Portrait of Dan Cooper AKA DB Cooper

The events on the 24th of November 1971 were carefully planned ahead of time and were such a success, that to this day there are still questions about it.

On this day, Dan Cooper (who nowadays is more commonly known as DB Cooper) was in Oregon and purchased a one-way plane ticket from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington. This was just the beginning of what would turn out to be one of the most popular FBI cases of all time.

Dan Cooper was described as a quiet man who kept to himself, and who from a visual perspective, was in his 40s. While he was waiting for his flight to take off, he was sitting at an airport bar drinking a bourbon and soda; he was dressed in a suit.

All Aboard

Eyewitnesses who were on the plane which he attempted to hijack described him as a man in his 40s, about 5’ 10”, and described his clothing as business-like. When the flight took off at 2.50PM, around one third of the seats were taken.

Plane that was highjacked by DB Cooper Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Shortly after it was in the air, DB Cooper handed a small folded note to a flight attendant. Florence Schaffner was the closest attendant to him although upon receiving the note, simply assumed that it was a love note from a lonely traveller. She placed the note in her purse although Cooper got closer to her and whispered into her ear, “Miss, I have a bomb in my briefcase. You should look at the note.”

The Note

The note which he handed to Schaffner had been written neatly in all-caps with a felt tip pen. Although what the notes exact contents stated are not fully recalled by Schaffner due to Cooper taking it back, Schaffner said that the note simply told her that there was a bomb in the man’s briefcase and that she was to sit next to him. She sat next to him as requested, and asked him quietly to show her the bomb.

Cooper slightly opened his briefcase for her to see which appeared to be eight cylinders which were connected with wire, as well as a large battery. Whether or not this was actually a bomb, we’ll never know.

Cooper went on to state his demands. He wanted $200,000 (which were to be in $20 bills), four parachutes, and lastly, he wanted the airport in Seattle to be awaiting their arrival as he wanted the airplane refueled. Shaffner told the pilots what Cooper wanted so that they could contact the appropriate people, and when she returned to the cabin Cooper was wearing shaded sunglasses.

Learning About Cooper

The remainder of the flight went to show that DB Cooper was not a violent criminal or even the type of person that you’d expect to be hijacking a plane. In fact, he was quite the opposite.

Schaffner recalled that DB Cooper seemed very familiar with the flight path and their surroundings. According to her, during the flight he said, “Looks like Tacoma down there”. She also told that he said the McChord Air Force Base wasn’t too far from the Seattle Tacoma Airport.

Based on their flight,Schaffner described Cooper as a calm and polite man who was well-spoken and as we said above, didn’t fit the criminal stereotype which we’ve come to expect. Another onboard flight attendant, Tina Mucklow, agreed that he wasn’t at all what you’d expect out of someone who was hijacking a plane. They both told that he was calm throughout the whole journey, that he wasn’t a mean person to them, and even offered to have meals brought for the flight crew whilst they were in Seattle.

Arriving in Seattle

Once the flight arrived at the Seattle airport, Cooper exchanged the 36 passengers who were onboard for his $200,000 and the four parachutes which he requested. He decided that he would keep a few crew members on the plane, and they shortly took off from the airport once again. Their destination: Mexico City.

Before they left, Cooper requested that the plane had its rear-exit door left open and that the staircase inside of it be deployed, although the airport refused to do so and stated that it wasn’t safe for the plane to take off whilst it was open. Even though he knew otherwise, he didn’t argue this and would later open it for himself.

Taking a Leap…

At around 8.00PM that night, Cooper done something which nobody expected him to do. He opened the rear-exit door, and jumped out of the plane with his ransom money. This was the last time that DB Cooper was ever seen. How he escaped, where he is, and if he managed to get the money to safety, all remain a mystery.

The Investigation Begins

Within minutes of them hearing about the hijacking, the FBI were involved and opened the investigation that would last for several years. NORJAK (Northwest Hijacking). After Cooper fled from the plane the FBI got to work trying to find him, although with no luck, moved on to pinpointing suspects.

They interviewed hundreds of suspects, tracked hundreds of leads which would take them across the country and back, and thoroughly examined the plane which Cooper had fled from. All of this effort, yet they found nothing.

With very little luck in this investigation, they focussed the majority of their time questioning potential suspects. Although incredibly unlikely, the Portland authority had got in touch with a man who already had a criminal record and who was recorded with the name “D.B. Cooper”. Although this man was quickly cleared of any suspicion, a local reporter who wanted to be the first to publish the story had confused the suspects name with the name used by the hijacker, and so the mysterious figure was known as “DB Cooper” by everyone.

Richard Floyd McCoy, one of suspects in Dan Cooper Case

The next potential suspect was Richard Floyd McCoy as he had taken a very similar approach to a crime of his own, although he was quickly dismissed as his physical appearance wasn’t nearly as similar to the descriptions which were provided by passengers on board Cooper’s plane as well as the flight attendants.

