The Unsolved Mystery of Hijacker D.B. Cooper Continues to Baffle Investigators

Sketch of D.B. Cooper. Los Angeles Times

At the time of writing, the robbery on board the Boeing 727 flight bound for Seattle, Washington on November 24, 1971, remains the only unsolved case of ‘air piracy’ in the history of commercial airlines. The daring robbery was carried out by a man who used the alias ‘Dan Cooper’ to purchase his ticket. A simple case of media miscommunication resulted in the hijacker becoming known as D.B. Cooper. Although evidence suggests the man did not survive his leap from the plane, the FBI refused to close the case for 45 years.

Flight 727. Tacoma Weekly

The Robbery

The story begins on November 24, 1971, on board a Northwest Orient Airlines flight from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington. A man in his mid-40s named Dan Cooper purchased a ticket and paid cash. He was dressed like an executive in a suit, white shirt, and black tie. Cooper had ordered a bourbon and soda before the flight took off and once the plane was in the air (shortly after 3 pm), he gave the stewardess a note.

She probably assumed that it was yet another case of a lonely businessman giving her his number. Therefore, she dropped it into her purse without opening it. Cooper apparently leaned over and told her to look at the note because he had a bomb. He reclaimed the note, so we don’t know the exact wording. However, the stewardess said the note warned that Cooper had a bomb in his briefcase and wanted her to sit beside him. Cooper opened the case to allow her to glance at the contents. She said it contained eight red cylinders attached to wires and a battery.

Cooper shut the case and issued his demands: $200,000 in $20 bills, four parachutes (two reserves and two primaries) and a fuel truck ready and waiting in Seattle to refuel the plane. Once the flight landed at its destination, Cooper released the 36 passengers in exchange for the money and parachutes. The plane was refueled and took off again; all that remained were the cabin crew, the pilot team, and Cooper.

He ordered the plane to fly to Mexico City, but after 8 pm, when the plane was somewhere between Seattle and Reno, he decided to leap out of the plane with the money. The exact location of his jump is a mystery because he managed to do it when no one was looking. The airplane’s staff found two parachutes and Cooper’s clip-on tie on his seat.

Clearly, Cooper knew that he would be arrested the moment he landed in Mexico so decided that a daring jump was the only option. Later, the crew said that Cooper was nothing like the stereotypical loud, angry and potentially violent air pirates of the age. They said he was nice, polite and not nervous at all. Cooper even ordered a second bourbon and soda, paid his drink tab and tried to tip the stewardess. His whereabouts after his leap remain a mystery despite a huge manhunt immediately after the hijack.

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