It looked like the people on that flight were saved from a fiery death not only because of their quick reactions, but also because Reid sucked at building bombs. But actually, Richard Reid was a perfectly able bomber. His plans were foiled by something far, far worse than incompetence.
The Story You Didn't Know:
Reid was a victim. A victim of sweaty feet.
Reid's bomb was actually pretty sophisticated and could've easily blown a hole in the floor under his seat. Which, incidentally, was over a fuel tank. It was a pretty good plan that Reid had followed to a T. However, the bomb makers didn't think of the fact that Reid was a living, breathing, leaking human being.
It's pretty much the same problem that gets in the way of giving advice to teenagers.
Reid had attempted to board a flight the previous day, cool as a cucumber. And if he had made that flight, history books would probably be one tragedy richer. Instead, post-9/11 security measures latched on to the massive, peculiar-looking man, and Reid ended up being grilled by airport security and was refused boarding.
But they turned Reid loose and he was free to try again. This time, though, he was nervous as hell -- and sweaty. This, together with the day's moist weather, played merry hell with his footwear. While the bomb was still a viable explosive, it relied on a fuse made of gunpowder to set it off. Since wet gunpowder doesn't work, and sweat makes things wet ... well, Reid instead found out firsthand just how many people you can get tackled by at once.
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"Uh, just out of curiosity, are any of the 72 of you virgins? Anyone? f**k."