Spanish Police Foil Remote-Controlled Zeppelin Jailbreak

Sometimes movie plots actually happen:

…three people have been arrested after police discovered their plan to free a drug trafficker from an island prison using a 13-foot airship carrying night goggles, climbing gear and camouflage paint.


The arrested men had setup an elaborate surveillance operation of the prison that involved a camouflaged tent, powerful binoculars, telephoto lenses, and motion detection sensors. But authorities caught wind of the plan when they intercepted the inflatable zeppelin as it arrived from the Italian town of Bergamo.

EDITED TO ADD (7/14): Another story, with more detail.

Posted on July 8, 2009 at 1:54 PM20 Comments


C July 8, 2009 3:32 PM


I could be wrong, but the article Stacy posted made it sound like the police were able to intervene on the plan because of a package they intercepted, not because they caught the Zeppelin in the act.

Either way, the fact that they were planning to use a Zeppelin made me chortle on the inside.

Fraud Guy July 8, 2009 4:42 PM

I thought of the Orbitz commercial:

“Why didn’t you just mail it?”

“But, we have a hovercraft!”

Clive Robinson July 8, 2009 5:13 PM

@ stacy,

The link you posted atleast answers one question…

In the article Bruce linked to (which has been coppied many many times) the photo shows the inflated airship and it is plain white.

On seeing it I thought, if they where sending camoflage paint and had a camoflaged tent why did they not camoflage the airship…

So it looks like the plot was foiled more by luck than anything else in that the shiping of the airship across the border was discovered and investigated.

Not that the other aspects of the plan had not worked (ie they had spent several months in full sight of the prison in a tent and not been discovered).

This sugests that the plan might have been well researched and might otherwise have worked acording to plan.

Clive Robinson July 8, 2009 5:32 PM

@ Bruce,

“Sometimes movie plots actually happen”

The classic example of this was the IRA attack on the M16 Building at Vaxhaul Cross London with a Rocket Propelled Grenade.

When the building was in the planning stages anti terrorist specialists (aledgadly from the SAS) outlined almost exactly the same attack and it was discounted as to fanciful at the time.

So “sometimes movie plots actually happen” because other avenues of attack have been mitigated…

bill July 9, 2009 4:22 AM

Airships come in three types:
Hydrogen – for non smokers
Helium – for cartoonists
Hot air – for snake oil salesmen

Oh, the humanity! 😉

Harry July 9, 2009 8:21 AM

The Spanish police must have had a lot of fun “investigating” the remote control aspects of the zepplin. Can’t blame them.

Thomas July 9, 2009 8:32 AM

“””But authorities caught wind of the plan when they intercepted the inflatable zeppelin as it arrived from the Italian town of Bergamo.”””

If only they’d painted a logo on the side of it, no one would have given it a second glance…

Austringer July 9, 2009 8:33 AM

I see this as really good news. Terrorists and criminals who are weighted down with magnifying glasses and string, birds on precisely balanced perches, boxing gloves tied to sticks, bowling balls, old boots and huge funnels should be pretty easy to thwart.

Yeah July 9, 2009 9:13 AM

Yeah but they foiled the movie plot with the ordinary methods of police work. They did not start with the movie plot, what if someone uses a zepplin to break out of prison, and the devise a specific countermeasure against it.

BF Skinner July 9, 2009 10:03 AM

“If only they’d painted a logo on the side of it, ”

Well the logo they did paint

“JUST ESCAPED ask me how!”

was probably ill advised.

bob July 10, 2009 9:33 AM

1) the airship in question, which is currently the only kind in operation anywhere in the world, is a blimp (structural integrity provided by inflation) rather than Zeppelin (a Zeppelin is a dirigible – rigid frame with lift gas bags internal to frame).

2) why not get a big enough one to lift the guy out rather than just bring in some stuff to help him climb out (stipulated that it would require one with 16x envelope volume)?

This reminds me, did anyone see the episode of “The Detonators” (show about demolitions) where they had to bring down a damaged-by-fire skyscraper in downtown Lagos, Nigeria? All I could think of while watching was variations of “How did they get someone to take this job?” I mean, what’s the ad going to say? “I am the infrastructure manager for Nigeria and I have a building I want you to blow up. I can pay you $1,000,000 but I have to pay by check so if the job costs less than that I need you to refund…”

Beta July 10, 2009 4:18 PM

When determining the punishment for a criminal enterprise, I think we should consider how much entertainment the criminals have given the world. This caper doesn’t quite reach the break-even point, but it’s close.

Maybe they should lock up the criminals in a large glass box floating in a shark tank, watched by a narcoleptic guard and secured by an elaborate clockwork locking mechanism, just to see what happens.

JoeV July 12, 2009 8:29 AM

@bob – Almost correct. While all airships operating today are pressure airships (and all airships are dirigibles, hence steerable, whether rigid or non) the Zeppelin is still alive and well, albeit in the form of a semi-rigid airship, the Zeppelin NT.

The firm of Airship Ventures has imported a Zeppelin NT to America, where it is homebased in the old Moffett Field hangar (in Sunnyvale, Ca) which once housed the USS Macon, a rigid airship built by the Goodyear-Zeppelin consortium for the US Navy in the 1930s.

I have it on good word that some clever folks have built flying model rigid “Zeppelins” in the sense of being rigid airship models which maintain their shape through a rigid framework, and not internal gas pressure. But there are no manned flying rigid airships today. The Zeppelin NT is the closest there is, and it’s semi-rigid (has an internal framework to support the engines and control car, but requires pneumatic pressure to maintain the shape of the hull.)

And yes, there are better ways to attempt prison escapes.


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