Skyjacking: The Idea
Before the skyjacking of 1971, Walt had already experienced his fair share of brushes with the law. But even years later, he would tell Carl that until the last moment he was still debating whether or not he would go through with it. His plan for the skyjacking, which was “simple enough to fit on the back of napkin,” was not foolproof. Many things could go wrong. But Walt was desperate, and fearless.
The idea of hijacking an airplane was not new; from 1968 through 1972 there were 131 hijackings in the U.S - some successful, some not, and all of them eventually solved. Given his knowledge of parachuting and planes, Walt figured he had a fighting chance to pull it off. Thanksgiving, he supposed, was as good a time a year as any.
In order to avoid wearing anything too identifiable, Walt purchased a used set of clothes from a secondhand store and traded his iron worker’s clothes for the look of a polished businessman. He put together what could pass for an explosive from road flares and a large battery all stuffed into a briefcase.
Two days before the skyjacking, Walt made his way first to Spokane, Washington and eventually to Portland, Oregon. After an overnight motel stay, he purchased a twenty-dollar plane ticket to Seattle at the Portland airport. That twenty dollars, Walter hoped, would eventually turn into $200,000.
A chronic smoker, and very nervous, Walt lit a Sir Walter Raleigh cigarette before takeoff, which the stewardess made him put out. Walt typically drank beer, but that day he ordered liquor to calm his nerves. It hardly worked.
Shortly after takeoff, he handed the stewardess a note which he had prepared in advance. First incredulous, she eventually believed he was, in fact, hijacking the plane. His demands were for four parachutes, $200,000 in used twenty-dollar bills in a knapsack, the plane to be refueled, and to be flown to Mexico. As he began to wonder if he would actually get away with it, Walt’s plane landed in Seattle to meet the skyjacker’s demands.