New York escapees on run as prison officer is suspended

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Police Investigate Possible Sightings of NY Escapees

A New York state corrections officer was suspended on Friday in connection with the prison escape of two convicted murderers who have evaded capture for nearly two weeks, officials said.

Authorities did not say whether they believed the corrections officer, whose name was not released, would face charges or if he was believed to have assisted in the breakout at the maximum security Clinton Correctional Facility in the upstate New York community of Dannemora.

The U.S. Marshals Service has put escapees Richard Matt and David Sweat on its 15 Most Wanted Fugitives List, and the manhunt, now in its 14th day, has widened to encompass the entire country. But many believe the escapees remain in the heavily wooded regions of New York's Adirondack Mountains and Vermont's Green Mountains.

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New York escapees on run as prison officer is suspended
FILE - This combination of file photos released by the New York State Police shows David Sweat, left, and Richard Matt. Matt, who staged a brazen escape from an upstate maximum-security prison with Sweat and had been hunted for three weeks was shot and killed Friday, June 26, 2015. Sweat was shot and captured on Sunday, June 28. (New York State Police via AP, File)
An annotated aerial image of the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y. shows where the prisoners escaped and provides details of the prison. Included are mugshots of the escapees and description of their crimes. (Image via AP)
A manhole cover that was part of a prison escape is shown, Tuesday, June 16, 2015, in Dannemora, N.Y. The 11th day of searching for two prisoners that escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility began Tuesday with roadblocks still in place. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
A manhole cover is shown in an intersection, Tuesday, June 16, 2015, in Dannemora, N.Y. Eleven days earlier the manhole was part of an escape route for two prisoners from the Clinton Correctional Facility, rear. The 11th day of searching began Tuesday with roadblocks still in place. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Razor wire covers a fence at the Clinton Correctional Facility, Monday, June 15, 2015 in Dannemora, N.Y. State police say more than 800 law enforcement officers are pushing on in the hunt for convicted murderers David Sweat and Richard Matt 10 days after the two escaped from the maximum-security prison in rural New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
UNDATED: In this handout from the New York State Police, a progression image of escaped inmate Richard Matt is seen. Matt and fellow inmate David Sweat escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York on June 6, and a manhunt for them is ongoing. The image is intended to show what the inmate would look like after almost two weeks on the run. (Photo by New York State Police via Getty Images)
UNDATED: In this handout from the New York State Police, a progression image of escaped inmate David Sweat is seen. Sweat and fellow inmate Richard Matt escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York on June 6, and a manhunt for them is ongoing. The image is intended to show what the inmate would look like after almost two weeks on the run. (Photo by New York State Police via Getty Images)
An employee leaves the Clinton Correctional Facility, Wednesday, June 17, 2015 in Dannemora, N.Y. Search teams are back in the woods of northern New York looking for two convicted murderers who broke out of the maximum-security prison a week and a half ago. More than 800 law enforcement officers are in the 12th day of searching for David Sweat and Richard Matt. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
An employee leaves the Clinton Correctional Facility, Wednesday, June 17, 2015 in Dannemora, N.Y. Search teams are back in the woods of northern New York looking for two convicted murderers who broke out of the maximum-security prison a week and a half ago. More than 800 law enforcement officers are in the 12th day of searching for David Sweat and Richard Matt. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
PLATTSBURGH, NY - JUNE 15: Joyce Mitchell (L) , a prison worker who allegedly helped two convicts escape from prison, is lead from Plattsburgh Ciy Court after a hearing on June 15, 2015 in Plattsburgh, New York. The convicts, Richard Matt and David Sweat, escaped sometime during the night between June 5 and June 6 from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York and law enforcement are on a multi-state manhunt for their capture. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
This photo provided by the New York State Police shows Gene Palmer on Wednesday, June 24, 2015. The maximum-security prison guard believed to have delivered tools inside frozen meat to two inmates before they escaped was arrested on Wednesday, authorities said. (New York State Police via AP)
A New York State Police officer escorts suspended Clinton Correctional Facility guard Gene Palmer, left, from Plattsburgh Town Court in Plattsburgh, N.Y., Wednesday, June 24, 2015. Palmer is believed to have delivered tools inside frozen meat to two Clinton Correctional Facility inmates before they escaped on June 6. He faces charges including promoting prison contraband and tampering with physical evidence, state police said. (Rob Fountain/The Press-Republican via AP)
PLATTSBURGH, NY - JUNE 15: Joyce Mitchell (L) appears before Judge Buck Rogers in Plattsburgh City Court on June 15, 2015 in Plattsburgh, New York. Mitchell allegedly aided inmates Richard Matt and David Sweat in their escape from Clinton Correctional Facility. They were discovered missing the morning of June 6. (Photo by G.N. Miller - Pool/Getty Images)
DANNERMORA, NY - JUNE 6: In this handout from the New York State Governor's Office, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is shown the escape path where two convicted murderers fled from the Clinton Correctional Facility June 6, 2014 in Dannemora, New York. Police are on a manhunt for Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, who escaped from the maximum security prison June 6, 2015 using power tools and going through a manhole. (Photo by Darren McGee/New York State Governor's Office via Getty Images)
DANNERMORA, NY - JUNE 6: In this handout from the New York State Governor's Office, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is shown the escape path where two convicted murderers fled from the Clinton Correctional Facility June 6, 2014 in Dannemora, New York. Police are on a manhunt for Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, who escaped from the maximum security prison June 6, 2015 using power tools and going through a manhole. (Photo by Darren McGee/New York State Governor's Office via Getty Images)
DANNERMORA, NY - JUNE 6: In this handout from the New York State Governor's Office, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is shown the escape path where two convicted murderers fled from the Clinton Correctional Facility June 6, 2014 in Dannemora, New York. Police are on a manhunt for Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, who escaped from the maximum security prison June 6, 2015 using power tools and going through a manhole. (Photo by Darren McGee/New York State Governor's Office via Getty Images)
DANNERMORA, NY - JUNE 6: In this handout from the New York State Governor's Office, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo walks past jail cells where two convicted murderers fled from the Clinton Correctional Facility June 6, 2014 in Dannemora, New York. Police are on a manhunt for Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, who escaped from the maximum security prison June 6, 2015 using power tools and going through a manhole. (Photo by Darren McGee/New York State Governor's Office via Getty Images)
DANNERMORA, NY - JUNE 6: In this handout from the New York State Governor's Office, shoes a note where two convicted murderers used power tools to cut through steel pipes at the Clinton Correctional Facility June 6, 2014 in Dannemora, New York. Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, escaped from the maximum security prison June 6, 2015 using power tools and going through a manhole. (Photo by Darren McGee/New York State Governor's Office via Getty Images)
DANNERMORA, NY - JUNE 6: In this handout from the New York State Governor's Office, shows where two convicted murderers escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility June 6, 2014 in Dannemora, New York. Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, escaped from the maximum security prison June 6, 2015 using power tools and going through a manhole. (Photo by Darren McGee/New York State Governor's Office via Getty Images)
DANNERMORA, NY - JUNE 6: In this handout from the New York State Governor's Office, shows where two convicted murderers used power tools to cut through steel pipes at the Clinton Correctional Facility June 6, 2014 in Dannemora, New York. Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, escaped from the maximum security prison June 6, 2015 using power tools and going through a manhole. (Photo by Darren McGee/New York State Governor's Office via Getty Images)
DANNERMORA, NY - JUNE 6: In this handout from the New York State Governor's Office, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (R) is shown the manhole where two convicted murderers escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility June 6, 2014 in Dannemora, New York. Police are on a manhunt for Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, who escaped from the maximum security prison June 6, 2015 using power tools and going through a manhole. (Photo by Darren McGee/New York State Governor's Office via Getty Images)
A guard house stands above the wall of the Clinton Correctional Facility, Monday, June 15, 2015, in Dannemora, N.Y. State police say more than 800 law enforcement officers are pushing on in the hunt for convicted murderers David Sweat and Richard Matt 10 days after the two escaped from the maximum-security prison in rural New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
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"A correction officer was placed on administrative leave this evening as part of the ongoing investigation into the escape at Clinton Correctional Facility," the New York state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision said in a statement.