How the Investigation Panned Out

Over the years there have been many theories as to where Cooper disappeared to. Maybe he died on impact as he landed? After all, his attire was no suitable for parachuting and he was heading into a wooded area. Even for a professional, this situation would be difficult to make a safe one. Perhaps Cooper didn’t jump and instead hid in the plane’s cargo hold? The truth is, we’ll probably never know the specifics of this investigation – but we can hope.

9 years after the initial hijacking took place, a young boy found a bag full of money. Almost $6,000 in $20 bills and to arise suspicions even more, the money matched the serial numbers of the money which was handed over to Cooper back in 1971. This sent conspiracy theorists back into overdrive; publishing any theory which they could think of.

One of the bills found around the area where Dan Cooper landed.

As of July 2016, the FBI officially stated that they would be closing the DB Cooper case although should any evidence arise, the case may be subject to a reopening and the evidence will be analyzed thoroughly.

Cooper’s Planning

There’s a lot to be said about whether Cooper went into vigorous planning or not. There are arguments to both sides of it.

According to the research team led by Kaye, “The FBI conducted intense searches across the country to check whether anyone had disappeared the weekend of the hijacking although there was no success with this. Kaye went on to discuss that it was possible the hijacker simply went home and carried on with his life. “Let’s say you’re hijacking a plane and you want to head home so that you’re ready for work on Monday morning. If that’s the case, you’d have to find a way out of the woods, have transportation prepared to get home, and finally make your way home. The best way for this to be done would be a 4-day weekend. This is when Cooper chose his perfectly timed hijacking.”

Even though it’s clear that Cooper considered every excruciating detail when he was planning the hijack, the FBI were adamant that he had next to no experience in skydiving. The leader of the investigation who took over in 2006, Special Agent Larry Carr, stated, “We’ve assumed in the past that Cooper was experienced in terms of skydiving, although we have several reasons to think otherwise now.”

“Any trained parachutist would understand the clear dangers of parachuting out of a plane in the middle of the night whilst it was raining, and with 200MPH winds being blasted towards them. Even an amateur would be able to see that this is incredibly risky and could result in death without question. If anything, he’s lucky that he didn’t die that night.”, Carr continued.

It’s true. Let’s take a step back and make our own observations for a few minutes. 200MPH winds are scary just to think about, so why would anyone even consider jumping into them? Not only that, but with winds which were that high and with which were at around -70 degrees Fahrenheit, you’re taking more than just a risk; you’re risking your life.

Special Agent Carr proposed the idea that perhaps Cooper was an aircraft cargo loader. Having a job like this means that he would understand the aviation field very well. If he was an aircraft cargo loader, he would have experience with parachutes as it is required for someone in that position to have fairly knowledgeable experience in doing so. However, this doesn’t mean he could have survived the jump which he would have had to land.

How Coopers Heist Played Out

The year after DB Cooper had succeeded in hijacking a plane and escaping with his money, there were 15 unsuccessful hijackings which all shared similarities to Coopers. Fortunately, in 1972, universal luggage searches were introduced into airports and so it became a lot harder for weapons and such to be taken onboard.

Up until the 11th of July 1980, there were no worthy or notable hijackings. On this day, Glenn K. Tripp attempted to hijack Flight #308 at Seattle-Tacoma Airport. He demanded not only $600,000 and two parachutes, but also demanded that his boss be assassinated. As ridiculous as this request was, the authorities worked with him for 10 hours before arresting him and getting him off of the plane. Over 10 years later, on the 21st of January 1983, Glenn Tripp attempted to hijack the exact same plane although this time, whilst it was in the air. This time his request was to have the plane fly him to Afghanistan. The pilots disobeyed these orders and after landing in Portland, Glenn K. Tripp was shot by FBI agents and killed.

Potential Leads on DB Cooper

It’s now been over 40 years since DB Cooper’s mysterious hijack and although the FBI have officially closed the case, there are still several groups of people who are doing what they can to solve the case. For example, there is a scientific team who work for Citizen Sleuths. Citizen Sleuths is a group who have made it their goal to crack the case and according to them, they may have found out where Cooper was employed.

Black tie worn by Dan Cooper during highjacking.

The black tie which Cooper had worn was one of the few pieces of evidence which was left behind by him. With modern forensic technology, Citizen Sleuths were able to identify a very rare element on his tie: titanium.

Back in 1971, this wasn’t a common metal to be found and so there are a very limited number of places where Cooper could have been.

After poking around the investigation a bit more, they decided that the chances are that Cooper worked at a company known as Boeing. This is the same company who manufactured the plane which Cooper hijacked.

Tom Kaye, the lead researcher, said, “Odds are that this tie is one which he wore when he was walking around the plane manufacturing factory, no doubt about it. However, he wasn’t running any of the machines. We assume that either he was an engineer or was managing one of the factories.”

If you know anything about the whereabouts of Dan Cooper, please contact FBI and let them know any information you know. Also, comment what you think about this case down below.


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