05/08/2012 12:37 EDT | Updated 07/08/2012 05:12 EDT

Police search for prisoner who 'walked away' from custody in New Brunswick

MONCTON, N.B. - A prisoner in New Brunswick serving time for weapons offences "walked away" from correctional officials and entered a car that was waiting for him at the Moncton airport, the RCMP said Tuesday.

Joshua Richard Whalen was being escorted from the Atlantic Institution, a maximum-security penitentiary in Renous, N.B., on his way to a halfway house in Newfoundland and Labrador when guards lost track of him at around 9:15 a.m. Tuesday, RCMP Const. Damien Theriault said.

"He walked away from his guards," Theriault said. "He was seen getting into a car that was waiting for him at the airport."

Theriault said he did not have a description of the car and couldn't elaborate on how Whalen, 23, was able to leave custody.

More than 40 minutes elapsed before the Mounties were notified of Whalen's escape, the RCMP said.

A spokesman for the Correctional Service of Canada said he did not know how Whalen was able to escape and could not comment on the length of time it took to call the Mounties.

But Andre Veniot said Whalen — who was sentenced to three years and 20 days in prison for carrying a concealed weapon and a prohibited firearm — would not have been handcuffed as he was on statutory release after serving two-thirds of that term.

Veniot said the Correctional Service of Canada is now investigating what happened.

"We will conduct our own investigation into this incident and corrective action will be taken if and when and where it's appropriate," he said.

A warrant has been issued for Whalen's arrest. He is five-foot-six, 143 pounds and has blond hair and blue eyes.