WHAT HAPPENED? (1)
On February 22, 1974, a man named Samuel Byck attempted to hijack an airplane flying out of Baltimore/Washington International Airport with the intent to crash into the White House, killing President Nixon.
He was successful in taking over the aircraft, having shot a police officer and both of the pilots, but was not able to get the plane off the ground before the police began gaining on him.
He committed suicide on the plane.
EARLY LIFE + BACKGROUND
Byck was born to poor, Jewish parents in Philadelphia on January 30, 1930. He dropped out of high school to support his impoverished family in 9th grade. In 1954, he enlisted in the army and was honorably discharged.
He married and had 4 children. But in 1972, he slipped into a depression after his wife divorced him. Coupled with his extreme financial problems, he was in an extremely bad state of mind, so bad that he checked himself into a psychiatric ward and stayed for 2 months.
It was there that he began to believe that the Nixon administration was conspiring to oppress the poor. That same year, he threatened Nixon after his loan application was denied through the Small Business Administration. This threat, in addition to the various tape recordings he sent to public and political figures, landed him on the radar of the Secret Service. However, they ultimately considered him harmless and took no action against him.
In 1974, he made the decision that he was going to assassinate the president. He planned to do so by hijacking an airplane, crashing into the White House while Nixon was inside, killing him.
Since he knew the Secret Service already knew of him, he assumed purchasing a gun would raise some red flags, so he stole a gun from his friend to use in the hijacking. He also made a bomb out of gasoline and an igniter. As he prepared for his hijacking, he made audio recordings, explaining all of his plans so people would understand why he did it. He expected to be hailed a hero.
On the morning of February 22, 1974, he headed to the Baltimore/Washington International Airport.
Shortly after 7am, he shot and killed policeman George Neal Ramsburg, which allowed him access to storm onto a plane. He selected a flight to Atlanta because it was closest to taking off.
The 2 pilots on board, Reese Loftin and Fred Jones, told him that they could not take off until the wheel blocks were removed. He shot them both. His plan had ultimately been to force the pilots to fly into the White House, so his plan was already off to a rocky start after shooting both of them. So, he grabbed a random, nearby passenger and told her to fly the plane.
(Ultimately, Loftin survived the gunshot, but Jones died while being removed from the plane after the ordeal was over.)
Byck told a flight attendant to close the door or he would blow the plan up.
Around the same time, the police officer on the jetway Charles Troyner started shooting, leading to a standoff between he and Byck. Byck was shot at 4 times, and 2 shots hit him through the window.
The police had not gained entry on the plane but it appeared that they were getting close, so Byck shot himself in the head, killing himself. Allegedly, he did not die immediately, saying "help me" to one of the policemen who came on the plane. Underneath his dead body was a briefcase containing the bomb. The plane never left the gate.
3 days later, a letter from Byck arrived at the Miami News desk, sent before his failed attempt. The letter said:
It has become evident to me that this government that I love, dearly, will not respond to the needs of the majority of the American citizens.
The majority of the people in government, so called “Public Servants”, are financed by special interest groups and if they are servants, they are servants to these groups.
Now is the time! Independent-minded citizens must take back the government before their government takes complete control of them all.
I, for one, will not live in a controlled society and I would rather die as a free-man than live like a sheep
Power to the People, Sam Byck (2)
Byck's life and assassination attempt "faded into relative obscurity", with many people having never even heard of it. And realistically, it makes sense. This was an assassination attempt that didn't, on its face, just looked like an airplane hijacking. Without his past threats to Nixon and explicit audio recordings that he shared with the news, it may have never even been determined that the ultimate goal was to crash the plane into the White House. Until briefed, Nixon would not have even known an attempt on his life was made.
But, even though his target remained entirely unharmed and unaware and his assassination attempt was barely even an attempt, he did kill 2 people that day. 2 people lost their lives needlessly and senselessly at the hands of a man who wanted to share his extreme views with the world with guns and fire instead of words.
And, it is scary to think that maybe just one thing needed to happen differently to completely change the course of that day. A story not many have heard of could have become a story every single person knows if he would have waited until the plane took off to act. But he didn't, and the assassination attempt on the president was just that, an attempt, 46 years ago today.