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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Jailbreak Leads to National Manhunt

Itar-TassOne of the Moscow Diggers searching the tunnels used by the inmates to escape.
Police launched a country-wide search Thursday to track down three convicted murderers who were missing for a second day after digging their way out of top-security Butyrka prison.

Searchers fanned out underneath the jail to comb a labyrinth of potential escape passages in search of the inmates -- identified as Boris Bezotechestvo, Vladimir Zhelezoglo and Anatoly Kulikov -- who escaped Wednesday by tunneling through the floor of their cell into a basement.

Late Thursday night, authorities said the men may have already crossed the borders. Alexander Volokh, deputy chief of the prison system, said on TV6 that they were believed to have headed east and south and could be as far as Ukraine, Moldova or Kazakhstan.

A spokesman for the prison directorate told RTR that the Border Guard Service and police stations across the country had been alerted.

Earlier, searcher teams were uncertain whether the men had actually found their way out of the jail, but Interfax reported Thursday afternoon that they had found a hatch through which the escapees emerged into a police station courtyard on Gorlov Tupik.

Police traced their path with the help of the Moscow Diggers, a group that explores underground passageways.

"They did not go into the passages that looked like the ones where a normal person would not go," the head of the Diggers, Vadim Mikhailov, said in a telephone interview. "I think a desperate lust for freedom pushed them."

Television news programs showed photographs of the men, who had been sentenced to life in prison for murder and assault and had been awaiting transfer to another prison.

The trio made their break on Wednesday through a hole dug beside their cell toilet after burrowing in an elaborate tunnel system beneath the prison for up to five days.

Television said prison officials had no proper map of the system. Mikhailov said a ton of earth had been dug up.

Prison service officials said blanket checks were under way at railway stations and airports to find the fugitives. Dozens of callers reported seeing them in and around Moscow.

RTR reported late Thursday that searches in Butyrka's basement were halted after police found a driver who saw the men's mug shots and recognized them as passengers he'd driven from Belorussky Station to Zelenograd.

Alexander Volokh, deputy head of the prison service, refused to comment on the reports. But he told TV6 that the prison was understaffed, with one guard manning up to three posts.

Butyrka, built under Catherine the Great in the 18th century, has a reputation for dire conditions.

"One can dig a tunnel in its concrete floors with his finger," said a prison spokesman, speaking on conditions of anonymity. "All that's needed for this is time."

"This is a unique escape, everything was worked out to the last detail," Mikhailov said in a telephone interview Thursday.

After tunneling down some 1 1/2 meters into a basement, the prisoners "moved, presumably in the dark, along the tunnel until they reached the sewage pipe, which led them on to the surface outside the prison," Mikhailov said.

"We found fragments of pipes, a makeshift lamp, a cup, their robes -- everything evidencing that we were following their route," Mikhailov said.

Given that the guards apparently did not enter the cell for about five days, the inmates had plenty of time not only to dig a tunnel in the floor but descend underneath several times to make preparations for the escape, Mikhailov said.

He suggested that searchers had earlier been deceived by the narrow tunnels and barriers of brick and soil the fugitives left behind them.

(AP, Reuters, MT)