Three prisoners escaped from a prison in eastern France on Saturday in a helicopter hijacked from a nearby airport before it was due to leave to pick up skiers in the nearby Alps mountains, jail official said.

Two armed men hijacked the helicopter in Albertville and forced the pilot to land in the prison courtyard about 10 minutes away, they said. The three prisoners hopped aboard and all five later fled by foot after the craft landed.

They had not been found by nightfall, the officials said.

Officials declined to name the escapees but said one was serving time for drug trafficking, another for armed robbery and the third -- who was considered especially dangerous -- for leading a gang in a robbery case.