Storm supplied cover for French pilots who escaped Ecuadoran kidnappers

Wednesday, October 18th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) _ Two French helicopter pilots kidnapped in Ecuador's Amazon last week along with eight other foreigners escaped during a storm, French officials said Tuesday.

Jany Marcellin and Jean Louis Froidurot arrived by foot at the outskirts of Lago Agrio, a jungle town near Ecuador's border with Colombia, at midday Monday. Officials had not previously released details on how they escaped.

The two men were kidnapped Thursday along with five Americans, a New Zealander, an Argentine and a Chilean from oil fields in Ecuador's northeast jungle, about 150 miles east of the capital.

Military sources say the kidnappers, looking for a way to flee the oil fields, forced the Frenchmen to pilot a stolen helicopter. The helicopter was found abandoned Friday, just inside the Ecuadorean border.

The kidnappers split into two groups, a larger contingent holding the other foreign hostages and a smaller group guarding the Frenchmen, said France's diplomatic representative in Ecuador, Philippe Moreau. He said that was when the two made their escape.

A member of France's diplomatic mission who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity said the men ``took advantage of a heavy tropical storm that let loose Saturday night.''

The French official said the pair walked for the better part of two days before reaching a small settlement, where they were able to make contact with the military patrol. The official said the men ``are covered with an enormous number of insect bites over their entire bodies and are extremely tired.''

Both men are being treated at a police hospital, Ecuadorean authorities said. Interior Minister Juan Manrique said they were also being debriefed by Ecuadorean security forces.

Three of the Americans _ Arnold Alford, Steve Derry and Jason Weber, all from Oregon's Rogue Valley area _ and the New Zealander, Dennis Corrin, are employees of the Oregon-based Erickson Air-Crane Co. The company, which specializes in heavy-lift helicopters and had been transporting equipment for an exploratory oil drilling program, has released no information other than the names of its employees.

The two other American captives have been identified by Ecuador's military as David Bradley and Ron Sanders. The Oklahoma-based drilling company Helmerich and Payne said that two of its drilling rig workers were among the kidnap victims, but as of Monday the company had not confirmed the employees' identities.