D.B. Cooper Day – Who is He?
On the night before Thanksgiving, November 24, 1971, a man who identified himself as Dan Cooper (a.k.a. D. B. Cooper) bought a one-way $20 ticket for Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305.
This unidentified man boarded the plane and sat in seat 18C next to another fellow passenger and ordered a bourbon and soda. The passenger next to him described Cooper as being in his mid-40s, wearing a business suit with a black tie and white shirt.
Shortly after the plane took off, Cooper handed a note to the flight attendant, Florence Schaffner, Schaffner didn’t realize it was a ransom note at first and thought this was just a man flitting and giving her his phone number. So without looking at the note, she put it unopened into her purse. Cooper noticed this and leaned toward her and whispered, “Miss, you’d better look at that note. I have a bomb.”
He had written the note in all-capital letters with a felt-tip pen. After she read it Cooper took the note back. Schaffner recalled from memory that the note mentioned the bomb and directed her to sit next to him which she did. She asked to see the bomb and Cooper opened his briefcase long enough for her to see it.
He told her his demands were $200,000 in “negotiable American currency”; four parachutes (two primary and two reserve); and a fuel truck standing by in Seattle to refuel the aircraft upon arrival. Schaffner conveyed Cooper’s instructions to the pilots in the cockpit; when she returned, Cooper was wearing dark sunglasses.
The captain on that flight that day was William A. Scott. Upon hearing what was happening and Cooper’s demands he contacted Seattle–Tacoma Airport air traffic control where he informed the local and federal authorities.
The pilot announced to the passengers that their arrival in Seattle would be delayed because of a “minor mechanical difficulty”.
The ransom was authorized by Northwest Orient’s president, Donald Nyrop, and he instructed all employees to cooperate fully with the hijacker’s demands. They then circled Puget Sound for approximately two hours to allow Seattle police and the FBI sufficient time to assemble Cooper’s parachutes and ransom money, and to gather emergency personnel.
At this point the flight attendant said that Cooper ordered a second bourbon and soda, paid his tab and offered to request meals for the flight crew during the stop in Seattle. When Mucklow asked Cooper if he had a grudge with Northwest Airlines; Cooper replied, “I don’t have a grudge against your airline, Miss. I just have a grudge.”
FBI agents assembled the ransom money from several Seattle-area banks—10,000 unmarked 20-dollar bills, most with serial numbers beginning with the letter “L” indicating issuance by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and most from the 1963A or 1969 series[ and made a microfilm photograph of each of them. Cooper refused the first parachutes offered to him by the McChord AFB personnel, and demanded civilian parachutes with manually operated ripcords. Seattle police eventually got them from a local skydiving school.
At 5:27pm the plane landed at Seattle-Tacoma Airport. Cooper directed the taxi jet to an isolated, brightly lit section of the apron and close all window shades in the cabin to deter police snipers.[ Northwest Orient’s Seattle operations manager, Al Lee, approached the aircraft in street clothes to show he was not the police, and delivered the cash-filled knapsack and parachutes to Mucklow via the aft stairs.
Once Cooper received the cash and parachutes Cooper instructed all passengers and the other flight attendants to leave the plane.
After some unforeseen fueling delays, Cooper instructed this pilots of his flight plan and directed them toward Mexico City at the minimum airspeed possible without stalling the aircraft. He had some odd requests that they take off with the landing gear and stairwell all still deployed. The pilots told Cooper they would need to refuel one more time and they decided to do it in Reno, Nevada. So they refueled and took off again.
At about 7:40 p.m., the Boeing 727 took off again containing Cooper, Captain Scott, flight attendant Mucklow, first officer Rataczak, and flight engineer Harold E. Anderson on board. Two F-106 fighter aircraft from McChord Air Force Base followed behind their plane, one above it and one below, out of Cooper’s view. A Lockheed T-33 trainer, diverted from an unrelated Air National Guard mission, also shadowed the 727 before running low on fuel and turning back near the Oregon–California state line.
