Graveyard Shift

The Fascinating Case Of D.B. Cooper, A Mystery Man Who Vanished After Hijacking A Plane  

Megan Summers
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One of the most bizarre incidents of the 20th century still remains unsolved: the D.B. Cooper mystery. In the early '70s, a man calling himself Dan Cooper purchased a one-way airline ticket from Portland to Seattle. What transpired after the plane took flight is the stuff of legend. Straight out of a Hollywood movie plot, Cooper carried out a plan involving hijacking, taking money, and jumping via parachute at 10,000 feet. He was never heard from again, joining the ranks of people who mysteriously disappeared .

While the basic facts of the case remain clear, the subsequent investigation drew in thousands of tips, none generating concrete answers. Over 45 years, the FBI "exhaustively reviewed all credible leads, coordinated between multiple field offices to conduct searches, collected all available evidence, and interviewed all identified witnesses," agents wrote in a 2016 statement .

Despite all these efforts, no one was ever charged with the offense. Who is D.B. Cooper? What happened to all the money he demanded? Will the person who put 40 other lives at risk ever be brought to justice?

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Photo:  Federal Bureau of Investigation/Flickr/Public Domain
In 1971, Dan Cooper Hijacked A Passenger Flight With A Threatening Note

On November 24, 1971, Dan Cooper bought a one-way ticket from Portland to Seattle on Northwest Airlines Flight 305 . The white man in his mid-40s wearing a business suit drank a bourbon and soda before passing a note to a flight attendant stating he had a detonation device in his briefcase. As the FBI explained in its notes about the case:

The stunned stewardess did as she was told. Opening a cheap attaché case, Cooper showed her a glimpse of a mass of wires and red colored sticks and demanded that she write down what he told her. Soon, she was walking a new note to the captain of the plane that demanded four parachutes and $200,000 in $20 bills.

It was just after 3 pm when the action unfolded. The quiet Cooper in seat 18C apparently kept his cool as the plane made its way to Seattle.

He Released The 36 Passengers In Seattle In Exchange For The Parachutes And Cash

When the Northwest Airlines plane landed in Seattle, Cooper used the 36 passengers as negotiating tools to ensure the safe delivery of the parachutes and cash. In the air, passengers were unaware a hijacker was among them.

Larry Finegold, a young lawyer for the US Attorney's office who was on the flight that afternoon, told media outlets the pilot announced that "there were some difficulties." Passengers were told the crew was "in touch with the ground, and they would be circling the city for awhile while they worked on whatever the problem was."

Finegold realized what was going on when, after landing, an FBI agent he knew boarded the plane and told him, "Larry, there’s a skyjacker on the plane, and we’re gonna get you off the plane in a couple minutes." Agents then cruised up and down the aisle with bundles of cash and parachutes.

Once his demands were met, Cooper let the passengers go. The pilot and crew, however, were asked to stay.

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Photo: webcyss/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0
He Demanded The Pilot Fly To Mexico City And Remain Below 10,000 Feet

With his $200,000 and four parachutes, D.B. Cooper told the pilot of Flight 305 to take off for Mexico City. It was 7:37 pm and the Boeing 727 plane had been refueled. The flight attendant Cooper originally passed the note to, Tina Mucklow, remained in the cabin with him until the plane reached the altitude he requested: below 10,000 feet. Once the plane was steady in the air, Cooper told Mucklow to return to the cockpit, where the three other crew members were.

In addition to the low altitude, Cooper stipulated the plane had to travel at a low speed with its landing gear down. The pilot told him this flying pattern would require a fuel stop in Reno, NV, and Cooper consented.

He Jumped From The Plane With The Money And A Parachute Midflight

Right around 8 pm, a light in the 727's cockpit indicated the rear door of the plane and its stairs were engaged. Sometime in the next 15 minutes, Cooper jumped from the stairs with a parachute and the money, plunging into darkness.

"If there’s any place around you wouldn’t want to jump into, that’d be it," an FBI investigator later stated about the location Cooper chose to parachute into, "a God-forsaken swath of rugged Washington forest country" east of Interstate 5. The plane landed in Reno without issue.

The only trace of Cooper on the plane was his black clip-on necktie.