A notorious gangster, Redoine Faid, has escaped by helicopter from a prison in the Paris region, the French authorities says.
He was helped by several heavily armed men who created a diversion at the prison entrance while the helicopter landed in the courtyard.
According to BBC, the helicopter flew to the nearby Gonesse area, where it was found by local police.
Faid, 46, has been serving a 25-year sentence for a failed robbery during which a police officer was killed.
This is his second prison break: in 2013, he escaped after seizing four guards as human shields and blowing several doors off with dynamite.
He staged that escape less than half an hour after arriving at a prison in northern France.
In 2009 Faid wrote a book about his experiences of growing up in Paris’s crime-ridden suburbs and graduating into a life of law-breaking.
He claimed to have turned his back on criminality, but a year later he was involved in the failed robbery for which he was serving a sentence at the prison.
Faid and his accomplices escaped from the prison courtyard – which was not protected by a net – without injuring anyone.
Gunmen took the prisoner from the visitors’ room before fleeing by air, according to security sources cited by Reuters.
French outlet BFMTV reports that the men, hooded and dressed in black, burst into the room at around 11:20 local time (09:20 GMT) on Sunday, demanding Faid’s release.
They had earlier taken a helicopter instructor hostage while he was waiting for a student, and ordered him to go to the prison. Reports suggest the pilot has been released and is safe – but in shocked.
Faid got out of the helicopter and into a black Renault Megane which was seen heading for the A1 motorway.
Early on Sunday afternoon, police sources told news channel France 3 that he had switched vehicles and was now in a white van.
A police search is under way across the whole Paris region. “Everything is being done to locate the fugitive,” an interior ministry official said.
Born in 1972, Faid grew up in a notoriously rough part of Paris.