Samuel Byck was
born on January 30, 1930 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His
parents were quite poor and he dropped out of high school.
In 1954, he joined the United
States Army for two years and was discharge in 1956. After the army he
married a woman and fathered four children. He also tried to start
several businesses, but all ultimately failed, causing him to develop a
severe case of depression. When he tried to get a loan from the Small
Business Administration to start a new business, he was turned down and
developed a strong hatred for Richard Nixon.
In 1972, he admitted himself at a
psychiatric clinic, where he revealed his ideas that the government
conspired to oppress the poor in the United States. That same year, he
started sending out audio tapes of himself threatening Richard Nixon to
public officials and the Secret Service was notified, but considered him
In 1973, he began developing a plot
to kill Richard Nixon. His idea was to hijack an airplane and crash it
into the White House. He decided to enact his plan in early 1974.
The first step was to get a weapon
to allow him to perform the hijacking. He decided to steal a .22 caliber
pistol from a friend and also made a bomb using two gallons of gasoline.
He also recorded himself talking about his plans, stating that he
believed he would be a hero after the assassination.
On the morning of February 22,
1974, he drove to the Baltimore International Airport with intent to
hijack a plane. He was stopped by George Ramsburg, a security officer at
the airport, but ended up shooting him to continue on his way. He ran
through the airport and boarded a Flight 523 to Atlanta aboard a DC-9.
On the plane, he went to the cabin
and ordered the pilots to take off, but they refused and stated that the
wheel blocks had to be removed before the plane could leave. In a fit of
rage, he shot both pilots and ordered a random passenger to fly the
plane at gunpoint. In the meantime, police officers managed to board the
plane and fired shots through the door, injuring Byck. As the police
attempted to enter the cabin, he shot himself in the head.
Paramedics managed to save the
pilot of the flight, but the copilot died from the gunshot wounds. It
was not difficult for the police to determine his motives since Byck had
mailed a tape recording of his plan to a news columnist, Jack Anderson,
prior to the attempted hijacking.
Samuel Joseph Byck (January 30, 1930 –
February 22, 1974) was an unemployed former tire salesman who attempted
to hijack a plane flying out of Baltimore-Washington International
Airport on February 22, 1974. He intended to crash into the White House
in hopes of killing U.S. President Richard Nixon.
Born to poor Jewish parents in South Philadelphia,
Byck dropped out of high school in the ninth grade in order to support
his impoverished family. He enlisted in the US Army in 1954 and was
honorably discharged in 1956, and had married shortly after and had four
children. In 1972, Byck began to suffer from severe bouts of depression
after his wife had divorced him and after he had experienced many
business failures. Due to his depression, he admitted himself to a
psychiatric ward where he had stayed for two months.
Byck began to harbor the belief that the government
was conspiring to oppress the poor.
Byck first came to the notice of the Secret Service
in 1972, when he threatened Nixon, whom he had resented ever since the
Small Business Administration had turned him down for a loan. Byck had
also sent bizarre tape recordings to various other public figures
including scientist Jonas Salk, U.S. Senator Abraham Ribicoff of
Connecticut, and conductor Leonard Bernstein, and tried to join the
Black Panthers. However, the Secret Service considered Byck to be
harmless, and no action was taken.
In early 1974, Byck made his decision to assassinate
Nixon. He planned to do so by hijacking an airliner and crashing it into
the White House on a day when Nixon would be there. It has been
suggested (for instance, by the 2004 film dramatization of his life)
that Byck was inspired by news reports of the February 17, 1974 buzzing
of the White House by Army PFC Robert K. Preston in a stolen helicopter.
Since Byck was already known to the Secret Service,
and because legal attempts to purchase a firearm might have resulted in
increased scrutiny, Byck stole a .22 caliber revolver from a friend of
his to use in the hijacking. Byck also made a bomb out of 2 gallon jugs
of gasoline and an igniter. All through this process, Byck made audio
recordings explaining his motives and his plans; he expected to be
considered a hero for his actions, and wanted to fully document his
reasons for the assassination.
On February 22, 1974, Byck drove to the
Baltimore/Washington International Airport. He shot and killed Maryland
Aviation Administration Police Officer George Neal Ramsburg before
storming aboard a DC-9, Delta Air Lines Flight 523 to Atlanta, which he
chose because it was the closest flight that was ready to take off.
After pilots Reese (Doug) Loftin and Fred Jones told him they could not
take off until wheel blocks were removed, he shot them both and grabbed
a nearby passenger, ordering her to "fly the plane". Jones died
instantly; Loftin survived the attack. Byck told a flight attendant to
close the door or he would blow up the plane. Anne Arundel County Police
officers attempted to shoot out the tires of the aircraft in order to
prevent it from taking off. However, the .38 caliber bullets fired from
the Smith & Wesson revolvers issued to the officers at that time period
failed to penetrate the tires of the aircraft and instead ricocheted off,
some hitting the wing of the aircraft.
