An intense manhunt for two escaped convicts resumed at daybreak on Sunday around the tiny town of Friendship in south-western New York state, following what police described as a “credible sighting” of men resembling the fugitives.
Richard Matt and David Sweat escaped from Clinton correctional facility in upstate New York two weeks ago, cutting their way through pipes to emerge through a manhole in a Dannemora street.
A massive manhunt failed to find them despite grid searches of dense forests and vacant buildings and cabins by up to 800 investigators and rangers.
Authorities scrambled on Saturday afternoon and evening to get officers to the remote, rural area 350 miles south-west of the prison in Dannemora.
As darkness fell on Saturday night, law enforcement personnel were forced to wind down their search of woods, culverts, railway tracks, roads, farmland and hamlets. Officers were still travelling to the area.
Helicopters with infra-red cameras that detect body heat continued the search into the night.
By Sunday morning, the FBI, forest rangers, local and state police and corrections officers from a number of prisons in the region were striving to establish a secure perimeter of personnel and, they hoped, close in on Matt and Sweat.
Authorities warned that they had not yet had a confirmed sighting, although they have put residents in the area on high alert after a member of the public reported on Saturday afternoon seeing two men resembling Matt (48), and Sweat (35).
Heavily armed police responded to a report of footprints and two men near a railway track.
But as the search resumed by foot, vehicle and helicopter on Sunday, with dog teams and staff on all-terrain vehicles, the men are still at large and their location unknown
Friendship is close to the border between New York and Pennsylvania, in Allegany County.
The police warned local citizens not to approach anyone they thought might be the two men as they are considered highly dangerous, although it is not known if they are armed.
As the hunt began to be scaled back locally in recent days and officials admitted they had no idea where the two were, reports emerged on Friday night that two men resembling the inmates had been seen a few miles from the border separating New York and Pennsylvania.
Then a fresh report came in of a possible sighting on Saturday afternoon.
New York state police have investigated more than 600 tips and leads since June 6th, but after a short time on Saturday evening they described the sighting near Friendship as “credible” and began channelling officers to the area.
Matt and Sweat had expected a prison worker, Joyce Mitchell, to arrange their getaway from Dannemora, but Ms Mitchell panicked and did not turn up, leaving the inmates to fend for themselves.
Mitchell (51), was questioned and then arrested on June 12th and charged in connection with smuggling tools to the inmates and assisting their breakout.
A corrections officer was also being investigated after being taken in for questioning on Friday night.
His identity has not been confirmed but he was named as Gene Palmer, of Cadyville, very close to Dannemora, by the New York Times on Sunday, citing an official with knowledge of the case and reporting that two troopers were stationed outside his home.
New York state police and the US marshall service have collectively put up $150,000 in rewards for information leading to the men’s capture.