50 Years Today: The Infamous Hijacking of D.B. Cooper


Photo Courtesy of Seattle Met.

On November 24, 1972, a man in his mid 40’s dressed in a dark suit and tie by the name of Dan Cooper purchased a one-way ticket using 20 dollars cash to Northwest Orient Airlines in Portland Oregon. He would then board Flight #305 on a Boeing 727 bound for Seattle Washington. And so began one of the FBI’s greatest mysteries.
The epithet D.B. Cooper came to life when Cooper purchased his airline ticket as Dan Cooper, however, there had been a miscommunication. According to Britannica, Dan Cooper had also turned out to be a fake name.

D.B. Cooper Hijacking — FBI
Sketch of what Cooper looked like.Photo Courtesy of FBI Gov.
New DB Cooper researcher claims a man named William J Smith is the real  1971 hijacker | Daily Mail Online
William J. Smith, another possible suspect. Photo Courtesy of Daily Mail.

While waiting for takeoff, he ordered a bourbon and soda and shortly after handed a note to the flight attendant, Florence Schaffner, who sat in a jump seat nearest to him. Schaffner assumed it was the phone number of a lonely businessman and dropped it into her purse. Cooper would then lean in to tell her, “Miss you’d better look at that note. I have a bomb.” In the note, writing was all capitalized; the exact wording is unknown because Cooper had later reclaimed it.
However, Schaffner recalled it, saying that it had mentioned the bomb and directed her to sit in the seat beside Cooper. He then opened his briefcase, which contained numerous wires, red cylinders, and a battery, and told her to write down what he told her. Soon, Schaffner gave the note to the captain which demanded $200,000 in twenty-dollar bills and four parachutes (two primary and two reserves) and a “fuel truck standing by in Seattle to refuel the aircraft upon arrival.” In today’s money, $200,000 is the equivalent of $1,278,000.
Once the aircraft had landed in Seattle, Cooper released the 36 passengers on board in exchange for the money and parachutes. The captain, William A Scott, told passengers their arrival to Seattle would be delayed due to a “minor mechanical difficulty.”
Northwest Orient president Donald Nyrop, who had authorized payment of the ransom, told all employees to “cooperate fully with the hijackers’ demands.”
As the plane was refueled, Cooper ordered the pilots to fly again for México City, taking several crew members with him.
According to some of the crew, Cooper did not fit the typical stereotypes that were highly associated with air piracy at the time. He was not “nervous” and seemed as though he had been “familiar with the local terrain.”
Tina Mucklow, an attendant on the flight, had asked Cooper if he had a grudge with the Northwest airline. Cooper replied, “I don’t have a grudge against your airline, Miss. I just have a grudge.”
Cooper outlined his instruction for the flight crew; a southeast course to México City at the slowest airspeed possible without stalling the aircraft (which was about 100 knots or 185 km/h;115 mph) at a maximum altitude of 10,000 feet. He also specified that the landing gear must be deployed in the landing/takeoff position, the wing flaps are lowered to 15 degrees, and the cabin continues to be pressurized.
William J. Rataczak, a first officer, told Cooper that it would be necessary for a second refueling to reach México City. Cooper would then direct the aircraft to take off with its “rear door open” and its “staircase extended.” While Northwest’s home office objected to his directions, saying that it was unsafe to take off with the aft staircase deployed, Cooper stated that it was safe; he would lower it once they were airborne.
Around 7:40 PM after takeoff, Cooper took his briefcase and instructed Mucklow to show him how to open the door to the aft staircase. He then instructed her to “join the rest of the crew in the cockpit and remain there with the door closed.”
As Mucklow went to join the rest of the crew, she noticed Cooper tying something–what was thought to be the money bag–around his waist. At 8:00 PM, a warning light flashed in the cockpit, signaling that the aft staircase had been activated. The pilots asked on the intercom if Cooper needed any assistance. Cooper replied shortly, “No.”
That was the last message from D.B. Cooper.
According to the FBI’s website, somewhere between Seattle and Reno, Cooper had jumped out of the back of the plane with a parachute and the ransom money.”
The 727 aircraft arrived at Reno Airport at 10:15 PM with its aft staircase still deployed. When FBI agents, state troopers, sheriff’s deputies, and Reno police searched the aircraft, they confirmed Cooper’s absence.
In 1980, a boy found a decaying package that contained $5,800, buried along the Columbia River, which is just north of Portland. According to Britannica, the serial numbers of the money were all $20 bills and had “matched those of the ransom.” An extensive search followed but had recovered nothing.
The “longest and most exhaustive investigation” in the history of the FBI would continue until July of 2016 when the FBI officially suspended the investigation. The agency continues to request that any physical evidence relating to the parachute or the ransom money be submitted for analysis.
Many suspects have been drawn up over the years such as a man by the name of D.B. Cooper and Richard Floyd McCoy–who had been arrested for a similar crime earlier–had been checked off. Many suspects were ruled out based on the traces of DNA that were recovered from the tie Cooper took off before jumping.
Some argue that due to the winds at the altitude from which Cooper jumped could have veered him off his course. Additionally, he would have landed in a “rugged, heavily wood area.”
To this day, D.B. Cooper and the rest of his ransom money have not been found.