The leader of the August coup attempt that almost toppled the government of President Corazon Aquino escaped Saturday from his prison ship in Manila Bay, the military announced.

A statement said Col. Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan fled at about 2:30 a.m. Saturday (1:30 p.m. EST Friday) aboard two rubber boats along with 13 other people, including some of his guards.Chief of Staff Gen. Renato de Villa ordered a massive search for the 39-year-old Honasan and alerted subordinate commands nationwide to be on the lookout for him.

The charismatic former colonel had been detained on the navy ship since his arrest last December in a Manila suburb.

Col. Oscar Florendo, chief military spokesman, said a reserve lieutenant who was frustrated over his inability to obtain a regular commission had aided in the getaway.

Florendo said the boats used in the escape had been sent to increase security after the military learned of a plot to free Honasan.

De Villa immediately relieved the commander of the vessel, the RPS Andres Bonifacio, and ordered his arrest, Florendo said in a radio address. He appealed to the public to provide information to help recapture Honasan.

Honasan, former chief of security at the Defense Ministry, played a key role in the Feb. 22, 1986, mutiny which triggered the popular uprising that toppled President Ferdinand Marcos.

But Honasan became disillusioned with Marcos' successor, President Corazon Aquino, accusing her of "weak and inept" leadership that fortified the 18-year-old communist insurgency.

On Aug. 28, Honasan led a force of 2,000 men who attacked the presidential palace and seized several media and military installations in the capital before they were driven off by pro-Aquino forces.

The coup attempt left 53 people dead and wounded hundreds.