THE UNDERGROUND

Photos: Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s sophisticated escape route from a high-security prison

For a year, no one noticed that tons of soil were coming out from the earth. While Mexicans are still asking themselves how, more details are emerging about the giant, sophisticated tunnel that drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán used over the weekend to escape from the high-security Altiplano prison.

The tunnel was more than 5 feet tall and 28 inches wide, and it stretched for a mile, leading to an isolated building in Santa Juanita neighborhood. Along the route, there was PVC tubing for ventilation, oxygen tanks, tools, and lights.

The hole that saw "El Chapo" disappear
The hole through which “El Chapo” disappeared. (Attorney General's Office/Handout via Reuters)

According to the Mexican authorities, the 59-year-old prisoner went for a shower late in the evening of July 11. When he failed to return in a timely manner, guards went to check on him—and found a 20-inch by 20-inch hole in the shower that led to a 33-foot vertical passageway with a ladder descending into the main tunnel.

The Mexican press (link in Spanish), consulting with civil engineers, has estimated that it would take four people digging eight hours a day for a year in order to build a tunnel like this. The construction must have required the shoveling of at least 247 cubic feet of soil per day, enough to fill a truck on a daily basis.

In the tunnel, they have found what Mexico’s national security commissioner, Monte Alejandro Rubido, has described as an “adapted motorcycle on tracks that was likely used to remove dirt during the excavation and transport the tools for the dig.”

The property where the tunnel ended
The property where the tunnel ended. (Attorney General's Office/Handout via Reuters)

This is not the first time El Chapo, the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, has escaped from a high-security penitentiary. In 2001, he managed to leave el Puente Grande prison hidden in a laundry basket taken out by police who’d been bribed.

After that, he remained as a fugitive for 13 years until he was captured last February. He also previously tried to escape through a network of tunnels connected with the sewers of Culiacán, Sinaloa’s capital. His band has used tunneling to transport drugs in the past, so many in Mexico today are asking why no one was paying attention to what might have been going on underneath the prison.

His escape is something of an embarrassment to Enrique Peña Nieto’s government. Last year, the Mexican president said in an interview that another jailbreak by El Chapo would be “unforgivable.”

Meanwhile, there is an ongoing manhunt to once again capture El Chapo, who is widely considered to be Mexico’s most powerful criminal.

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