One of the most daring prison escapes in the world happened in Australia 20 years ago

Libby-Jane Charleston

John Killick was in Sydney's Silverwater Prison. Lucy couldn’t live without him so she hatched a daring plan to break him out that remains one of the most spectacular prison breaks in the world.

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Lucy Dudko, the girlfriend of bank robber John Killick. Dudko hijacked a helicopter to help Killick escape from Silverwater prison.Source:News Limited

When Lucy Dudko booked a helicopter joy ride on March 25, 1999, pilot Tim Joyce saw nothing out of the ordinary. With a thick accent that Joyce assumed was German, Dudko asked to do the ‘Harbour Bridge Track’ which included the Olympic stadium and village, Sydney Harbour and Manly. It was a typical route for joy flight tourists. The Sydney Olympics were less than a year away, so people often booked flights near the site. The only thing Joyce found unusual was that his passenger had four shopping bags with her.

Once they were in the air, Joyce noticed his passenger was agitated and kept fossicking around her shopping bags. He attempted small talk, chatting about the sights and giving her a bit of educational commentary. But she was clearly disinterested.

As they neared the Olympic site, the woman peered out the window and asked him if that was a prison just ahead.

“Can we fly around that?” she asked.

Joyce later told police, “I told her I couldn’t get too close because of noise problems, but I’d fly a circuit so she can have a good look.” He flew around the perimeter of Silverwater Prison, while the woman was still searching for something in her bags. Soon he knew what it was: there was a pistol pointed at his head.

“This is a hijack,” she said. Joyce’s first reaction was to try to activate the transponder, which would create a frequency at Sydney Control Flight Services, alerting them of a hijack. But the woman had done her homework.

“No transponder!” she yelled, hitting his hand with the handle of her gun. Then she turned off the transponder, as well as the radio switch.

“We have to pick somebody up down there,” she said, pointing to the prison.

It was 21 years ago that the Russian-Australian librarian hijacked a helicopter and rescued her boyfriend, John Killick, from prison. The brazen rescue was classic Hollywood and goes down in history as Australia’s only helicopter prison escape.

The great escape

Dudko forced Joyce to go down to the prison exercise yard and, as the chopper slowly touched down, prisoners couldn’t believe their eyes. Apparently, several of them were cheering.

“There he is!” shouted Dudko. As the other prisoners ran out of the way, one man came towards the chopper and got inside. He was wearing his green prison singlet with a shirt and shorts.

According to police records, Killick told Joyce, “You can make a lot of money out of 60 Minutes if you do the right thing. It’s your choice.”

Killick, who’d been convicted of several armed robberies (but was known as a gentleman because he was never violent), ordered Joyce to fly north-east, to Macquarie University, (about ten kilometres away in Sydney’s north) and land on Christie’s oval.

When he landed, Killick tied Joyce’s hands and ankles with cord, telling him to stay still for a while. Then, the couple ran into the nearby bush and, after waiting a few minutes, Joyce untied himself and went to a nearby clubhouse where he called police.

The couple then flagged down a car, waved a gun in the driver’s face and told him to drive them to North Sydney where they left the shocked driver and apparently met up with some of Killick’s friends.

As the news of the brazen prison escape broke, police were inundated with calls from the public who claimed to have seen the couple. There were more than 200 reports of positive sightings from one part of Sydney to the other.

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Aerials of police inspecting abandoned White Bell 47G helicopter in Ryde's Christie Park.Source:News Corp Australia

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March 24, 1999: Security camera at Silverwater Metropolitan Remand Centre showing prisoners (R) on the basketball court staring towards the fence to see a helicopter landing on the sports oval after Lucy Dudko hijacked pilot Tim Joyce and forced him to land and pick-up armed robber John Killick.Source: News Corp Australia

Red Lucy

It didn’t take police long to realise that Dudko was the number one suspect in the Silverwater escape. As news broke the media dubbed her ‘Red Lucy’ while the

on-the-run lovers were labelled ‘Australia’s most wanted.’ Police searched Killick’s former wife, Gloria’s apartment where Lucy had been living since Killick had been in prison. (The two women had struck up a friendship in the aftermath of Killick and Gloria’s divorce)

Police discovered pages torn from flight magazines advertising helicopter joy rides over Sydney and three videos, ‘Hostage’, ‘Breakout’ and ‘Fled’; no doubt essential viewing if one was planning a similar stunt.

