Thursday, December 20, 2012

The helicopter escape from HMP Gartree in 1987

The Harborough Mail comes over all nostalgic at the news that plans for a helicopter escape from HMP Gartree have recently been foiled:
News of the audacious helicopter escape plot emerged - bizarrely - almost 25 years to the day after HMP Gartree was the location for one of the most dramatic – and daring – prison escapes of all time. 
At 3.16pm on Thursday, December 10, 1987, a helicopter landed on the prison’s sportsfield and picked up John Kendall and Sydney Draper. 
Kendall, an East London gangland boss, was serving eight years for burglary while Draper had been jailed for life for murder and theft. 
The escape began when Andrew Russell booked a Bell Long Ranger helicopter for a trip from Stansted to Leicester Airport. 
As it approached Leicester he pulled a gun on the pilot and forced him to land in the prison exercise yard.
The Mail does not repeat a story that was widely circulated locally at the time. It held that the prison authorities, conscious of the number of high-profile criminals they were holding, had arranged a code word with a local RAF station. The idea was that if an airborne escape took place the air force could be tipped off and give chase among the clouds.

But, says the story, on 10 December 1987 the conversation went something like this:

GARTREE: Black Eagle.

RAF: I beg your pardon?

GARTREE: Black Eagle.

RAF: Could you say that again, please?

GARTREE: Black Eagle! Black Eagle!

RAF: Sorry, old man, we don't understand your banter.

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