Jail Fugitive on the Run for 17 Years Found Living in a Tiny Cave Cut Off From Human Interaction

Chinese police have used drones to find an escaped prisoner 17 years after he fled a prison camp.

According to the department's account, published on WeChat, the fugitive was found in hiding in a micro-cave, where he had spent years cut off from human interaction.

Staff at the Yongshan County Public Security Bureau discovered the man—a 63-year-old called Song Jiang—on September 19 after receiving a tip-off earlier that month. Following years of failed attempts, new information suggested Jiang may be lying low in the mountains behind his home town, Daxing Town in Yongshan County.

And the tip-off turned out to be correct. Five hours of drone operation revealed a blue steel tile atop a steep cliff. Police also detected hints of human activity, including evidence of human garbage, outside the cave entrance.

fugitive found after 17 years
An image released by Yongshan Police shows the fugitive, who escaped from a prison camp 17 years ago.

The location was "hidden" and "difficult to find," police say. When they did approach, officers found a wizened older man with an unkempt face and a dirty body, they added. Jiang did not fight when shown the plain clothes policemen's identity and confessed to escaping the prison camp.

He has since been re-arrested for escaping prison camp in addition to the reasons for his jailing in the first place—the abduction and trafficking of women and children.

As for what had happened in the intervening years, Jiang told police he had fled to his hometown after escaping the prison camp 17 years ago. During that time, he had lived in the tiny stone cave, less than 22 square foot (2 square meters) in size, and where he was cut off from human interaction. According to the police, his years in isolation had taken their toll.

"17 years of escape, Song Moujiang changed from a black hair to a silver hair, not only psychologically tortured, but also the body was devastated," said the police.

This is not the first time drones have been deployed in a search mission. Only this month, Bayou Animal Services launched drones in Texas after police received reports of a primate—likely a chimpanzee—loose in Santa Fe. But despite various public sightings, there was little hard evidence to confirm the primate's existence and, in this case, the drones proved ineffective in tracking down their target.

drone footage identifies fugitive hideout
Yongshan Police

Elsewhere, drones have been used to thwart drug criminals attempting to smuggle contraband into prison. In 2016, Northward Prison in the Cayman Islands was the first facility in the world to do so, and a drone during a training operation spotted two men in backpacks exiting the prison perimeter through the bushes. The men in question managed to escape unpunished, but prison officials did manage to retrieve a large package of marijuana that had been thrown over the prison fence.