Man Hijacks Helicopter to Break Wife Out of Prison, Is Caught After Using Real Name to Book Flight

A convicted criminal who allegedly hijacked a helicopter in a bid to break his wife out of a Belgian prison was arrested after investigators discovered he used his own name to book the flight.

The Brussels Times reported that three men had approached a pilot, a 35-year-old woman, at an airport near Antwerp on Friday and forced her at gunpoint to take them to Brussels.

Mike Gielen, 24, had wanted to break 27-year-old Kristel Appelt from Berkendaal women's prison, where she is being held awaiting trial for the murder of her former boyfriend.

The helicopter circled over the prison in south Brussels, but the pilot wasn't able to land in the courtyard.

The pilot was then made to fly to Hélécine, a town south of Brussels, where Gielen's 50-year-old adoptive father was allegedly waiting in a car park.

The helicopter had been charted in advance, apparently for a television crew to capture aerial shots of prisons.

But Gielen, his adoptive father and two other suspects—aged 18 and 22—were taken into custody when detectives found he had used his real name book the helicopter at Deurne airport. "I can confirm that my client admitted that he wanted to free his wife from prison," Gielen's lawyer Tom van Overbeke said. "It seems the whole thing has been staged quite amateurishly."

The 22-year-old suspect was identified The Brussels Times as Dennis L. His lawyer told the newspaper that he had been asked by a friend to take photos and videos and had no idea about the prison escape plot.

"He brought a backpack full of cameras and lenses and also shot some images during the flight. He was completely unaware of a plan to release anyone from prison," Jonathan Bogaerts said.

The four men are facing charges of theft with violence with a weapon, participation in a criminal organization, unlawful deprivation of liberty and attempted escape.

Gielen, who was convicted of drug smuggling, married Appelt in the mixed-gender Hasselt prison last year.

"We ran into each other quite by accident. When both Kristel and I had visitors in January 2019, we bumped into each other in the visitor's area," Gielen told the Het Belang van Limburg newspaper in November last year. "We knew each other from before, but hadn't seen each other for a long time."

He said they started writing to each other and taking computer lessons in prison and "one thing led to another."

Helicopter
Stock photo. A convicted criminal who allegedly hijacked a helicopter in a bid to break his wife out of a Belgian prison. Getty