50 years ago, I listened

By Marianne Lincoln

It was the day before Thanksgiving, 1971. I arrived home from school at 2:15 p.m. I heard the news say there was a skyjacking taking place on a flight from Portland, Oregon. It was headed to Seattle. I thought to myself, this is interesting, I bet I can find out first-hand what is happening. So I got into my father’s desk and pulled out the Seattle Sectional, the map of local airspace from the FAA. And found the Sea-Tac Tower frequency.

I was 14, a freshman in high school. It was 50 years ago today. I grabbed my father’s VHF radio from the desk, I dialed in the frequency and started hearing the conversation between the tower and the aircraft. At the same time, I monitored the television news.

The brunette and slightly balding man in sun glasses had handed off a note to the stewardess on Northwest Flight 305. He showed her what looked like a bomb in his briefcase. He was low key, so the other passengers would not be alarmed. His note asked for money and parachutes. In those days, parachutes were round and less steerable. The new parafoil type were expensive and not easily found lying around.

What I remember of the communications is that it was mostly boring. Intermittent calls of flight level 120, flight level 110. That was most of the transmissions five or ten minutes apart. Except at the beginning.

Shortly after I dialed in, I remember a discussion about the demand note. That the 727 did have a staircase in the rear belly that the hijacker could potentially parachute from Would he live or die doing that? Where could parachutes be found? And the most conflicting with any report I have heard, how would they get $400,000? That discussion required the government agents weigh in about available cash. There was $200,000 in bills that they could make available, but not $400,000. Would he notice? Would he retaliate and use the bomb if he did not get all he demanded? A decision was made to give him what they could.

The plane circled and circled the greater Seattle area after that, giving their location and altitude, mostly at 12,000 feet. They were waiting for the agents to gather the money and parachutes to deliver to the airport before they landed.

Finally the plane landed. It stayed out on the tarmac away from the terminal. A stairway was pulled up and a stewardess descended. An unwilling stewardess who would rather have run away, dutifully brought the items onto the plane. Ii watched that on the TV.

The plane was fueled and took off again. I wasn’t following radio transmissions anymore. My mother had returned from shopping and it was dinner time. We watched the news. We watched for days and years, answers never came. My neighbor, who was a pilot for Northwest Airlines, told us the pilot didn’t want to talk about it. Honestly, I didn’t think I had much to talk about. I tried at one point to use the tape recorder on the radio transmissions, only to end up with a large blank spot on my tape. The transmissions were at least 10 minutes apart. I didn’t want to lose all my recordings. Who knew at the time that he would never be caught and become infamous?

One Comment Add yours

  1. Roberta Steele says:

    You were great at 14 and you’re still great

    Sent from my iPhone

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