Samuel Byck

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Samuel Byck

Samuel Joseph Byck (January 30, 1930February 22, 1974) was an unemployed tire salesman who attempted to hijack a plane from Baltimore-Washington International Airport on February 22, 1974. He intended to crash into the White House in hopes of killing U.S. President Richard M. Nixon.


Byck's life

Born to poor but hard-working Jewish parents in Philadelphia, Byck dropped out of high school. He enlisted in the US Army in 1954 and was honorably discharged in 1956. Byck married and had four children, but he experienced a number of business failures and spent two months in a psychiatric hospital being treated for depression. He began to believe 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 Jonas Salk, Abraham Ribicoff, and Leonard Bernstein. He once even tried to join the Black Panthers. The Secret Service considered Byck to be harmless.

The assassination attempt

In early 1974, Byck made his decision to assassinate Nixon. He chose to do so by hijacking an airliner and crashing it into the White House on a day when Nixon would be there. Since Byck was already known to the Secret Service, and because legal attempt 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 an airport security guard before storming aboard a DC-9, Delta Airlines Flight 523 to Atlanta, which he chose because it was the closest flight that was ready to take off. After the pilots told him they could not take off until wheel blocks were removed, he shot both pilots, then grabbed a nearby passenger and ordered her to "fly the plane". After a standoff with police, an officer on the jetway, who had been waiting for a chance to intervene, managed to fire a shot through the door of the aircraft with a .357 Magnum revolver taken from the dead security guard. The shot, which managed to penetrate the thick window of the aircraft door, hit Byck and seriously wounded him. Before the police could gain entry to the aircraft, Byck committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. According to the special on the History Channel, he survived the bullet to the head. However, after his gun was taken away, he died after saying "Help Me". A briefcase containing the gasoline bomb was found under his body. The plane never left the gate, and President Nixon's schedule was not affected by Byck's 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 five years later. The co-pilot died shortly after the hijacking.

After Byck's failed assassination attempt and subsequent death, Byck faded into obscurity. While the news media reported on Byck's actions, they did not disclose why Byck attempted to hijack the plane. As a result, Byck and his assassination plot remained relatively unknown until a movie based on his story, The Assassination of Richard Nixon, was released in 2004, starring Sean Penn as Bicke (the spelling was changed to avoid offending living relatives). The History Channel then aired a special on Byck's attempt to assassinate Nixon. Byck is also one of the (failed) assassins portrayed in Sondheim's and Weidman's musical Assassins (1991), which like the movie that followed, also focused exclusively on the tapes to Leonard Bernstein.

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