New York - Investigators believe a female prison employee had agreed to be the getaway driver in last weekend's escape by two killers but never showed up, a person close to the investigation told The Associated Press on Thursday.
The manhunt, meanwhile, dragged into a sixth day with a renewed burst of activity by searchers in the woods close to the prison after bloodhounds were said to have picked up the convicts' scent. And Governor Andrew Cuomo said investigators are also "talking to several people who may have facilitated the escape".
David Sweat, 34, and Richard Matt, 48, used power tools to cut through steel and bricks and crawled through an underground steam pipe, emerging from a manhole outside the 12-metre walls of the prison, authorities said.
The person close to the investigation said authorities believe Joyce Mitchell - an instructor at the prison tailor shop, where the two convicts worked - had befriended the men and was supposed to pick them up Saturday morning, but didn't.
Mitchell has not been charged.
Sniffer dogs, helicopters
In a renewed burst of activity near the prison, police using dogs and helicopters blocked off a main road and concentrated their sixth day of searching on Thursday on a swampy area just a couple of miles from the institution, situated about 30km from the Canadian border.
Schools were closed, and residents received automated calls warning them to lock their doors, close their windows and leave outside lights on.
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Cuomo said that investigators had received tips that the convicts were in the area, and that tracking dogs had picked up the scent on Thursday morning.
But he added: "Look, they could either be four miles from the prison or they could be in Mexico. Right? So you just don't know."
Law enforcement officers walking an arm's length apart were conducting a grid search through a cordoned-off area consisting of mud, woods, thick underbrush and several houses, Sheriff David Favro said. He said there had been no reports of stolen or abandoned vehicles, break-ins or abductions.
Authorities suspect the inmates also had help from the inside in obtaining the power tools. Guards and other staff members have been questioned by investigators, but no one has been disciplined or charged.
Matt was serving 25 years to life for the 1997 kidnap, torture and hacksaw dismemberment of Matt's 76-year-old former boss, whose body was found in pieces in a river.
Sweat was doing life without parole for his part in the 2002 killing of sheriff's Deputy Kevin Tarsia, who was shot 15 times and run over after discovering Sweat and two accomplices transferring stolen guns between vehicles.