Police in Quebec are working with airports and other law enforcement agencies to track down inmates Yves Denis, 35, Denis Lefebvre, 53, and Serge Pomerleau, 49 who made a daring escape from a prison using a helicopter.

Three men fled the Orsainville Detention Centre near Quebec City Saturday night, after a green helicopter briefly touched down on one of the prison's courtyards.

Surete du Quebec spokesperson Audrey-Anne Bilodeau said the helicopter - reportedly a Robinson 44 model - then took off and was seen flying west from the prison.

The men were being held at the detention centre waiting to stand trial.

Sgt. Gregory Gomez Del Prado said that at the time of their arrest the inmates were considered members of organized crime. They are considered dangerous, he added.

"There's a potential for danger with any person who's in prison and detained," he said, adding that a massive manhunt is underway to locate the prisoners, involving law enforcement agencies in Quebec, the rest of Canada and the U.S.

He declined to give further details about the manhunt, citing a desire to keep valuable logistical information from the prisoners.

Officers are also pleading with the public for help.

Police are asking anyone who has any information about the case or the three men to contact them. Anyone who sees the prisoners should not try and apprehend them, officers warn.

Gomez Del Prado said that investigators are not ruling out any possibilities as to the prisoners' whereabouts, including the possibility that the men could have fled the province.

He said the first priority of police is to locate the escaped prisoners as quickly as possible. Any recommendations or revelations to stem from the incident will be addressed after the inmates are secured.

"We'll see at the end the concerns regarding (the incident) and that will be addressed by the authorities," he said.

Lefebvre, according to media reports, is a trained helicopter pilot. He was arrested in 2011 along with Yves Denis and a third suspect in connection with the murders of Johnny Coutu in Laval, Kevin Walter in Roun-Norada and Benoit Denis in St. Alphonse committed in 2009 and 2010.

They were arrested as part of Operation Ecrevisse (Crawfish) which also brought in a large haul of cocaine, vehicles, a plane and $1 million in cash.

Pomerleau is listed at 5'11" and 250 lbs (1.80 m, 113 kg) and has brown hair and brown eyes. Lefebvre has brown hair brown eyes and is listed at 6'1", 220 lb, (1.86 m, 99 kg). Yves Denis has brown hair and brown eyes and stands 5'7", 135 lb (1.75 m 61 kg).

Other escapes

Saturday's brazen escape had many similarities to another Quebec prison break from March 2013.

In that case, two inmates fled a prison in St-Jerome, Que., with the help of a Robinson 44 helicopter. The helicopter pilot had been forced to fly the aircraft at gunpoint, according to police.

Within hours of that escape, the two inmates and two men accused of hijacking the aircraft were apprehended by police in Mont-Tremblant, Que.

The Orsainville Detention Centre, about 10 kilometres from the centre of Quebec City, can hold up to 710 offenders.

In 2010, it was the scene of a fire and a violent skirmish that ended with two inmates dead and another six rushed to hospital.

It was also the scene of a riot in February 2008, which was apparently triggered by a smoking ban at the facility.

The facility is listed as a medium security prison and was opened during the October Crisis in 1970 and was the scene of a variety of escapes over the years.

Five escaped in November 1970, three escaped in 1982 and five escaped in 1986. A convicted murderer named Yves Beaupre also escaped in 1976 by wearing makeup and masquerading past guards.