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Dan (DB) Cooper and America's Only Unsolved Hijacking - Mystery Files

Updated on April 30, 2012

D. B. Cooper

On November 24th 1971, A man calling himself Dan Cooper successfully Hijacked a Boeing 727, extorted $200,000 in ransom, and then by means of a parachute, exited the aeroplane in flight, somewhere over south west Washington - And was never seen again. The incident remains to this day, the only unsolved hijacking in American Aviation History, and possibly, the perfect crime.

Cooper's daring, innovative and apparently successful hijacking, has become a legend in the annals of crime. Dan Cooper became immortalised as D.B.Cooper (due to a journalists error when reporting the story), and has since become a legend in his own right, with books, songs and films commemorating his adventure.

For the past thirty years and more, the FBI, as well as a veritable army of amateur and professional sleuths, and authors, have pondered the facts, details and possibilities of the case.

A succession of people have come forward over the years claiming to be, or to know, D.B.Cooper, none of which have proved to be true.

An Ordinary Passenger?

The event that was to change the history of aviation crime began on a rainy night in November, 1971, when a man purchased a one-way ticket to Seattle on a Northwest Orient Airlines, Boeing 727, Flight 305.

He was wearing a dark raincoat and suit, and carried with him an attache case. He had a wide forehead with receding hair and gave his name as Dan Cooper.

The flight should have been a short one - little more than 30 minutes usually. The man boarded the plane and sat in row 18c - the last row in the plane. He ordered a Bourbon and soda from the stewardess, lit up a cigarette and waited for the plane to take off.

The Hijack begins

Flo Schaffner was a flight attendant aboard the plane, and once it was airborne, Cooper called for her over and handed her a note. Schaffner was a good looking girl, and she was used to passengers slipping her notes, trying to buttonhole her for a date. Assuming that this was just another passenger hitting on her, she tucked the note into her uniform pocket.

The next time Schaffner passed, Cooper called her over and whispered "You'd better read that - I have a bomb". The note, which was written in all capital letters with a felt pen read “I have a bomb in my briefcase. I want you to sit beside me,” Schaffner sat down beside him, and suspecting a hoax, asked to see the bomb. Cooper opened his case and inside she could see what looked like six red cylinders of explosive, a battery and some wires.

Cooper then calmly, quietly, almost politely, listed his demands: “I want $200,000 by 5:00 p.m. In cash. Put in a knapsack. I want two back parachutes and two front parachutes. When we land, I want a fuel truck ready to refuel. No funny stuff or I’ll do the job.” Schaffner was then instructed to inform the Pilot.

William Scott, flight 305's pilot contacted Air Traffic Control at Seattle-Tacoma Airport, who in turn contacted the Federal authorities. Donald Nyrop, the President of Northwest Orient Airlines, ordered all employees to co-operate fully with the hijacker, and authorised the payment of the ransom.

Coopers FBI Wanted Poster
Coopers FBI Wanted Poster | Source

In order to give the FBI and Seattle Police enough time to collect the Ransom money and deliver it to the airport, the plane was instructed to circle Puget Sound for around two hours. As far as the other 36 passengers were aware, they had been informed that their landing had been delayed due to "Minor technical difficulties"

Schaffner noted that Cooper was familiar with the local terrain, correctly identifying Tacoma when they flew over it. She was also struck by the fact that he didn't conform to the stereotype of a hardened criminal - She described him as calm, polite, and well-spoken. Another flight attendant, Tina Mucklow concurred. "He wasn't nervous.- He seemed rather nice. He was never cruel or nasty. He was thoughtful and calm all the time".

Cooper was informed that his demands had now been met and the aircraft touched down at Seattle-Tacoma airport at five forty-five that evening. The ransom and parachutes were delivered and the 36 passengers were allowed to leave.

