This is the hole through which Mexico’s most notorious drug lord escaped from a maximum security prison for the second time – using it to flee through an elaborate network of tunnels underneath his cell.
Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, billionaire head of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, made his jail break on Saturday morning and is on the run from Altiplano jail, 50 miles outside of Mexico City, security officials said.
His audacious escape saw him dash through the mile-long tunnel system, which led to a building under construction next to the prison – from where he collected clothes left for him by his conspirators.
The sophisticated tunnel contained air vents, electric lights, emergency oxygen tanks – and even a motorbike on rails to speed his escape, according to Mexico’s National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido.
The kingpin exited the tunnel where it ended at an abandoned property near the local town, Rubido told a news conference on Sunday.
Local media have now began questioning how no-one saw 3,250 tonnes of earth that was removed to construct a tunnel a mile long, 80 centimetres wide, and 1.7 metres tall. 2,652 cubic metres of earth would have to be removed, enough to fill 379 dump trucks.
The prison staff are equipped with radar and electronic depth testing equipment which they are required to use regularly specifically in order to check for things like tunnels but nothing was ever reported.
Guzman, who had bribed his way out of prison during an escape in 2001, was seen on video entering his shower area at 8:52 p.m. on Saturday, the National Security Commission (CNS) said.
The Sinaloa cartel has a long history of tunnel building, particularly along the US border where they were used to smuggle narcotics into America, and in his home state of Sinaloa, where subterranean structures still hide weapons.
The cartel has an engineering division, less notorious than the organisation’s armed factions, but equally vital in their ongoing operations.
Five days before his capture El Chapo fled from a military operation aimed at his capture through a tunnel in his mansion connected to the city’s storm drains.
The tunnel was located below a bathtub, which raised itself vertically by the flick of a switch, revealing escape tunnels.
The same device was found in seven of the 19 separate houses belonging to El Chapo which the government seized following his capture.
Wanted by U.S. prosecutors and once featured in the Forbes list of billionaires, Guzman was gone by the time guards entered his cell in Altiplano prison in central Mexico, the CNS said.
‘This is going to be a massive black eye for Pena Nieto’s administration,’ said Mike Vigil, former head of global operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
‘I don’t think they took into account the cunning of Chapo Guzman and the unlimited resources he has. If Chapo Guzman is able to make it back to the mountainous terrain that he knows so well in the state of Sinaloa … he may never be captured again.’
Beneath a 50-cm by 50-cm hole in the cell’s shower area, guards found a ladder descending some 32 feet into the tunnel, which was about 5.6 feet high and 28-31 inches wide.
Prison workers were quickly detained over the escape.
Rubido said 18 officials from the penitentiary were being interrogated at the unit specializing in organized crime at the Attorney General’s office.
Outside the Altiplano lockup, and at the deserted property where Guzman surfaced, security forces barred reporters, while guards arrived for the day shift and encountered a prison in lockdown, wondering whether to stay or go home.
After the launch of a massive manhunt for Guzman, Mexican President Pena Nieto ordered an investigation into whether public officials had helped the capo escape.
‘There’s no doubt this is an affront to the Mexican state, but I have confidence that the institutions … can recapture this criminal,’ he said in a statement from Paris.
The escape comes after Guzman’s son, Ivan hinted about his father’s plans for a daring escape from online earlier this month. .
He put up a post on the social network saying ‘good things come to those who wait’.
Earlier still, on May 8, the Sinaloa Cartel heir published an emotional pledge to his followers.
He posted: ‘I won’t lie, I have cried but I bring armed men and I promise that soon the General will be back’.
However, his @IvanArchivaldo account has since been suspended.
The tweets also come after Authorities admitted they had already investigated a strange prison visit to Guzman in March, when a woman managed to see him by using a fake ID to enter the jail.
According to Vice, Guzman enjoyed special privileges inside the prison – including private audiences with his visitors – while other inmates had a tougher time.
At a press conference today, Mr Rubido said said that Guzman used an elaborate escape hatch built allegedly without the detection of authorities.
‘Along the tunnel, they found construction tools, oxygen tanks, containers with fuel and plastic tubes among other things. The passage came out at a construction site.’
He did not comment on why authorities had apparently failed to notice a long tunnel being built under the prison.
Rubido added that 18 workers from various parts of the Altiplano penitentiary had been taken in for interrogation.
A convoy of federal police was seen guarding a prison truck believed to taking the staff from the jail – which is 56 miles west of Mexico City – to the Attorney General’s office in the capital.
Flights were suspended at Toluca airport near the penitentiary in the State of Mexico, and civil aviation hangars were being searched.