- A man hijacked a Boeing 727 aircraft in the air using a briefcase that he said contained a bomb and gathered $200,000.
- Jumped out of the moving airplane with a parachuted to extreme cold and has never been located or identified.
It's one of America's most enduring mysteries, baffling authorities for over 45 years. How was it possible for a man to hijack a Boeing 727 aircraft in the air using a briefcase that he said contained a bomb, demanded $200,000 (equivalent to $1,170,000), parachuted to an uncertain fate and has never been located or identified.
Now you surely think he died on the way out of the aircraft jumping into an extreme cold? -- a portion of money with the same serial numbers that were part of the loot have surfaced and only deepened the mystery making it the only unsolved air piracy case in American aviation history.
The case started at Portland International Airport on Thanksgiving eve, November 24, 1971. A man carrying a black briefcase bought a one-way ticket to Seattle using name Dan Cooper, but because of the miscommunication between media and FBI, he became known as D. B. Cooper.
And that's pretty much it. No CCTV cameras in 1971, no credit card information left behind or other directly traceable elements. A man just walked in and bought a ticket for a 30-minute flight.
Cooper boarded Boeing 727-100 (actual photographs of the airplane above) and took seat 18C. He lit a cigarette (in the U.S, inflight smoking was gone in the late 90's) and ordered whiskey and soda.
Eyewitnesses described a man in his mid-forties, between 5.10 (1.78 m) and 6 feet inches (1.83 m) tall. Dressed in a black lightweight raincoat, dark suit loafers, white collared shirt with black necktie, loafers and a mother of pearl tie pin.
Cooper passed a note to a flight attendant nearest to him who assuming the letter contained a man's phone number and dropped it unopened into her purse. Cooper leaned toward her and whispered, "Miss, you'd better look at that note. I have a bomb."
The note, written all-capital letters, read: "I HAVE A BOMB IN MY BRIEFCASE. I WILL USE IT IF NECESSARY. I WANT YOU TO SIT NEXT TO ME. YOU ARE BING (sic) HIJACKED."
Cooper told that in return for $200,000 and four parachutes he would allow 36 people to leave the plane in Seattle. The captain informed its passengers that the flight would be delayed because of a "minor mechanical difficulty." The FBI agreed, and Cooper left the cockpit wearing black sunglasses. The passengers were dropped off in Seattle, and the plane took off under Cooper's orders to fly towards Mexico.
He insisted the aircraft to travel at minimum possible speed (120mh; 190km/h) without stalling the aircraft and at low 10,000 foot (3 km) altitude. Cooper clearly had a plan. He demanded the rear door to remain unlocked and sent the crew to cockpit behind a closed door.
Approximately 8:13 pm, somewhere over the lower Cascade mountains in southwestern Washington, Cooper parachute out of the plane into the night.
With the door still opened, the plane landed at Reno Airport that was surrounded by FBI agents, state troopers, sheriff's deputies, and Reno police with Cooper no longer aboard.
FBI agents recovered 66 unidentified fingerprints from airplane, black clip-on tie with mother of pearl tie clip, and two of the four parachutes, All the flight crew were interviewed and with help of eyewtinesses series of composite sketches of Cooper were drawn.
Flight attendants Florence Schaffner and Tina Mucklow were in the media's spotlight. Especially Schaffner who received the ransom note. She described Cooper to as calm, polite, and well-spoken, not a hardened criminal.
In late 1971, the FBI distributed lists of the ransom serial numbers to financial institutions, casinos and other institutions handling a lot of cash transactions and to the general public a year later.
In 1980 an 8-year-old Brian Ingram found three packets of the ransom cash in poor condition but still bundled in rubber bands while making a campfire near Columbia River.
It was later confirmed that the notes were indeed a portion of the ransom money.
In the beginning, the FBI suggested that Cooper most likely did not survive the jump into the dark and cold but nevertheless kept the investigation active for another 45 years following the hijacking. No definitive conclusions have been reached. FBI closed the active investigation in 2016 but continues to ask people to reach out with any physical evidence related to the parachutes, or the ransom money, and published an age progression photo (on the right) of what Cooper might look like now.
Wikipedia has a long list of suspects and theories surrounding legendary hijacking. The case remains one of the favorites for internet sleuths and amateur investigators.
The case inspired a cult following. It was in music, film, and literature. Cities in the Pacific Northwest sold tourist souvenirs and held celebrations for Cooper. In Ariel, Washington, there is a "Cooper Day" event held annually with promotions by restaurants and bowling alleys.