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Hunt on for two Waikeria Prison inmates
SNPA / Ross Setford Waikeria Prison, Waikeria, New Zealand, Sunday, April 29, 2012.

A hunt continues for two inmates on the run after escaping from their cell at Waikeria Prison in Waikato.

The men, Jesse Lee Ibell, 24, and Wayne Holmes, 23, were found to be missing early on Thursday.

Police initially believed the pair were still on prison grounds but sightings of the two on the Hauraki Plains were later confirmed.

Waikeria Prison, 50 kilometres south of Hamilton, is set in a 1200-hectare site near Te Awamutu and houses minimum- to high-security prisoners.

Detective Sergeant Ross Patterson said both men have extensive criminal histories and should not be approached.

The Corrections Department said it was investigating.

"Public safety is our absolute priority and we are extremely concerned at this breach of security," Corrections general manager prison services Jeanette Burns said.

The prisoners broke out of a unit due to be closed in April 2013.

Corrections announced last week two prisons and parts of a number of others would close as they were old and lacked modern facilities.