The escape was an embarrassment to Silverwater prison. When it was originally built and then renovated for around $84million, some predicted that the prison grounds could too easily be used as an aircraft landing pad. Back in 1995 the use of 24 hour armed guards to patrol the perimeter of the prison were decommissioned, replaced by security cameras.

John Doyle, from the Prison Officers Association, said, “If you have a man in a tower with a powerful gun, it’s a far better deterrent than having video cameras around the place. Videos will take a nice crisp picture but they won’t stop someone flying away in a helicopter. We predicted this would happen right from the start of the building of this jail.”

On May 8, Killick and Dudko checked into the Bass Hill caravan park in Sydney’s west. Renting a cabin under the surname ‘Brown’, the couple had done very little to disguise themselves apart from dying their hair.

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Prison escapee John Killick.Source:Supplied

Considering they were splashed all over the media, it wouldn’t take long for somebody to recognise them. But their biggest error was neglecting to enlist a strong support network on the outside. Without a support network of friends, family and former trustworthy criminals, they were in trouble.

Forty-four days after the escape, their cover was blown by the caravan park manager and, within minutes, police officers surrounded their caravan, using loud hailers to let the couple know their time on the run was over.

Behind bars

Dudko was convicted on five charges; including rescuing Killick from custody by force and interfering with the operation of an aircraft. She received a ten-year sentence with a minimum of seven years. Killick was given a 23-year prison sentence, but it was later reduced to 15 and then 14 years on appeal.

This journalist sat through much of Killick’s sentencing (many of us were shocked at the severity of his sentence) but it was later reduced to 14 years on appeal.

Behind bars, the Killick/Dudko love story refused to die, with more than 4,000 letters and over 100 phone calls passing between the couple.

In 2002, Dudko’s legal team launched an appeal, but all efforts to reduce her sentence were unsuccessful. Her appeal was mostly based around the pre-trial publicity, which her legal team said made sentencing unfair.

Dudko and Killick’s repeated requests for permission to marry were refused over the years until Dudko embraced religion and decided to wipe Killick from her life.

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Bank robber John Killick in a police car after appearing in Sydney’s Central Local Court on charges of escaping lawful custody in 1999.Source:Supplied

Life after prison

After serving her minimum sentence in Dillwynia Correction Centre, Dudko was released into the real world, seven years and two months after her attempt to rescue her lover.

As for Killick, aged 76 and out on parole, he’s now a prolific writer, penning three books; ‘Gambling For Love’, ‘The Last Escape’ and ‘On The Inside’. Having nearly 30 years in prison, Killick has accumulated a huge amount of fantastic material. http://au.newhollandpublishers.com/books/biography/the-last-escape.html

In his book ‘On The Inside’ Killick claims that he has paid the price for his crimes.

He writes: I spent over 30 years in jail, and I don’t resign from the fact I deserved to go to jail. You can’t go into banks with guns and hold people up and then escape in helicopters and expect people not to get upset about it.

Despite numerous attempts to get in touch with Dudko, Killick has said she is still refusing all contact.

(Note: A TV reporter at the time, I was at Killick's court case all those years ago: I still find it so hard to believe their story hasn't been made into a movie!)

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I'm a journalist and author writing across a wide range of topics, including tech, travel, history, business/startups, relationships, beauty & fashion, British royal history, & local stories concerning Charleston, S.C (where I have a long family history on my father's side: hence my surname! ) Former HuffPost Assoc Ed, ABC TV, ATV Beijing correspondent and many more. Author of "Fatal Females." Mother of three boys: I will love them until the Statue of Liberty sits down.

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