It said no further details would immediately be released.

Separately, Major Charles Guess of the New York State Police told reporters that investigators had spent "countless hours" interviewing another prison worker, Joyce Mitchell, who is accused of assisting in the breakout.

Mitchell, 51, a training supervisor in the prison tailor shop who is charged with giving hacksaw blades to the convicted murderers, lost her nerve to drive their getaway car and instead checked into a hospital with a panic attack, authorities said.

"(We) won't characterize if we have all information we need from Joyce Mitchell at this point," Guess said.

The busted prison cell walls, steam pipe and manhole cover the convicts slipped through to escape have been repaired, allowing authorities to lift a lockdown at the maximum security prison, Daniel Martuscello, a deputy commissioner of state corrections, said at a news conference.

Meanwhile, law enforcement officers, assisted by sniffer dogs, have so far searched 160 seasonal homes and unoccupied buildings and 585 miles (941 km) of trails and railroad beds.

New York State Police said on Friday they were investigating unconfirmed sightings of the two men walking near the New York-Pennsylvania border.

Witnesses told police last Saturday they saw two men fitting the escapees' descriptions in the town of Erwin, and witnesses reported seeing two similar looking men the next day some 11 miles (18 km) south in the town of Lindley, walking toward the border.

Experts say the escapees' range is limited by their survival skills.

"They can disappear very easily but to survive is another story, and that's really predicated on their plan and their equipment and, of course, their abilities," said Pat Patten, who was hired to help with the 2003 capture of Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph after more than five years on the run in the Appalachian Mountains.

Matt, 48, and Sweat, 35, broke out of prison at the height of the region's black fly season, when even the most hardened outdoorsmen douse themselves in insect repellent and wear head nets to guard against bug bites that can cause extreme irritation and sometimes even death.

After being incarcerated for so long, Patten said, the men will not fare well in the woods and are likely relying on civilization, including abandoned seasonal homes and camps, to gather food and equipment needed to stay hidden.

Patten said interactions with civilization are commonly where fugitives trip up.

Matt has a history of escapes, including one in 1986 in which he broke out of New York's Erie County Correctional Facility, only to be caught five days later in a family apartment near Buffalo.

(Additional reporting by Katie Reilly in New York and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles,; Editing by Ken Wills and Louise Heavens)

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