Jump to content
The Education Forum

Grant Trapnell

Tim Gratz

Recommended Posts

Tim, this is the info I found......



As a TWA jet from St. Louis descended 25 years ago toward Kansas City, a passenger's scrawled note prompted a startling change of course.

Claiming to have a bomb, the passenger demanded the DC-9 be turned around and flown instead to Carbondale, Ill., not far from one of America's toughest federal prisons.

Co-pilot Lyle Mitchell quickly retracted the jet's landing gear, raised the flaps and boosted power to the engines. Pilot James Miller quietly entered a code into the transponder, a device that helps air traffic controllers track planes.

The code signaled that Flight 541, which carried 87 persons, had been hijacked.

It was only four days before Christmas 1978. Pilots at that time were trained to comply with the demands of hijackers, who were terrorizing the skies that decade.

Besides, Miller and Mitchell knew they couldn't do anything about a bomb. And they didn't have a gun and unlike hundreds of today's commercial pilots in the United States who have undergone special training within the last year and now pack semiautomatic pistols. Looking back, Miller wishes he'd had one.

There's no doubt in my mind, I would have shot (hijacker) Robyn Oswald if I had a chance. the Independence native said recentl Of course, then my life would have changed forever, because I would have taken a life.

Hijacking Family

Back in 1978, Miller and Mitchell stayed in the cockpit while Oswald a 17-year-old high school dropout from suburban St. Louis commandeered the plane's back rows. The hijacker communicated through notes handed to flight attendants.

Oswald said she had dynamite taped underneath her bulky sweater. Witnesses said wires ran from a row of sticks to a triggering device, which resembled a door bell.

On the ground, FBI agents scrambled to learn whether the bomb could be real. On the plane, two passengers, both Naval Academy graduates, told the crew that it sure looked real.

Oswald's motive? To free GARRETT BROCK TRAPNELL, who was serving a life sentence at the federal penitentiary in Marion, Ill., for a 1972 hijacking. The day Oswald hijacked Flight 541, Trapnell was in an Illinois courtroom facing charges of attempted escape.

Seven months earlier, Oswald's mother, Barbara Ann Oswald, hijacked a helicopter and ordered the pilot to land inside the maximum-security prison to pick up Trapnell and two other inmates. The pilot wrested away her gun, then killed her, before regaining control of the helicopter.

After her mother's death, Robyn Oswald continued contact with Trapnell through letters and at least one prison visit, her former attorney said. Trapnell, the attorney said, told Oswald what to do.

She was going through a very bad time with the loss of her mom, attorney, Donald L. Wolff said, He played upon he as if she were taking her mom's place. In a sense, she was trying to do what she thought her mom would have done.

In the cockpit, Miller and Mitchell knew none of this. All they knew was that the string of hijackings that had shocked America in the 1970s was continuing. And for the first time, they were hostages.

Passengers Unaware

Oswald delivered her hijack note when the plane was only eight miles from touching down in Kansas City. As the plane turned away from Kansas City, Miller said nothing to his passengers.

Many wondered what was happening, however, when two flight attendants began moving people from the back rows forward. Because the plane was full, the attendants raised armrests and packed four passengers into where there had been only three.

Oswald, who had ordered the seats near her cleared, stayed in the back.

But the runways at Carbondale wouldn't handle the big DC-9. Through another note, Oswald told Miller to land at Marion instead.

Miller asked another airline's crew for proper radio frequencies and other landing details for that airport, at which he'd never landed.

Of course, everyone (in the air) knew what was happening, he said. Everyone except the passengers, that is.

They finally learned they had been hijacked when Oswald insisted the pilots pipe their radio transmissions through the passenger cabin so she could hear the conversations. Unknown to her, the pilots still talked discreetly with TWA officials on a second radio.

After landing at Marion, the pilots parked the plane at the end of the runway, far from the terminal. The plane, which should have landed in Kansas City at midmorning, sat on the tarmac until well after dark.

“We talked to FBI, you know, asking what's going to happen if five sticks of high-impact explosive go off, Miller recalled.They said, Wait one minute, we'll have to check on that. Well, we think it will be total devastation. The plane will be destroyed. Well, wait one minute. We'll have to get back with you.'

We had a half of dozen of these (conversations). We decided we would have to sit there and wait.

Worried that his partially full fuel tanks would worsen any explosion, Miller kept the engines going until they ran dry.

Although the December weather was cold, the passenger cabin grew uncomfortably stuffy and hot.

I figured she was going to suffocate everybody. said Barnett Helzberg, who was returning to Kansas City from Cincinnati and sat not too far from Oswald. Earlier in the flight, Helzberg had watched her point out a window and ask someone, What's that? as they approached Kansas City, then dash to the rest room to write her hijacking note.

Oswald set a deadline for Trapnell to be freed. It passed without incident.

Eventually, she agreed to release elderly passengers and babies in exchange for food. The plane's now-open door and ramp tempted some remaining hostages, especially since a forward bulkhead blocked Oswald's view of the opening.

At one point, Helzberg strolled toward the door simply to seek relief from the hot cabin. Another passenger asked whether Helzberg was ready to get out. Helzberg balked.

We were scared she would blow up the plane if she saw people on the runway he recalled I said, You go check with the captain.

Retelling the moment, Helzberg paused. I've never been known for courage,said the retired jewelry chain president, who now leads his own foundation.

The pilots already had plotted a plan that called for some passengers to stand and stretch, further blocking Oswald's view, while others escaped.

Once he learned the pilot approved, Helzberg bolted. He slogged through a marsh before a van without lights approached and took him to the terminal.

With the hijacking more than nine hours old, a speaker in the Federal Aviation Administration command room in Kansas City crackled with unexpected news: Passengers were leaving the plane in unstructured pairs.The trickle continued for more than a half hour. Before long, only a few hostages remained.

Oswald suddenly realized something was wrong. The few people still standing to block her view ran, leaving only one passenger with Oswald. Miller remembers yelling at him to get off. The pilots also fled, and the FBI boarded. Agents quickly subdued Oswald.

Instead of dynamite, she carried only harmless railroad flares Tried as a juvenile, Oswald spent 22 months in a treatment program. Her former attorney ran into her a few years ago at a shopping mall.She was a mother and doing fine Wolff said.

Trapnell, who once bragged he would escape, died of emphysema in a Springfield prison hospital in 1993.

Today, Miller admits that confronting Oswald would have been difficult. She was not getting out of that seat back there. said Miller, now of Hot Springs, Ark.I couldn't go back there with a gun if she had a bomb. If I go back there, she's liable to blow the whole thing up

But having a gun at least gives pilots options, he said. For example, he could have passed a gun to a trusted individual, such as the flight attendant, who could have gotten close to the hijacker.

Yeah, I'd love to have had one Miller said. You bet your life.


The Kansas City Star


Just a little extra...... a lovely Soap Opera Star from The Guiding Light and Search For Tomorrow, was a Pen Pal of Trapnells. He first wrote to her and told her that she looked like his wife!



Edited by Dixie Dea
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in

Sign In Now
  • Create New...