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Samuel Joseph BYCK





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Attempted to hijack a plane. He intended to crash into the White House in hopes of killing U.S. President Richard Nixon
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: February 22, 1974
Date of birth: January 30, 1930
Victims profile: George Neal Ramsburg (Maryland Aviation Administration Police Officer) / Fred Jones (copilot)
Method of murder: Shooting
LocationBaltimore, Maryland, USA
Status: Committed suicide by shooting himself in the head the same day

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 generally harmless.

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.

Jonathan Dunder


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.

Early life

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.

Assassination attempt

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 copycat crimes.

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 Kill Nixon."

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."


The victim

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.



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