in a nearby neighbourhood where the two escapees had emerged from a manhole.
The New York State Police said the inmates, Richard Matt and David Sweat, had escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility, an all-male maximum security prison about 250km north of Albany near the Canadian border.
Within hours, Govenor Andrew Cuomo had canceled a scheduled visit to the Belmont Stakes horse race in Elmont, New York, to meet with the police and prison officials.
After he was briefed by the officials, who took him on a tour of the escape route, the governor took part in a news conference. Officials described a plan that involved the use of power tools to drill through steel walls and pipes. “When you look at how the operation was done, it was extraordinary,” Mr Cuomo said. This was the first time in the prison’s history that anyone escaped from the maximum security section of the facility, he said.
The State Police said that Matt (48) and Sweat (34) were found to be missing during a 5.30am bed check. Both men were “a danger to the public,” and officials advised anyone who saw them not to approach and to contact the police.
Officials said the men drilled a hole through the steel wall at the back of their cells and walked onto a catwalk. They then climbed down and used the tools to drill through a maze of pipes and tunnels before exiting through a manhole on a nearby street, officials said.
Anthony J. Annucci, the acting commissioner of the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, said that officials did not know how the inmates acquired the tools.
The prison’s tools had been accounted for , he said, but officials were investigating whether the inmates could have gotten tools from outside contractors doing construction at the prison.
Officials were also trying to find out how the inmates knew their way out, he said. “It may have been over a period of time,” he said. “It may have been trial and error. We don’t know.”
Mr Cuomo said the inmates had used decoys made from sweatshirts to make it look as if they were asleep in their beds, deceiving corrections officers who check on them every two hours.
The discovery prompted an immediate lockdown of the prison, which remained in effect overnight. Officials said more than 200 law enforcement officers were involved in the search, along with helicopters, K-9 units and bloodhounds.
Major Charles Guess, the State Police commander of the region, said the police and prison officials were conducting a full investigation with local and state authorities, as well as the FBI and the US Marshals Service.
New York Times