updated 7/17/2007 8:49:21 AM ET 2007-07-17T12:49:21

A convicted killer who made a bold prison break by helicopter had done the same just six years ago, and the prison guards’ union said the man should never have been held in an ordinary lockup.

A European arrest warrant was issued Monday for Pascal Payet, who was serving a 30-year sentence for a holdup on an armored truck that left a guard dead when he escaped from the Grasse prison in southern France on Saturday.

Four hooded and heavily armed men sneaked up on a helicopter pilot at the Cannes-Mandelieu airfield outside the Mediterranean port city of Cannes, regional officials said. The men forced the pilot to fly to the prison some 20 minutes away and land on the roof, said Jacques Billant, of the Alpes-Maritimes prefecture.

The men forced their way into the area where Payet was being held and spirited him back to the waiting helicopter, officials said.

The craft landed near the town of Brignoles, located some 50 miles west of Cannes, and Payet and his accomplices fled. The pilot was unharmed.

Payet, 43, escaped from the Luynes prison in southern in October 2001. In 2003, he helped organize the helicopter escape of three fellow inmates from the same prison.

Payet’s bold escapes have focused the spotlight on France’s overcrowded penitentiaries.

Christopher Marques of the Force Ouvriere labor union said Payet should not have been held in an ordinary penitentiary.

“We need special establishments for those dangerous detainees who are not suited to regular prisons,” he said.

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