The Fascinating History of Skyjacker D.B. Cooper


The story of D.B. Cooper, the skyjacker who parachuted from a commercial jet with $200,000 cash in 1971 has fascinated people for decades. The case which has yet to be solved is by far the most intriguing hijacking saga in history. It’s now been over four decades since the mystery man vanished into the clouds from a Boeing 747 wearing a business suit, two parachutes and a pack with the ransom loot inside.

There has been a lot of speculation and many theories about who this mystery man was. But, as of yet, no one has been able to solve the puzzle about who the man dubbed D.B. Cooper really was and whether or not he survived his infamous jump. Let’s take a look at how this story unfolded, shall we?

On the 24th of November of 1971 which was Thanksgiving eve, a man who was described as being around 40 years old, wearing a suit and sunglasses boarded a Northwest Orient flight in Portland that was bound for Seattle. He bought the ticket under the name Dan Copper but an early media report made the mistake of identifying him as D.B. Cooper which is a name that stuck. Cooper took his seat at the rear of the plane and handed a flight attendant a note. The note said that he had a bomb and that he wanted the flight attendant to sit next to him.

The Daring Jump
Cooper then opened a briefcase he was carrying to show the flight attendant what looked like a bomb made of dynamite with wires and a battery. He demanded $200,000 in cash and four parachutes. He was given the money and parachutes at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport where he let the three dozen passengers and two of the flight attendants go free. The airliner then took off in the direction of Reno, Nevada as Cooper directed, flying at just 10,000 feet. Somewhere over southwestern Washington, Cooper strapped on two of the parachutes wearing one in back and one in front. He then made his way to the jet’s rear steps, released them, climbed down a few feet and jumped out into a rainstorm.

His unbelievable bravery led police who were on the ground hunting for him to say that they hoped he survived. However, in spite of extensive search efforts through some of the United State’s most rugged terrain, there was not one sign of Cooper anywhere. He had simply vanished.

Some Evidence Found but No Proof
Nine years after the infamous skyjacking, a child was digging in the sand on a Columbia River beach in Washington when he uncovered three bundles of worn $20 bills which were discovered to be Cooper’s cash according to the serial numbers.

When FBI agents were investigating the case, they did find a few partial fingerprints on a magazine in the plane they thought the skyjacker may have handled but it was not known if any of those prints actually belonged to Cooper. Apparently Cooper was being very careful not to leave any prints behind because he told the flight attendant to give him back the note he had passed her.

There were incomplete DNA samples taken from the jet including one from a clip-on necktie found on Cooper’s seat, but again, it was unclear if the tie was Cooper’s. Oddly, there were eight cigarette butts smoked by Cooper taken from the plane by the FBI but somehow that evidence went missing from an evidence storage facility in Las Vegas, NV.

Could He Have Survived?
A great many people, including key investigators for the FBI do not think that Cooper could have survived the daring jump. With outside temperatures hovering at 7 degrees below zero and a -70 wind chill factor, doubters say that if he somehow did manage to still be alive when he hit the ground that he would not have lived long in the mountainous terrain just before before winter as he had no apparent outdoor gear with him. Others firmly believe that Cooper did survive. Some say that because the money found on the river beach was several miles upstream of where Cooper jumped, that only a person could have taken that money there.

The mystery of D.B. Cooper is one that may never be solved. Today, this lone, unsolved hijacking case is a thing of American folklore. It’s a saga that’s been fascinating everyone for years from aviation enthusiasts like those at the Skygeek Pilot Shop to the most experienced private detectives. Anyone familiar with the tale is left only to wonder in amazement if D.B. Cooper is alive and well or if he died shortly after leaping out of the 747.

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  •  License: Creative Commons image source

Kirsten Collinn writes about science and technology.

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