The Day of the Helicopter

NICK JORDAN
15 min readMar 25, 2023

The most audacious prison escape in Australian history

A Bell 47G helicopter, courtesy Air-Britain Photographic Images Collection

Lucy

At around 9am, on the morning of 25 March 1999, at Sydney’s Bankstown Airport, a woman named Lucy Dudko climbed into the passenger seat of a white Bell 47G helicopter that she’d chartered the day before, buckled herself in and nodded to the pilot that she was ready to go. Dudko had chartered the ride a couple of days prior, ostensibly to take a sightseeing flight over the Harbour Bridge Track, part of the development that housed the stadium and village for the upcoming 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Pilot Tim Joyce was used to these flights, which were becoming increasingly common. Curious sightseers, both Australian and from overseas, paid good money — $360 an hour in this case — for a spin around what was already looking set to be a momentous Games. Dudko, 41, fitted the sightseer profile well, certainly nothing out of the ordinary for a busy and experienced helicopter pilot like Joyce, who nonetheless noted that his new passenger seemed a little more nervous than some, but again fear of flying was hardly unusual. Dudko, a Russian-Australian born in the Soviet Union, with an accent to match, (later dubbed ‘Red Lucy’ by the press) was a librarian by trade and looked like one too. But the bookish spectacles, smart clothes and neatly-done hair, couldn’t disguise the fact that she was a strikingly good-looking woman. Nervous she may have been, bookish she may have appeared but Lucy Dudko’s demure outward demeanour belied an inner steel and resolve that was about to propel her into the history books — and Australian folklore — in a way few could have predicted.

Lucy Dudko’s demure outward demeanour belied an inner steel

As Joyce’s Bell 47 rose from the helipad at Bankstown, and slowly turned to point in the direction of Circular Quay and central Sydney, Dudko knew that, with a flight duration of less than five minutes, she did not have long to act. If there was fear or doubt in Lucy Dudko’s heart at that moment, she did not show it. And with the flight now underway, Dudko acted, and what she did next would not only make headlines around the world and completely change the course of her own life, it would enter the annals of criminal history too.

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