During the refuelling, Cooper gave the flight crew some very specific instructions. They were to fly on a southeast course in the direction of Mexico City, They were to fly as slow as possible without stalling the aircraft, and no higher than 10,000 feet. To ensure that the flying altitude remained low, he directed that the cabin should remain unpressurized.To guarantee that the airspeed remained slow, he insisted that the landing gear remained down, (as for takeoff and landing), and that the wing flaps should be lowered to 15 degrees.

The Final Flight

At 7.14 that evening, the Boeing 727 taxied down the runway, and finally took off. On board were left only the pilot and co-pilot, flight engineer, one flight attendant, and of course, Cooper.

Some time after takeoff, the flight attendant, Tina Mucklow was ordered to join the flight crew in the cockpit and shut the door. She did so, but noticed as she passed him, that he appeared to be tying something around his waist.

At 8pm a warning light illuminated in the flight deck. It indicated that the rear doorstair assembly had been opened. The rear doorstair was situated at the very back of the aircraft and opened not sideways, but dropped down from the fuselage and in line with it, facing rearwards - The 727 was the only plane with such a doorstair.

At 8.15pm, the rear section of the aircraft bucked upwards, (indicating that the doorstair had actually been deployed in flight) making it necessary to trim the aircraft in order to maintain level flight..

A boeing 727 with it's aft doorstair deployed and clearly visible at the rear of the aircraft
A boeing 727 with it's aft doorstair deployed and clearly visible at the rear of the aircraft | Source

Cooper Disappears

No more was heard from Cooper. At 10.15pm, captain Scott landed the aircraft at Reno airport, with the rear doorstair still deployed.

Immediately, FBI, State Troopers, Reno police officers and deputies surrounded the plane - but Cooper had gone, leaving behind only his clip-on tie and tie-clip and two of the four parachutes.

It was determined that Cooper must have baled-out of the aeroplane with his landing area predicted to be somewhere near the southernmost outreach of Mount St.Helens. The time of the bale-out was estimated to be approx. 8.13pm (based on the telltale bucking of the aircraft as the aft door was opened), during which, the aircraft was flying through a heavy rainstorm. Many people believed that there was no way he could have survived the jump in those conditions into a forest covered landscape.

The next day a massive search was carried out through the forest wilderness that was predicted to be the likely drop zone. They were looking for parachutes, $20 bills, a body - anything that would give a clue that their man had come to ground there. They found nothing.

So began one of the biggest (and most expensive) manhunts in American history. many amateur sleuths also got in on the act hoping to make their fortune. One consortium of treasure-seekers even charted a submarine to take them hundreds of feet beneath a lake in their quest for clues - None was forthcoming.

The kind of terrain that Cooper was believed to have parachuted into
The kind of terrain that Cooper was believed to have parachuted into | Source
The $20 bill remnants found by eight year old Brian Ingrams
The $20 bill remnants found by eight year old Brian Ingrams | Source

Tantalising Clues

In February 1980, Brian Ingram, an eight year old boy who was vacationing with his family on the banks of the Columbia River, was digging in the sandy banks of the river, when he discovered three packets of ransom cash, somewhat deteriorated, but still held together with the original elastic bands. None of the remaining 9,700 bills have ever turned up, in or out of circulation, anywhere in the world.

Most recent suspect - The late Lynn Doyle Cooper
Most recent suspect - The late Lynn Doyle Cooper

Claims to Fame

In the intervening thirty-something years, many people have come forward claiming to be, or to know Cooper, but one by one they have been discounted.

The latest claim centers on Marla Cooper, of Oregon, who believes that her (now deceased) uncle, Lynn Doyle Cooper is the famed hijacker, based on some unusual happenings and conversations she heard when she was a child - Investigations are ongoing.

D.B.Cooper - Folk hero

It seems that D.B.Cooper has since become entrenched as a popular hero of everyday folk. He was remembered as being stylish, polite, non-aggressive and - most important of all, despite the audacious nature of the escapade he perpetrated - nobody got hurt.

He is viewed as almost a "Robin Hood" type hero, with most people rooting for him, hoping that he got away with it. Whether or not he did get away with it, nobody knows, and up to now, it looks like nobody ever will.


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