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New York Prison Escape: Killers Likely Finding Life 'Terrifically Stressful'

by Sean Reis, Miguel Almaguer and F. Brinley Bruton /  / Updated 

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Two escaped killers eluding police after breaking out of a New York prison are not equipped to deal with life in the wilderness and are probably "terrifically" stressed, according to a former senior U.S. Marshal.

"These guys are not mountain men, these guys are not survivalists," John Cuff, a former head of the Northeast fugitive investigation division at the U.S. Marshals Service, told NBC's TODAY. "They have been behind the wall for a number of years ... They can't just blend in up there. They are city guys."

The manhunt for Richard Matt and David Sweat was entering its seventh day on Friday, with authorities following leads in a forested area in Dannemora, N.Y. The escapees from Clinton Correctional Facility were thought to be cornered but remained on the run.

The pair's difficulties started when their escape went awry after a getaway driver allegedly got cold feet. That likely forced them to improvise and go to ground in nearby woods, Cuff said.

Related: Sources Say Inmates Groom Staff at Breakout Prison

"Plan A was getting out, and they did that. Plan B was where everything went to hell. The [driver] didn't show up, and they didn't see that monkey wrench coming," he said.

Officials believe prison worker Joyce Mitchell, who works in the tailor shop at the lockup, had a relationship with Matt.

Mitchell had planned to be the getaway driver for the pair after they cut through the steel walls of their cell and crawled through a pipe — but then got cold feet and backed out, sources familiar with the investigation told NBC News on Thursday.

Now the two were stuck trying to survive in the wilderness with hundreds of law enforcement officials on their heels.

"Now they have to improvise, and that's terrifically stressful. They probably don't know the area at all, they might not know directions, basic stuff like sun rises in the east and sets in the west," he said.

The fact that one of the escapees was thought to be in pain because of longstanding back problems would only add to the the pair's distress, Cuff said.

"Even if he knew the mountains it would be difficult," he said. "So he's agitated because he's not getting his pain meds, and guess what? He becomes a liability to the other."

Cuff added: "Another thing is dry clothes. It's been raining out there and being in wet clothes is aggravating. It's going to add to their mental state, their agitation and make them make a mistake."

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