On April 7, 1972, Richard Floyd McCoy, Jr. boarded a plane under the name James Johnson. The plane stopped in Denver on a layover on the way to Los Angeles, and that’s where Mr. Johnson joined the passengers. Twenty minutes into the flight, one of the flight attendants saw that he was holding a grenade. Another crew member went to investigate the situation, and when he did so, McCoy showed a gun and handed over his typed hijacking instructions.
Once the captain knew the situation, he decided to land in Grand Junction, Colorado and blame mechanical issues so as not to alarm the rest of the passengers.
The instructions said the plane would land at the San Francisco International Airport at “runway 19 left,” He specified how many people were allowed near the plane and how close any vehicles, aside from the fuel truck, could be. He also demanded $500,000, four parachutes, and the return of all instructions. The captain told the passengers they’d have to fly to San Francisco for the needed repairs.
Once the first set of demands were met, the hijacker gave the pilot a second set of instructions, this time handwritten. He was to fly at an altitude of 16,000 feet and 200 mph. He was also given a specific route that would take the plane over a number of Utah towns.
As McCoy prepared to jump, the flight attendant delivered a number of messages between him and the pilot. He told the crew that if he spotted planes in pursuit, he would detonate a hidden explosive after he jumped. With that, he closed the crew in the cockpit, put on his jumpsuit and parachute, and jumped when they were over the last of the towns listed on the instructions.
The initial investigation after the hijacking yielded no leads. However, once the news broke, someone called in with a tip. He had an acquaintance who laid out a “foolproof” plan to hijack a plane. This acquaintance was Richard Floyd McCoy, Jr. He was a Vietnam veteran, a helicopter pilot, a skydiver, and had connections to Utah. He was also going through some financial problems.
McCoy denied involvement, but a handwriting sample he gave was similar to the second set of instructions from the flight. His fingerprints matched those left at the hijacker’s seat on the plane.
A criminal complaint was filed April 9th charging McCoy with aircraft piracy and interfering with flight crew members. McCoy was arrested at his Provo, Utah home. A search of the home found skydiving equipment, an electronic typewriter with key impressions matching the typed set of instructions, and close to $500,000.
McCoy was found guilty in June and sentenced to forty-five years. He appealed, but it was denied in October 1973.
There are certain similarities between this case and the D.B. Cooper case. Is it possible that McCoy was Cooper? Yes. However, not probable. The evidence for that theory is circumstantial and it’s possible the similarities are coincidence. However, there’s concrete evidence clearing McCoy. Either way, it’s an intriguing question.
What case will we look at next week? As always, there’s one way to find out…