D.B. Cooper case inspired copycat hijackings in Reno
5:05 PM, Nov. 22, 2011
Steve Dundas, 70, of Reno, was a United Airlines station agent at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport from 1963 to 1997. He was working at the airport for all four of the hijackings between November 1971 to August 1972. / Emerson Marcus / RGJ
Written by Emerson Marcus
Steve Dundas was in the backseat of an unmarked FBI vehicle driving 80 mph on Mill Street toward Reno International Airport with $200,000 in casino money.
It was 11 p.m. on June 2, 1972 and the hijacker was “nervous and making demands,” said Dundas, a United Airlines station agent.
But this hijacker wasn’t the notorious D.B. Cooper.
The casino money was for a man named Robb Heady of Reno. Heady hopped the three-foot fence at the airport, hijacked a United Airlines jetliner with a magnum pistol and, after the plane took off, parachuted out with the ransom money near Washoe Lake.
Three months later, Frank Sibley of Stateline rode a bicycle onto the Reno Airport tarmac and hijacked another plane with a high-powered rifle.
“Reno was famous for hijackings,” said Bernie Crooks, who also worked at the airport for United Airlines in the early 1970s.
Less than eight months after D.B. Cooper’s hijacked Boeing 727-100 landed in Reno on Thanksgiving eve 1971 — without him on board — two local men sought to duplicate the skyjack.
Hijackings were not unheard of before D.B. Cooper. Several occurred in 1968 alone — with several hijackers seeking political refuge in Cuba.
The model of choice was the Boeing 727 — introduced in 1964 — because its rear air stairway was easier to open and exit during flight.
“There was a little fin on the back of the airplane,” said Crooks, who compared the 727’s rear stairway to the exit in a C-130. “When it got into the air stream there was a latch over this fin that held the door up. You could engage the hydraulic system and push it right through that fin. The fin would break right off.”
Cooper, Heady and Sibley all hijacked 727s.
Heady, 22 in 1972, a Vietnam War veteran, was a member of the parachutist club at Western Nevada Community College when he hijacked a 727 on June, 2 1972.
Dundas was loading the plane at 7:30 p.m. when Heady “came out of nowhere.”
The standoff lasted four hours after a malfunction moved the hijacking into another United Airlines Boeing 727 parked 400 yards from the airport.
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