French pilot used in helicopter jailbreak
Sebastien Foray may not have been physically injured when he was turned into an unwitting tool in a dramatic airborne prison escape, but his time behind the controls of the helicopter that briefly spirited two prisoners to freedom wound up temporarily grounding his career.
Foray, 24, earned instant notoriety as the pilot allegedly held at gunpoint and forced to participate in the jailbreak that made international headlines.
Two passengers who booked Foray's time for what he thought was a routine flight wound up forcing the pilot to land on a tower at the St-Jerome prison while they reeled two inmates up from the exercise yard below.
An account from Foray's former boss detailed how the passengers later blindfolded the pilot and abandoned him next to his machine while they made their short-lived escape.
The two escapees and their accomplices were apprehended within hours of their flight and returned to jail. For Foray, the ordeal has lasted much longer.
Anxiety, fear and post-traumatic stress have combined to strip Foray of his pilot's license and leave him wondering if he'll be able to keep pursuing his lifelong dream.
"Even today, I'm not sure I fully realize everything that happened," Foray said in a telephone interview from Montreal.
For Foray, a French-born former helicopter mechanic who moved to Canada in 2011, that oblivion set in moments into his fateful flight.
He still feels great reluctance to talk about the specific exchanges that took place as the chopper soared towards the prison and declined to delve into details of his ordeal.
Foray's most vivid memory of the encounter, he said, was a strong sense that he was watching his life flash before his eyes.
"I was sure I was going to die. The moment the four people (the two alleged accomplices and the two escaped inmates) were in the helicopter and there was no more police around us and I was going to drop them off in a place they knew... I was sure they were going to kill me since I was the last person to see where they were and I could have given information," he said.
That certainty gave way to a feeling of surrealism that dogged him for the first two weeks after the jailbreak, he said, describing those days as a "strange kind of afterlife."
Shock soon gave way to regular anxiety attacks as Foray tried to come to terms with what had happened without disrupting his normal routine. Family and friends repeatedly urged him to seek medical treatment and enter therapy for post-traumatic stress despite their ignorance of the true scope of his struggles.
Foray ignored their advice, however, preferring to relegate the terrifying flight to the past where he felt it belonged.
"I told them I was doing well even though I wasn't necessarily doing well..," he said. "I didn't tell them everything."
In the end, professional help was forced on Foray when Transport Canada suspended his pilot's license on medical grounds.
This came as a blow to Foray, who had relocated to Canada specifically to pursue the career he described as a childhood dream.
Two months of sessions with doctors and psychologists allowed Foray to regain his license, only to find his old job had been filled in his absence.
"It was very very hard because I moved here for that, I made huge changes and huge financial sacrifices to do it, and they wouldn't let me fly when it's what I've always dreamed of," he said.
Despite his numerous setbacks, Foray said he has not given up hope of earning his living in Canadian skies.
Winter marks the traditional low point for job opportunities in his field, but Foray said he hopes to be airborne again by the spring.
"Flying helicopters is still my dream," he said. "It's what I love to do the most in the world."
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