A man who tried to help his wife from a prison in Brussels using a hijacked helicopter has been sentenced to five years by a court in Antwerp.
Mike Gielen booked a helicopter flight over Brussels in September last year, ostensibly to take photos. He was accompanied by two friends. But when the helicopter came over the Justice Palace in Brussels, the three produced air pistols to threaten the pilot. She was then ordered to fly in the direction of Berkendael prison for women in the suburb of Uccle.
The plan, apparently, was to put down in the prison yard and pick up Gielen’s wife, who was awaiting trial on charges of murder.
When Gielen saw the pilot was attempting to contact air traffic control, he pushed on the steering column, causing the aircraft to go into a nosedive and forcing the pilot to fight for control.
“Only the cold-blooded reactions of the pilot were able to avoid a catastrophe,” the court said in its final judgement.
Once the aircraft was back under control the pilot made as if to try to land several times, without success. The three hijackers decided to abandon their plan and ordered her to fly to Hélécine in Walloon Brabant, about 50km from Brussels.
Gielen was arrested the following day, and his two accomplices shortly after. Gielen explained he had wanted to liberate his wife, whom he had hardly been able to visit because of Covid-19 restrictions. The two accomplices, he said, had been promised €25,000 to €50,000 to help.
The two denied any knowledge of the prison break plot, claiming the flight was for a photoshoot. The court found that excuse unlikely.
Under Belgian law, it is not a criminal offence to escape or try to escape from prison, although acts committed while doing so – such as assaulting a prison officer – may be prosecuted.
The trio of hijackers, on the other hand, were charged with organising a prison break, illegal detention of the pilot, theft and conspiracy.
Mike G. was sentenced to five years in prison – one year more than the prosecution had requested. His accomplices each were given sentences of 30 months. They were also ordered to pay €7,500 in compensation to the pilot and €3,953 to the helicopter company.
Meanwhile, the court case against the intended escapee, Kristel Appelt, will have to be retried after the jury at the original trial in February were given a document they ought not to have seen.