Man arrested for attempting to escape from prison after booking a helicopter

A criminal who hijacked and diverted a helicopter in mid-air in an attempt to break his wife out of a Belgian prison has been arrested after detectives found he used his own name to book the flight.

Mike Gielen, 24, threatened the helicopter’s pilot using a replica handgun as he sought to spring Kristel Appelt, 27, from Berkendaal women’s prison in south Brussels on Friday, where she was being held on suspicion of murdering an ex-boyfriend.

The helicopter circled the prison several times but Gielen’s plan was foiled as the pilot was unable to land within the courtyard. While the helicopter flew over the prison the inmates cheered and waved, but Gielen became nauseous and had to put his head out of the helicopter five times to be sick.

The pilot was then instructed to fly to Hélécine, a town south of the Belgian capital, where a getaway car was waiting in a car park. Gielen was later found with his 50-year-old adoptive father.

The two men and a further two suspects, aged 18 and 22, were arrested within 24 hours of the failed prison break after detectives found Gielen had used his own name when booking the helicopter at Deurne airport near Antwerp.

“I can confirm that my client admitted that he wanted to free his wife from prison,” said Tom van Overbeke, Gielen’s lawyer. “It seems the whole thing has been staged quite amateurishly.”

The four men will appear before an investigating judge in Antwerp on charges of theft with violence with a weapon, participation in a criminal organisation, unlawful deprivation of liberty and attempted escape.

Gielen, a convicted drug smuggler, met and married his wife in the mixed-gender Hasselt prison last year. “When both Kristel and I had visitors in January 2019, we bumped into each other in the visitors’ area,” Gielen told the Het Belang van Limburg newspaper last year. “We still knew each other from before, but hadn’t seen each other for a long time. Because we could never see each other, we both started taking computer lessons in prison. That was the only way to be together.”

Appelt is in jail on suspicion of stabbing to death Andy Vandereyt, 30, during a street fight on 2 December 2018.

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