Pascal Payet (born 7 July 1963) is a French
criminal who has gained notoriety for his daring prison escapes using
helicopters. He was initially sentenced to a 30 year jail term for a
murder committed during the robbery of a security van in 1997.
Criminal career and escape attempts
Born in Montpellier, Payet spent his childhood in
Lyon before settling in Marseille. In 1988 he was convicted of
aggravated assault and again in 1993 for conspiracy. On November 20,
1997, he participated in an attack on a Banque de France armored car
in Salon-de-Provence during which someone was killed. He was arrested
along with Éric Alboreo in Paris in January 1999.
On October 12, 2001, he escaped from a prison in
the village of Luynes in the French department of Bouches-du-Rhône on
board a hijacked helicopter with Frédéric Impocco. On October 18,
Impocco was captured and brought in for questioning in Paris. On April
14, 2003, Payet organized another helicopter escape from the Luynes
prison, this time of Franck Perletto, Michel Valero, and Éric Alboreo,
who had been arrested with him in 1999. They were caught three weeks
In January 2005, Payet was sentenced to 30 years in
prison for murder in connection with the 1997 armored car hijacking in
Salon-de-Provence. This sentence was upheld in May 2006 following an
appeal by the cour d'assises of Var.
In December 2005, he published an
open letter on his blog entitled "The Saga of My Transfers" (French: "L'épopée
de mes transferts") in which he criticized the conditions of his
imprisonment. Before the letter he had gone on a hunger strike at a
prison in Metz in protest against having been transferred nine times
in 30 months.
In January 2007, he confessed to organizing the
2003 escape and was sentenced to an additional seven years in prison,
while his co-conspirators were each sentenced to three. He was also
sentenced to another six years for his own escape in 2001.
By July 2007, Payet was one of the most closely
surveilled prisoners in France and was never kept at the same prison
for more than six months. He had been officially classified as a "détenu
particulièrement surveillé," or a prisoner under especially high
surveillance, and placed in solitary confinement.
Despite these measures, on July 14, 2007, taking
advantage of Bastille Day celebrations, four masked men hijacked a
helicopter from Cannes – Mandelieu Airport. They used it to free Payet
from his solitary confinement in a prison in Grasse. The helicopter
landed some time later at Brignoles, 38 kilometres north-east of
Toulon, France on the Mediterranean coast. Payet and his accomplices
then fled the scene and the pilot was released unharmed. Two days
after his escape, a European arrest warrant was issued against him.
Payet was captured on September 21, 2007 in the
town of Mataró, a suburb north of Barcelona in Spain. He was
transferred to French custody on October 4, 2007 along with two
accomplices who had been captured with him, Alain Armato and Farid
Ouassou. He was then imprisoned in a location which has been kept
secret for "security reasons." On June 25, 2008, the cour d'assises of
the Alpes-Maritimes department sentenced him to 15 years in prison
with no chance of early release for a series of armed robberies and
assaults against police officers while he evaded custody.
On April 8, 2011, the cour d'assises of
Bouches-du-Rhône sentenced him to an additional five years of prison
for his 2007 escape. His three accomplices were sentenced to nine,
seven and six years. Some other prisoners judged complicit in the
escape were given lesser sentences.
Payet is married and has two children.
Killer Escapes by Helicopter From French Prison
July 16, 2007
GRASSE, France, July 15 (Reuters) — The French
police on Sunday were searching for a convicted killer who made a
daring escape from Grasse prison in southeast France with the help of
four masked men and a helicopter.
The well-planned breakout late Saturday took only
five minutes and was the second time the killer, Pascal Payet, 43, had
used a helicopter to escape from jail.
Maurice Barate, a security official at the prison,
said the breakout was carried out by four masked men who hijacked a
helicopter at nearby Cannes and took the pilot hostage.
They landed on the prison roof at the start of the
night shift and used heavy machinery to break open two doors and enter
the isolation ward where Mr. Payet was held.
“The operation took only five minutes,” Mr. Barate
said. “The layout of the site did not allow the guards in the tower to
shoot at the helicopter or the men.”
Mr. Payet, serving a 30-year prison sentence for
killing a guard during the holdup of an armored car, was moved from
one prison to another almost every three months because of his escape
record. He escaped from Luynes prison by helicopter in 2001 and flew
himself there to free three friends in 2003.
But prison staff members were not told about the
hijacking of the helicopter on Saturday and so did not increase
Justice Minister Rachida Dati went to Grasse prison
on Sunday, and an official said she ordered an investigation into the
escape as well as a prison security audit.
Christophe Marques, secretary general of the prison
staff union, said the breakout showed there was an increasing danger
of attacks from outside prisons.
“We have to sit down with the minister and discuss
the resources needed to counter such commando operations,” Mr. Marques