Governor Andrew Cuomo said yesterday: “It was an elaborate plot,” after joining law enforcement authorities to retrace the prisoners’ escape route from the Clinton Correctional Facility in New York state near the Canadian border.
He said Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, are “two dangerous individuals.”
The prison break was the first escape from the maximum-security portion of the prison since it was built in 1865, the governor added.
Sweat is serving a sentence of life without parole after he was convicted of first-degree murder for killing a sheriff’s deputy in 2002.
Matt is serving a sentence of 25 years to life for the kidnapping and beating death of a man in 1997.
The two men’s adjoining cells were empty during a morning check, said Anthony Annuci, the acting state corrections commissioner.
He added: “A search revealed that there was a hole cut out of the back of the cell through which these inmates escaped.
“They went onto a catwalk which is about six stories high. We estimate they climbed down and had power tools and were able to get out to this facility through tunnels, cutting away at several spots.”
Authorities said there are many questions including how the men acquired the tools.
Mr Annucci said prison authorities are checking to see if any power tools are missing from contractors at the prison.
Major Charles Guess from the state police said yesterday that more than 200 officers from multiple agencies were searching for the inmates. The search included bloodhounds and aerial surveillance, he said.
The prison is about 20 miles from the Canadian border. Roadblocks were set up in the area, according to reports.
Sweat and another man fired 15 rounds into Deputy Kevin Tarsia in July 2002 shortly after using a pickup truck to break into a Pennsylvania woman’s house, stealing rifles and handguns, authorities have said.
And nearly a decade after the 1997 kidnapping, murder and dismemberment of his former boss, William Rickerson, in New York state, Matt was returned to the US from Mexico, where he had fled to and been arrested for fatally stabbing another American outside a bar in a robbery attempt. He was convicted in 2008 of Rickerson’s death.
Sweat is described as white, 5ft 11in tall, with brown hair and with green eyes. Matt is also white and is 6ft tall. He has black hair and hazel eyes. His tattoos include “Mexico Forever” on his back.