March 13, 2008 / 12:19 PM / 10 years ago

Police discover souped-up prison tunnel

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Police in Chile, a country known more for mining than for prison breaks, discovered on Wednesday an elaborate tunnel with built-in ventilation and noise barriers near a penitentiary in the Santiago area.

The 279-foot (85-meter) long tunnel resembled an underground mine structure, built with cement and wooden beams and boasting electrical power and carts for hauling away dirt and rock.

Police said the wives of two inmates at the Colina II prison had hired four miners to build the escape tunnel, which led from a nearby house toward the facility and was only 98 feet shy of an interior prison yard.

“If the tunnel had reached its destination, as many as 200 people could have escaped,” Felipe Harboe, the Interior Ministry’s No. 2 official, told reporters.

Police heard about the tunnel while monitoring prisoners’ telephone conversations as part of an investigation into drug trafficking.

“The tunnel is striking. I don’t know of anything like it in police history,” Rene Castellon, a deputy director among police detectives, said about the structure that was nearly high enough in some places for an adult to stand upright.

Reporting by Antonio de la Jara; Writing by Lisa Yulkowski; Editing by Hilary Burke

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