Police have made four arrests in connection with the hijacking of a helicopter yesterday in Deurne in Antwerp.
The aircraft had been chartered in advance, ostensibly for a TV crew to make aerial shots of the prisons for a report. Three men approached the pilot, a 35-year-old woman, and forced her at gunpoint to take them into the air and head for Brussels. There, they overflew the prisons of Saint-Gilles and Forest, as well as the Berkendael women’s prison in Forest commune.
Prison authorities were alerted after a member of the public notified police of the suspicious movements of the helicopter, which he captured on video from the vantage point of his apartment. The prisons carried out a head-count, suspecting an escape attempt, but none of the prisoners was missing.
The helicopter later left the area, and the men were let down at a car park at Hélécine in Walloon Brabant, where they disappeared.
The pilot flew on to Melsbroek air base outside Brussels and was interviewed by police.
Now four people are in custody, with charges of theft with possession of a weapon, criminal conspiracy, unlawful detention of a person and attempted prison escape.
Under Belgian law, although it is not a criminal offence for a prisoner to escape or attempt to escape, anyone assisting them is liable to criminal charges.
According to the latest reports, the four are a 24-year-old man from Tongeren and his 50-year-old adoptive father, arrested in the Brussels area. Some time later police apprehended an 18-year-old from Bilzen and a 22-year-old from Lanaken.
The four will be interviewed by an investigating magistrate in the course of the afternoon.