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Six inmates in freedom bid 95 kilometres off coast of Mexico

Six inmates have been recaptured after a daring escape from an island penal colony off Mexico that was like a replica of the 1973 film Papillon, starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.

The prisoners were fleeing from Islas Marias, home to the last island penal colony in the Americas, and attempted to swim to freedom using an assortment of empty plastic containers to keep themselves afloat in the Pacific.

They made it 95 kilometres before being spotted by a passing boat. A Mexican naval unit was tipped off and water patrol vessels were dispatched to fish the men out of the water and take them back to the colony to face yet more time in the colony.

Hit film ... Steve McQueen, left, and Dustin Hoffman starred in Papillon.
Hit film … Steve McQueen, left, and Dustin Hoffman starred in Papillon. Photo: AP


Photographs released by the Mexican navy showed them topless and sunburnt.

The penal colony is 110 kilometres from the coast of Mexico at the shortest crossing point, but instead of heading due east the group swam south into open water.

Maybe they wanted to swim to Australia and become the new boat people without a boat.

It is thought they were either dragged by currents, or were heading for the resort of Puerto Vallarta further down the coast [or Australia]. They were 90 kilometres from Puerto Vallarta when found.

The penal colony was founded in 1905 and was intended to be an escape-proof prison, using the Pacific as a security barrier. The colony was taken out of use in the 1990s during a modernisation programme.

But due to overcrowding elsewhere, in 2004 it was reopened and hundreds of inmates from across Mexico were transferred there.

Over 1000 inmates are held at the facility. They are not normally locked up and reside in small houses, tending gardens and growing their own food.

The escapees, who ranged in age from 28 to 39, were taken by boat to Puerto Vallarta to be medically checked and were deemed to be in good health.

Mexico’s interior department said they would be returned to the penal colony ” in a matter of hours”.

Papillon was based on the memoir of the killer Henri Charriere and tells the story of an escape from a penal colony in French Guiana.

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