What was it like to crawl through steam pipe?

ROB FOUNTAIN/STAFF PHOTO

Press-Republican Features Editor emerges from a 24-inch pipe at Jeffords Steel in Plattsburgh, simulating the experience of Clinton Correctional inmates as they escaped from the prison through steam pipe. "Not a lot of room to work," he said. "Can't imagine trying to do this with sparks (from cutting the pipe) flying at you."

By ROBIN CAUDELL

PLATTSBURGH — You'd think it was a pipe dream — for two grown men to shimmy through a lengthy steel cylinder just 24 inches in diameter to escape from a maximum-security prison.

Nate Ovalle, Press-Republican features editor, volunteered to make the short trip through a 4-foot length of pipe that size to offer newspaper readers a visual of what it was like for fugitives Richard Matt and David Sweat.

At 190 pounds, Ovalle is 20 pounds lighter than Matt, and he is 2 inches shorter at 5 feet, 10 inches.

Matt is the heavier of the two convicts; Sweat, at 5 foot 11 inches tall, weighs 165 pounds.

The simulation took place at Jeffords Steel and Engineering Company, where Larry Jeffords provided the section of pipe and a grinder for Ovalle to hold — as it is assumed the escaping inmates did.

Ovalle used his arms to draw himself along the pipe then swiveled inside it to set the grinder against its wall, as if he were going to rev it up to cut himself an exit.

"Not a lot room to work," he said. "Not much space.

"I couldn't imagine actually trying to do this and have sparks flying at you. And then turning around and continuing on with what you're doing."

Jeffords' claustrophobia would prevent him from crawling in an unknown length of ductwork to begin with.

"(But) I can't imagine being in the hole with a grinder on the inside," he offered.

"I can't imagine cutting a hole out of the back on the inside with no mask. The grinding dust would have been tremendous."

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