Top Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman has escaped from a maximum security prison for a second time.The Sinaloa cartel chief, who was serving a 20-year sentence, fled through a 1.5km (1 mile) tunnel connected to an elaborate hatch in the shower area of his cell.
Eighteen prison employees are being questioned.
The diminutive Guzman, whose nickname means “Shorty”, last escaped 14 years ago by hiding in a laundry basket.
A manhunt is under way and police have set up checkpoints and patrols around Altiplano prison, west of Mexico City.
Guzman was last seen on Saturday evening in the prison shower area.
He then disappeared from the CCTV network before he was discovered missing.
Guards went into his cell and found a hole 10 metres (33ft) deep with a ladder, leading to the tunnel.
The passage had a motorcycle on a rail system that is thought to have been used to transport tools and remove earth.
The tunnel had its own ventilation and light system and was 1.7 metres high and about 80cm wide.
It exited at the other end from a building under construction.
Guzman’s escape is a blow to President Enrique Pena Nieto’s administration, which had received praise for its work tackling the country’s drugs cartels.
“This represents without a doubt an affront to the Mexican state,” President Nieto said.
“But I also have confidence in the institutions of the Mexican state… that they have the strength and determination to recapture this criminal.”
Since the government was elected in 2012 authorities have arrested or killed six drugs lords, including Guzman, who was caught by authorities for the first time in Guatemala in 1993.
After being extradited and sentenced to 20 years in prison on drug-smuggling charges, he escaped from Puente Grande prison in 2001 with the help of prison guards.
He had a $5m (£3m) US bounty on his head when he was recaptured in 2014 by Mexican and US authorities in the seaside resort of Mazatlan.
The authorities pursued him for days across his home state of Sinaloa.
Former Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam had dismissed concerns that Guzman could escape a second time. That risk “does not exist,” he said.
Guzman was reportedly 56 years old last year, though there are discrepancies in his birth date.
The US Drug Enforcement Agency believes he has surpassed the infamous drug lord of the 1980s, Pablo Escobar, in terms of both his notoriety and the scale of his operation.
Guzman’s cartel is thought to control most of the major crossing points for drugs at the US border with Mexico.