Prison transport officers had opened the outer doors of a prison van to give prisoners fresh air when two maximum security inmates escaped at Geraldton airport last month, their union said yesterday.
Rick Burton, WA State secretary of the Transport Workers Union which represents about 200 Serco prison transport officers, said the two officers involved were qualified and experienced and the January 3 escape had been a shock to them.
Rapist Cameron John Graham and alleged armed robber Kelden Edward Fraser were on the run for 36 hours after fleeing in a hire car they stole at the airport.
Mr Burton said the officers were not responsible for the escape and it happened because of a fault with the prison van, which was carrying eight prisoners - five men and three women.
"They pulled up at the airport. So because of extreme heat and duty of care to their prisoners, they opened the outer doors to let it vent, to let them have some air as you should do, while they unloaded the prisoners' luggage," he said.
Mr Burton said the prisoners are in pods within the van and the outer door opened up to a more secure internal cage door, with three locks, that lock in the prisoners. He said Graham and Fraser had been sharing a pod designed to hold two prisoners.
"While they were unloading the gear, these two prisoners kicked the hinges off this (internal) door," he said.
"According to our guys, by the time they had walked around or quickly ran around from the side of the truck, these guys were out and gone. I think there's obviously a fault in those hinges because there's no way they should have been able to do that."
Mr Burton said the officers were unable to pursue Graham and Fraser because they had to guard the other six prisoners.
The Department of Corrective Services and Serco, which holds the WA prison transport services contract, would not comment on the TWU comments yesterday.
The TWU says when prisoners are handed over to Serco officers, no details are provided on the seriousness of their crimes.
Serco Asia-Pacific chief executive Mark Irwin flew to Perth yesterday to meet Corrective Services Minister Joe Francis about the escape. Neither would speak to The West Australian after the meeting.