Copter Hijacked, 2 Freed From Prison in Rome

Associated Press

Two gunmen hijacked a Red Cross ambulance helicopter Sunday, lifted two inmates from a prison courtyard and flew off firing automatic weapons at guards, police said.

A third prisoner dashed toward the helicopter but slipped in the rain and was left behind.

The helicopter landed a short time later in a Rome soccer field where a match was under way, and hijackers and convicts fled by car.

Sought by French

Officials said that one jailbreaker, Andre Bellaiche, 36, a Tunisian-born Frenchman, was sought by French authorities in connection with a Paris bank robbery and murder. The other escapee, Gianluigi Esposito, 30, reportedly was suspected of supplying arms to Italian terrorists.

Police said the hijackers walked into San Camillo Hospital and cornered the helicopter pilot, Mauro Pompa, 42, who was on standby duty. They handcuffed Pompa's 10-year-old son to a radiator and forced Pompa at gunpoint to take them to the helicopter parked across the street.

The white helicopter with red crosses on its sides then flew across the city to Rebibbia Prison. There it hovered three feet above the courtyard where about 50 inmates were exercising, Deputy Warden Giancarlo Baldassini told reporters.

As the hijackers laid down covering gunfire and lowered a rope ladder, two inmates dashed to the helicopter and hauled themselves aboard.

A guard was slightly injured by flying glass in the shoot-out, police said. Officers said two shots fired by a guard hit the helicopter.

The Italian news agency ANSA said the six guards on duty at first thought the helicopter was arriving for a medical emergency.

Players in a neighborhood soccer game in Rome's Cinecitta area scattered when the helicopter landed there after the escape.

Car Driver Beaten

Jailbreakers and accomplices stopped a passing car, beat the driver, left him behind and drove away, taking the helicopter pilot with them. They later forced the pilot out of the car and stole another auto, then vanished.

ANSA said the prisoner who failed to reach the helicopter was Luciano Cipollari, 24, an Italian who was extradited from France in 1985. He was convicted of murder Saturday by a Rome court and was sentenced to nine years in jail.

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