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D.B. Cooper, Hijacker: Will His Identity Ever Be Known?
November 1971 - a man boards a plane in Portland bound for Seattle. Once on board he proceeds to hijack the plane and demands a ransom. Once his ransom demands are met, he does the strangest thing: he puts on a parachute, straps $200,000 in cash to his body, and jumps out of the plane in mid-flight. No one has seen or heard from him since.
On November 24, 1971, a man using the alias Dan Cooper goes to the Portland International Airport. He was well dressed as he approached the Northwest Orient Airlines ticket counter and paid $20.00 for a ticket to Seattle.
Once on board and the plane is in flight he puts his plan into action. He gets the attention of a flight attendant, quietly tells her there is a bomb in his briefcase, and tells her of his demands: He gets four parachutes and $200,000.00 in "negotiable American currency", and no one on board the plane will be harmed. Once n Seattle he would get the items that he demanded.
Once he received the ransom, the passengers were released within a few hours. Once these things happened, the plane took off to Mexico with just a skeleton crew aboard the plane. Cooper, though, never makes it to Mexico.
Instead of going to Mexico he did a mid-air escape that to this day defies belief because it was such a daring thing to do. After putting on a parachute and strapping the money to his body, he lowers the exit stairs and jumps. The plane was on cruise altitude and there was a bad storm raging when he jumped. No one ever saw Cooper or heard from him again.
The FBI launched a massive man hunt which was one of the most extensive in the history of the FBI. As time went on over 1,000 suspects were identified but no arrests were ever made. With all the efforts of the Bureau no good clues to Cooper's true identity or whereabouts ever came to light.
Clues did emerge along the way. In the Washington state wilderness a few scattered items were found. Hunters in the area found some kind of note that told about the operation of the rear staircase. A parachute that may have been Cooper's was also discovered some time after the staircase information. Also, in 1980, $5,800.00 in bills were found by a young boy along the banks of the Columbia River. They were badly deteriorated but they matched a bundle given to Cooper.
These items didn't solve the case but they play into the investigation the Bureau was conducting. Some people believe Cooper never survived the jump. Special Agent Larry Carr, long-time leader of this case, is one of those people. He feels Cooper never had a plan, never had the proper equipment, and probably never got the chute open.
At one time the Bureau thought Cooper was an experienced jumper, such as a paratrooper. Based on Cooper's moves however, like jumping in the pitch-black night, in the rain, with 200 mile an hour winds, wearing loafers and a trench coat, all this made the jump entirely too risky. The Bureau concluded after years of looking at the case that Cooper couldn't have been a professional jumper.
Another thing with Cooper's plan is that he didn't ask for a helmet. The parachutes he requested were old and inferior models. These things played a role in the Bureau's decision that he wasn't experienced in jumping.
There was a man named Kenneth Christiansen that bears an uncanny resemblance to Cooper. He was considered a suspect by the authorities but they changed their minds. Christiansen was a paratrooper during World War II but knew better than to attempt a jump the way that Cooper did his.
Some aspects concerning Christiansen still made him an appealing suspect though. Here's why: He leaves the military and gets a job as a mechanic for Northwest Orient Airlines. He also was a flight purser for the airline. The job wasn't the greatest - he only made about $6,000.00 per year. In letters he wrote to his parents he made reference to being financially desperate and had anger towards his employer.
Need additional reasons why Christiansen and Cooper may be one in the same? Christiansen, with his supposed money problems, manages to buy a house after Cooper's hijacking. He also loans $5,000.00 to his friend's sister. The friend - Bernie Geetsman - who was also a reputed hijacking accomplice. As far as Christiansen's bank accounts are concerned that he left behind: $186,276.00 in his savings and $24,501.00 in his checking. He also had a stamp and coin collection worth $30,000.00. All this legacy which he left behind seems a little much considering he never claimed more than $20,000.00 worth of income on his tax returns.
Another item that suggest Christiansen could have been the hijacker: Florence Schaffner, the stewardess Cooper handed the ransom note to, made the comment to the New York Magazine that his picture bore the most resemblance to the hijacker that she had ever seen.
Other people have been looked at as potential subjects in the case. Duane Weber claimed to be Cooper on his deathbed in 1995. DNA said he wasn't when his was compared to material taken from a tie left behind on the plane by the hijacker. His wife came forward with evidence, mostly circumstantial, that suggests Weber may have been involved in the hijacking.
A man named Richard McCoy committed a similar hijacking in 1972, including a parachute escape. Some Bureau personnel believed McCoy was a Cooper copycat. Some actually thought he was Cooper. McCoy never gave any information to authorities that indicated either way he had anything to do with the Cooper hijacking when questioned while he was in jail. Some time later McCoy escaped from jail and was killed by police.
Fast forward to 2011. A woman brings evidence to the authorities that her uncle, L.D. Cooper, was really D.B. Cooper. She claims Cooper arrived for Thanksgiving dinner one year badly hurt from injuries he claimed he received in a car accident. Later she over hears her uncle take responsibility for the crime. The women even gave a personal item to the FBI for genetic analysis. The authorities couldn't get enough material off the item to generate a conclusive test.
All these claims seem to have that intrigue and appeal but none of them hold up well to any kind of scrutiny as Christiansen. Almost 45 years after the hijacking occurred he is still the most compelling suspect. But the question still remains: Was Christiansen really D.B. Cooper?
Time continues to pass, memories continue to fade. As this goes on it is most likely that this mystery will never be solved.