An escaped prisoner who has spent five days on the run in the outback has been urged to surrender, with police arresting two other inmates who fled with him.
Police said three men — Richard Henwood, 37, Maximus Cutta, 20, and Ezra Austral, 23 — managed to remove their electronic ankle bracelets and flee the prison work camp near Tennant Creek between Saturday night and Sunday morning.
Henwood and Cutta were arrested on Thursday afternoon, following a police hunt using dogs, drones and tactical response officers.
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Austral is still on the run, forcing police to muster resources from around the Northern Territory for the manhunt.
Prior to the arrests, police revealed they believed the trio have been in touch with family members since their weekend escape from the Barkly work camp.
"We encourage family members or people who have been in contact with the escapees to encourage them to surrender to authorities and hand themselves in," Acting Commissioner Michael Murphy said on Thursday afternoon.
Day one: Sunday, January 16
The day the men were reported missing, NT Police cast a wide net as a statement from police said the escapees may have been bound for Darwin in a stolen silver ute.
Police today said that they were retaining a "dedicated focus on Tennant Creek" but officers were also keeping an eye on Darwin, nearly 1,000 kilometres to the north.
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The Territory's armed tactical response unit was deployed alongside general duties officers, and roadblocks put in place along the NT's main outback artery, the Stuart Highway.
"Roadblocks have been set up … north and south of Tennant Creek and in the Katherine region," Territory Duty Superintendent Mark Malogorski said on Sunday.
Officers were following a lead that two of the escapees had links to the Top End capital — one of those being Austral, who before his incarceration was long known to police in Darwin and Palmerston.
In 2018, a then-19-year-old Austral was sentenced to prison for his role in a three-day crime spree, in which he met up with two other teens who had escaped from Don Dale Detention Centre.
At the time of those court hearings, Austral pleaded guilty to a string of offences, including his role in carjacking a woman, an incident where she was pushed out of a slowly moving vehicle.
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Day two: Monday, January 17
The day after the escape, the public advice on the absconders' whereabouts had changed.
Police were scouring the Barkly township of Tennant Creek and surrounds following fresh advice.
"They are on the outer proximity of the township, I'd say they're hiding from police," Acting Commissioner Murphy said on Monday.
"I'd urge family members and those three individuals … [to] surrender yourself to police."
Barkly Region Mayor Jeff McLaughlin said the police search had included the Kargaru town camp on the Tennant Creek's southern fringes.
"They went in and got every house to vacate because they thought they were around there," Cr McLaughlin said.
On Monday, Acting Commissioner Murphy also raised concerns about the welfare of the three escapees, as temperatures in the region hit the high 30 degrees C.
"What also concerns me, too, with the conditions in Tennant Creek at the moment: It's hot, they need water," he said.
"So, they need to come forward so we can look after them and offer a safe resolution to this."
Drones were also deployed as police continued the hunt.
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The days since: Austral still on loose
On Wednesday morning, January 19, Senior Sergeant Alistair Gall told ABC Radio Alice Springs that detectives and the Tactical Response Group officers remained in Tennant Creek.
Five days since the escape, on Thursday, January 20, NT Police confirmed in a statement that the search was continuing, and pledged they would "locate and return these offenders to custody".
Cr McLaughlin said Tennant Creek residents were largely "locking up and trying to be safe" while the prisoners remained on the loose.
"In our town, we look out for each other and, if one of these dudes does pop up, I bet you everyone will be like, 'I saw him here!'" Cr McLaughlin said.
"We're a pretty tight-knit community."
On Thursday afternoon, police confirmed Cutta and Henwood had been arrested in Tennant Creek.
"Police would like to thank the public for their assistance and continue to call for further information in relation to Ezra’s whereabouts," they said in a statement.
NT Police Association president Paul McCue said the manhunt was a drain on a police force already struggling for resources, thanks to added COVID-19 and border duties.
Mr McCue said there would inevitably, eventually, be a review of how the prisoners managed to escape, and how they managed to elude the Territory's most elite officers, for at least five days.