Soon after takeoff, Cooper picked up his briefcase and told Mucklow to show him how to open the door to the aft staircase. He then told her to join the rest of the crew in the cockpit and stay there with the door closed.
Mucklow observed Cooper tying what she thought was the money bag, around his waist.. At approximately 8:00 p.m., a warning light flashed in the cockpit, indicating that the aft airstair apparatus had been activated. The pilots asked on the cabin intercom if Cooper needed assistance. Cooper picked up the cabin phone and replied, “No.” That was the last time they heard from Cooper. The cockpit crew observed a subjective change of air pressure, indicating that the aft door was open.
At 10:15 p.m., the 727 landed, with the aft airstair still deployed, at Reno Airport. The plane was immediately searched but Cooper was gone. None of the other pilots on the planes following their plane saw him jump or any parachutes open but it would be hard to see at night and obscured by clouds. Also the search area was so large because where he would land had so many variants such as when he opened his chute, the speed they were going and the altitude they were at.
A recreation of the hijacking was done which placed Cooper’s landing zone within an area on the southernmost outreach of Mount St. Helens, a few miles southeast of Ariel, Washington, near Lake Merwin. No signs of Cooper or any of his equipment of the money were found there. Later after relooking at the conditions of the flight, it was determined they were looking in the wrong area anyways.
Several other searches on land and water were done by the FBI and military and no evidence was ever found.
The FBI distributed lists of the ransom serial numbers to financial institutions, casinos, racetracks, and other businesses that routinely conducted large cash transactions, and to law enforcement agencies around the world but the bills were never reported.
Northwest Orient offered a reward of 15% of the recovered money, to a maximum of $25,000 but nothing was found.
In 1972 U.S. Attorney General John N. Mitchell released the serial numbers from the bills to the general public resulting in two men making counterfeit 20-dollar bills printed with Cooper serial number. Again, nothing came of it.
The GVI has investigated this crime for over 45 years and it has become the only unsolved airspace piracy to this day. The FBI officially suspended active investigation of the case on July 8, 2016 Local field offices will continue to accept any legitimate physical evidence, related specifically to the parachutes or to the ransom money, that may emerge in the future. The 60-volume case file compiled over the 45-year course of the investigation will be preserved for historical purposes at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., and on the FBI website. All the evidence is open to the public.
Clues and Evidence to the Fate of D.B. Cooper
- One theory is that hat Cooper took his alias from a Belgian comics series of the 1970s featuring the fictional hero Dan Cooper, a Royal Canadian Air Force test pilot who took part in numerous heroic adventures, including parachuting. But these comic books were not in English nor in the US, so does this mean he might have done a tour in of duty in Europe?
- It could also be he was from Canada since he had no accent but used the term “negotiable American currency”, when asking for ransom money. The comic book mentioned above was also sold in Canada.
- He seemed knowledgeable about 727s, knowing they were basically safe to jump from, and he seemed to know the mechanics, including that it was safe to fly with the stairwell deployed.
- $5,880 of the ransom was found along the banks of Columbia River in 1980.
- Cooper was familiar with the area they were flying over as commented on Tacoma down there”, and mentioned that McChord Air Force Base was only a 20-minute drive from Seattle-Tacoma Airport which was a detail most civilians would not know, So was he an Air Force veteran?
- There is debate on if he was a skilled jumper or not since out of the four parachutes he chose a reserve parachute was only for training and had been sewn shut, something a skilled skydiver would have noticed. Officials declared that they did not give him this unfunctional chute on purpose. He also jumped without any proper protective gear like a helmet or warm clothes into -0 weather.
- FBI agents recovered 66 unidentified latent fingerprints aboard the airliner.
- The agents also found Cooper’s black clip-on tie, a mother-of-pearl tie clip, and eight filter-tipped Raleigh cigarette butts. (later lost) and two of the four parachutes, one of which had been opened and two shroud lines cut from the canopy.
