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3 French inmates caught after helicopter escape

MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) -- Three prisoners escaped by helicopter from Les Baumettes prison outside the French Mediterranean port of Marseille on Saturday but were recaptured within an hour following a shootout, officials said.

Three other detainees who tried to escape were recaptured in the prison's exercise yard, including two who were shot by prison guards. One of them suffered a serious wound to the throat, they said.All six were hardened criminals, police said.

Regional prefect (chief government administrator) Hughes Parent said police were looking for the organizer of the escape who had taken the helicopter pilot hostage and forced him to fly to the prison at gunpoint. The fate of the pilot was unclear.

Police said the escape took place when a helicopter arrived over the prison's exercise yard and lowered a large net which the six men hung onto as the aircraft winched them away.

Three of the prisoners jumped, fell or were shot down from the net during the escape bid, police said.

The helicopter then set the three others down on a nearby football pitch where at least one car was waiting to drive them away, police said. Parent said they took a passing driver hostage and forced him to drive them away.

The escapees were recaptured within 45 minutes after a shootout with police at one of several roadblocks, authorities said.