After a standoff with police, Charles Troyer, an Anne
Arundel County police officer, on the jetway stormed the plane and fired
four shots through the aircraft door at Byck with a .357 Magnum revolver
taken from Ramsburg's body. Two of the shots hit Byck after penetrating
the thick window of the aircraft door and wounded him. Before the police
could gain entry to the aircraft, Byck committed suicide by shooting
himself in the head.
According to a special on the History Channel,
he lived for a few minutes after shooting himself, finally dying after
saying "help me" to one of the police officers who entered the plane
after he had been shot. A briefcase containing the gasoline bomb was
found under his body. The plane never left the gate, and Nixon's
schedule was not affected by the assassination attempt.
It was subsequently discovered that Byck had sent a
tape recording detailing his plan, which he called "Operation Pandora's
Box", to news columnist Jack Anderson. A review of records disclosed
that Byck had been arrested twice for protesting in front of the White
House without a permit, and that he later dressed in a Santa suit for
another protest. The flight's captain recovered and resumed flying
airliners three years later.
In 1987, an FAA document entitled Troubled Passage:
The Federal Aviation Administration During the Nixon-Ford Term 1973-1977
was produced, which mentioned Byck's failed hijacking: ...though Byck
lacked the skill and self-control to reach his target, he had provided a
chilling reminder of the potential of violence against civil aviation.
Under a more relaxed security system, his suicidal rampage might have
begun when the airliner was aloft.
After Byck's failed assassination attempt and
subsequent death, his attempt faded into relative obscurity. While the
news media reported on Byck's actions, they did not disclose the reason
why Byck attempted to hijack the plane for fear that it might inspire
As a result, Byck and his assassination plot remained
relatively unknown, except among members of the United States Secret
Service and of analogous security organizations in friendly countries.
As a direct result of the assassination attempt by
Byck, it is believed that the Secret Service immediately took steps to
provide MANPADS to its rooftop observation teams, and that the necessary
preparations for using them are kept up-to-date today, with the FIM-92
Stinger once having been the weapon selected for this purpose. Then as
now, however, it is privately acknowledged that MANPADS cannot instantly
obliterate large-mass aircraft making suicidal attacks from close
range. At the very best, a hit by a MANPADS would turn one large
incoming object into a number of only slightly smaller incoming objects,
which would only serve to enlarge the area of damage and, possibly,
cause more deaths than the original attack.
Byck is also one of the (failed) assassins portrayed
in Sondheim's and Weidman's 1991 musical, Assassins. The musical
focused on the tapes sent to Leonard Bernstein. Whilst Byck has no songs
outside of the rest of the group songs (the closest he gets is Another
National Anthem in the original, Off-Broadway version where Byck gets
much of the lines), he has two long monologues via his tape recordings,
the first addressed to Bernstein and the second to Nixon himself.
A movie based on his story, The Assassination of
Richard Nixon, was released in 2004. The film starred Sean Penn as
Bicke (the spelling was changed to avoid offending living relatives).
The History Channel also ran a special on Byck entitled, "The Plot to
The 9/11 Commission Report also mentioned Byck's
attempt to fly a plane into the White House. On page 537 it notes:
As part of his 34-page analysis, the attorney
explained why he thought that a fueled Boeing 747, used as a weapon, "must
be considered capable of destroying virtually any building located
anywhere in the world." DOJ memo, Robert D. to Cathleen C., "Aerial
Intercepts and Shoot-downs: Ambiguities of Law and Practical
Considerations", Mar. 30, 2000, p. 10. "Also, in February 1974, a
man named Samuel Byck attempted to commandeer a plane at Baltimore
Washington International Airport with the intention of forcing the
pilots to fly into Washington and crash into the White House to kill
the president. The man was shot by police and then killed himself on
the aircraft while it was still on the ground at the airport."
Maryland Aviation Administration Police Officer George Neal Ramsburg
Samuel Joseph Byck
Samuel Joseph Byck, 44, of Philadelphia (seen in 1968 file photo) was
identified by the FBI from his finger prints as the gunman who killed
two people and was himself shot to death in an attempted airline
hijacking in Baltimore.
Samuel J. Byck Carrying a Picket Sign
Samuel J. Byck (seen in
11/30/73 file photo) carries a picket sign calling for the impeachment
of the President outside where he worked in Philadelphia. Byck is the
would be hijacker who died trying to commandeer a jetliner in Baltimore
last week, intended to crash the aircraft into the White House,
according to columnist, Jack Anderson, 2/27. Previewing an Anderson
column for 2/27, the Washington Post and Byck revealed his plans in a
tape recording mailed to Anderson.