The recent Taliban prison escape was undeniably crafty. But especially noteworthy was the creation of the 320m tunnel without power tools, which would have been too noisy. Here are six other world great escapes, and the gear that made them possible.
Alcatraz Federal Prison, San Francisco, 1962
The most famous world escape attempt from Alcatraz was also the last to happen on the prison island. In 1962, John Anglin, Clarence Anglin and Frank Morris put on a master class in fashioning improvised tools, using a vacuum cleaner motor to hack together a drill, creating life rafts out of rain jackets. The inmates spent months creating an escape hole in their cell (which they hid with a dummy wall) which led to a fan vent. Leaving hair-covered, paper mache masks in their beds to deceive prison guards, the trio escaped in the night where they presumably used their life rafts to get away. No trace of the escapees was ever found, on land or sea.
Santa Martha Acatitla Prison, Mexico City, 1971
Maybe it’s not a tool in the way that the rest of these prison escape aids were, but the helicopter has a long and storied history in aiding inmates trying to get out from captivity. The first (and most famous) helicopter escape took place in 1971 outside Mexico City at the Santa Martha Acatitla prison. Joel Kaplan Jr. ran a hedge fund that was under investigation as a CIA money conduit when he was convicted of murdering his business partner in Mexico. While serving his sentence, Kaplan somehow arranged for a helicopter to touch down in the middle of the prison yard, and whisk him away (along with another inmate) in under two minutes. This became the model for countless other helicopter escapes, not to mention the basis for the movie Breakout.
Sir David Longland Correctional Centre, Brisbane, 1997
Diamond-encrusted wire sounds like something that could only exist in a movie, but it’s been used in real life to help inmates escape prison walls at the Sir David Longland Correctional Centre, outside of Brisbane. Using the “angel wire” to cut through cell bars, and then bending those bars back using sheets, five inmates in Australia (three of which were murderers) were able to escape. The prisoners also used the diamond wire to cut through security fences, a chair to get over the razor wire atop other fences, and finally had a pair of bolt-cutters tossed to them from their accomplices on the other side. Law enforcement to launch a 150 officer manhunt for the escapees. And quickly caught for of them, finally catching the fifth fugitive months later.
In 1997, six inmates at the maximum security SCI-Pittsburgh prison gained unauthorized access to blueprints and power tools used for prison work (which included a JACKHAMMER), using them to chip their way out of the penitentiary. Inmates were being used to help install new steam pipes at the prison, and used these tools under supervision. Officials never found out how they got a hold of them afterwards, but it’s probably safe to say that using inmate labor wasn’t the best idea in this instance.
Erie County Correctional Facility, New York, 2006
In 2006, Ralph “Bucky” Phillips was in prison after violating parole for a previous burglary conviction. While serving his term at Erie County Correctional Facility in western New York, Phillips got hold of a can opener and used it to cut through the corrugated metal roof of the prison kitchen. Once free, Phillips evaded police for over five months, and became a folk hero in the process. But that was before Phillips decided to shoot three officers, one of whom died as a result. He’s now serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Long Bay Prison, Sydney, 2006
Using a butter knife to escape from prison makes sense, but laxatives can also be a useful aid. In 2006, Robert Cole used laxitives to lose over 14kg, allowing him to squeeze his 56kg body through the window of the prison hospital and the space he carved out between the brick walls and the iron bars guarding said window. Cole was on the run for three days before getting caught and sentenced to another year in prison.