French police across the country have launched a massive manhunt for a notorious gangster after he pulled off a spectacular jailbreak Sunday, fleeing his prison aboard a hijacked helicopter in a commando - style operation.
Redoine Faid, 46, broke out of the prison near Paris with the help of two accomplices who used smoke bombs and angle grinders to make their way into the facility's visiting room where Faid was talking to a brother, who was later taken into custody, according to prison unionist Martial Delabroye and a judicial source.
The men quickly made good their escape in the helicopter in an operation lasting just 10 minutes, Delabroye told AFP at the penitentiary in Reau in the French capital's southeastern suburbs.
It is the second time Faid has pulled off a spectacular escape - - in 2013, he blasted his way out of a prison in northern France using dynamite.
Some "2, 900 police and gendarmes have been mobilised" for a nationwide manhunt, a police source told AFP.
The helicopter - - hijacked from a terrified flight instructor - - landed at around 11:15 am (0915 GMT) in the prison yard.
The two black - clad men armed with assault rifles set off smoke bombs before breaking their way into the prison's visitation room using the power tools.
The wardens, who were unarmed, fled to safety and raised the alarm.
The helicopter was later found in a northeastern suburb of Paris about 60 kilometres (37 miles) from the prison, one source said.
A police source said the helicopter pilot was a flight instructor waiting for a student when he was seized by Faid's accomplices. He was forced to fly before being later freed in a state of shock.
The men apparently went on to use a car that was later found torched in a shopping mall carpark, police said.
French Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet, who arrived at the prison in Reau on Sunday evening, said the commandos most likely "used drones to survey the location. . . the inquiry that's under way will tell us. "
The escape came after an appeals court in April sentenced Faid to 25 years for masterminding a botched armed robbery in 2010 in which a policewoman was killed.