The four men who hijacked a helicopter in Antwerp on Friday and hovered over three prisons in Brussels were on a mission to rescue the wife of one of them, who is in jail awaiting trial for murder.
The four have been interviewed by an investigative magistrate appointed by the Antwerp prosecutor’s office, and more details of the plan have emerged.
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, at Antwerp airport in Deurne 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 nearby.
Prison authorities were alerted and carried out a head-count, suspecting an escape attempt, but none of the prisoners was missing. It later emerged from statements by the pilot that she had been unable to land in the grounds of the prison. The helicopter then left the area, and the men were let down at a car park at Hélécine in Walloon Brabant, where they disappeared.
It has now become clear that the plan was to rescue the wife of one of the gang, Mike G., from Berkendael, She has been named only as Kristel A., aged 27, and the two married when he was in prison.
Mike G., aged 24 from Tongeren, was released, but Kristel A. is now in prison herself, accused of the murder of her first husband in Aarschot in 2018. She and her then-lover are accused of stabbing the man to death, and risk a sentence of 30 years when the case comes to court.
According to his lawyer, Mike G. is cooperating fully with the investigation.
Another suspect, who is Mike G.’s adoptive father, was dispatched to Hélécine near Tienen to pick up the gang by car after the rescue. But the prison break never took place, for reasons that are yet to become clear.
The third suspect to be named is Dennis L., aged 22 from Lanaken, whose lawyer claims he was not aware of the rescue plot.
“My client had been asked by a friend to take photos and videos. He brought a backpack full of cameras and lenses and also shot some images during the flight. He was completely unaware of a plan to release anyone from prison,” said lawyer Jonathan Bogaerts.
The identity of the fourth suspect, an 18-year-old from Bilzen, has not yet been revealed.
Later on Sunday afternoon, the 50-year-old suspect was conditionally released from detention. The other three suspects will remain in custody until they appear in court during the week.