MEXICO CITY: Mexico's most notorious drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman escaped from high security prison in a tunnel built under his cell, the government said, his second jailbreak in 15 years and a major embarrassment for President Enrique Pena Nieto.

The kingpin slipped out of the prison through a tunnel more than 1.5 km (1 mile) long which led to a building site in the local town, National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido told a news conference today.

Guzman, who bribed his way out of prison during a previous escape in 2001, was seen on video entering his shower area at 8.52 p.m. on Saturday (0152 GMT Sunday), then disappeared, the National Security Commission (CNS) said.

The drug lord, who is also wanted by U.S. prosecutors and once made it on to Forbes' list of billionaires, was gone by the time guards entered his cell in the Altiplano prison in central Mexico and found it empty, the commission said.

Beneath a 50 cm by 50 cm gap in the shower area, guards found a ladder going down some 10 meters into the tunnel, which was about 1.7 meters high and 70-80 centimeters wide.

Prison workers were quickly detained over the escape.

Rubido said 18 officials from the penitentiary had been taken in for interrogation at the unit of the Attorney General's office specializing in organized crime.

Security services called a meeting of their top officials, ordered a massive manhunt for El Chapo, or "Shorty", and shut down the airport in the nearby city of Toluca.

The flight of Guzman, whose exploits made him a legendary figure in villages scattered in the sierra where he grew up in northwestern Mexico, seriously undermines Pena Nieto's pledge to bring order to a country racked by years of gang violence.

The breakout occurred in the State of Mexico, the home state of Pena Nieto, who took office in 2012 vowing to confront the cartels who have killed more than 100,000 people since 2007.

Before his election victory, politicians in Pena Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) mocked their conservative rivals for letting Guzman escape while they ran the country, saying it would not have happened on their watch.