Page last updated at 01:28 GMT, Sunday, 1 March 2009

How to plan a successful jailbreak

Last week two prisoners made a daring escape from a Greek prison by helicopter - their second airborne jailbreak.

Convicted drug trafficker David McMillan, who spent two years plotting his escape from a Bangkok jail in 1996, told the BBC how much planning this kind of operation takes.

I had been planning [my escape] from the moment four policeman came into a travel agency and arrested me in Chinatown, in Bangkok.

A local resident captured part of the Greek escape on video

As soon as I actually got to the prison about a week later I started looking at bars and walls and electric fences and I began looking for the best place to be. I went to building six simply because it had the thinnest bars in the windows...

There were not a lot of prison guards per prisoner. Probably one prison guard to 120 prisoners. So it was really run by the trustees, who had their own little uniforms with epaulettes and aviators' wings and things like that.

The entire essence of [the escape] was secrecy. No-one in there was capable of keeping a secret I would say...

Planning is everything

The first thing to do was to get what you could call a private cell.

Most of the cells would be the size of a family garage and had 25 people in them, often sleeping like sardines packed into a tin, literally.

prison cell

And if they had chains on, which everybody did, there would be the rattling of the chains, lights would be left on all night.

I paid for a light switch which was another little luxury.

It sounds like I was doing a lot of paying, I mean I had an office, a cook and a cleaner and that kind of thing, but it's not an awful lot of money - for 500 a month ($708) a person could live well.

But we have to bear in mind that most of the people in there were abandoned people. People who'd lost hope in a lot of their lives and had very few friends left.

Most people got excited at the prospect [of escape], of course, but quite soon realised, 'hang on a minute, what am I doing here?' They remembered very quickly the five inmates who'd tried and failed.

They'd got as far as the outside wall. They were all put in the punishment cell, which was really a tin box the size of a small coat locker, and dragged out every day in elephant chains and slowly beaten to death.

Four of those five died.

I knew that here were 12,000 people absolutely lost in this world, and sentenced to a life of pretty much misery, and I thought, if nothing else I have to do it

I started at midnight with hacksaw blades that had been sent over in a care parcel, carefully hidden, so I took those out and began working on the bars.

In fact only one bar was cut, and only partially at that. So my Swedish friend, he was built like a Viking, he had to stretch the thing out, as I squeezed through, oiled up, wearing nothing but my underwear and a pair of trainers.

Final stretch

I just got outside, and then I used a plank to get out and across the yard. It was a bookcase, in fact everything in the room had been built to assist the escape. Furniture turned into step ladders and shower curtains disassembled into long bits of rope.

I had six walls to go over. I assembled a ladder by breaking into a factory, and taking down some long bamboo pole and then I began the arduous haul over a number of these walls.

It was most eerie, I knew where all the guards were, they generally slept at night, but they could wander around, and in fact one did.

I had to hide in the shadows while that was going on. I had a few tricks to deal with that.

I was so exhausted by about 0330-0400 in the morning, that I didn't really feel anything, except wanting to keep going.

And I think that it was only that final thought as I looked around me, I knew that here were 12,000 people absolutely lost in this world, and sentenced to a life of pretty much misery, and I thought, if nothing else I have to do it.

I went across the road and looked back for a few minutes at this huge prison from an angle I'd only seen from that prison van

As I got to the very top wall where the electric fence was, and dawn was creeping up, that soft orange glow was coming through. That meant that I was late. But I was tangibly outside.

[It was] a feeling I guess I haven't had since I was a child when you wake up and you know that there's something good in the world.

And then I more or less slid down the piece of rope I had. Burning my hands, I lost a bit of skin, but I was on the ground, I was outside.

And I went across the road and looked back for a few minutes at this huge prison from an angle I'd only seen from that prison van where a couple of hundred people had been squashed inside wearing the chains and prison uniform, and took a taxi.

David McMillan, author of Escape: The True Story of the Only Westerner Ever to Break Out of Thailand's Bangkok Hilton, was interviewed for the BBC World Service by Audrey Carville. A wanted man in Thailand and Australia, he lives legally in the UK.

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