- In November 1978, a placard printed with instructions for lowering the aft stairs of a 727 was found by a deer hunter near a logging road about 13 miles (21 km) east of Castle Rock, Washington, well north of Lake Merwin, but within Flight 305’s basic flight path.
- On February 10, 1980, an eight-year-old boy named Brian Ingram was vacationing with his family on the Columbia River at a beachfront known as Tina Bar, about 9 miles from Vancouver, Washington. He found three packets of ransom cash on the riverbank. The bills were almost disintegrated, but still bundled in rubber bands. FBI technicians confirmed that the money was indeed a portion of the ransom. There were two packets of 100 twenty-dollar bills, and a third packet of 90, all arranged in the same order as when given to Cooper. To this date, this was the only evidence of the bills ever found.
- In late 2007, the FBI announced that a partial DNA profile had been obtained from three organic samples found on Cooper’s clip-on tie in 2001.
- In November 2011, Kaye announced that particles of pure titanium had been found on Cooper’s tie which was much rare in the 1970s and was usually only found in metal fabrication or production facilities, or at chemical companies using it (combined with aluminum) to store extremely corrosive substances suggesting that Cooper might have been a chemist, metallurgist, or an engineer or manager at a metal or chemical manufacturing plant, or at a company that recovered scrap metal from those types of factories.
- In January 2017, Kaye reported that rare earth minerals such as cerium and strontium sulfide had also been identified from the tie. One of the rare applications for such elements in the 1970s was Boeing’s supersonic transport development project, suggesting the possibility that Cooper was a Boeing employee.
List of suspects: Kenneth Peter Christiansen, Jack Coffelt, Lynn Doyle Cooper, Barbara Dayton, William Gossett, Robert Lepsy, John List, Ted Mayfield, Richard McCoy Jr., Sheridan Peterson, Robert Rackstraw, Walter R. Reca, William J. Smith, Duane L. Weber.
- Oregon man D. B. Cooper, a minor criminal was contacted by Portland police on the off-chance that the hijacker had used his real name or the same alias in a previous crime but he was quickly ruled out as a suspect. A reporter rushing to meet deadlines didn’t know the man was ruled out and called the hijacker D.B. Cooper and other media outlets repeated this information and that is how Dan Cooper became D.B. Cooper.
- In 2003, a Minnesota man named Lyle Christiansen saw a documentary about the hijacking and thought that his late brother Kenneth had to be Cooper. His brother had enlisted in the Army in 1944 and was trained as a paratrooper. Later he joined Northwest Orient in 1954 as a mechanic in the South Pacific, and eventually became a flight attendant, and then a purser, based in Seattle. He had been 45 years old at the time of the hijacking. But in other ways he did not fit the description as he was shorter and fairer skinned then the descriptions from eye witnesses. Schaffner told a reporter that photos of Christiansen fit her memory of the hijacker’s appearance more closely than those of other suspects she had been shown, but could not positively identify him.
- Bryant “Jack” Coffelt as another suspect. He was known as a con man. He was and an ex-convict. In 1972 he began claiming he was Cooper to other cell mates and wanted to sell his story. He said he landed near Mount Hood, about 50 miles southeast of Ariel, injuring himself and losing the ransom money in the process. Although he was in his mid-fifties at the time of the hijacking the he did bear a resemblance to the composite drawings drawn at the time of the hijacking of Cooper. He was reportedly in Portland on the day of the hijacking, with leg injuries constant with the timing of the jump. The FBI concluded his story was made up when his details did not match the known details of the hijacking.
- Lynn Doyle Cooper aka L.D. Cooper was a leather worker and Korean War veteran. He was accused by his niece of being the hijacker after she heard him and another uncle planning something “very mischievous”. The next day flight 305 was hijacked; and though the uncles ostensibly were turkey hunting, L.D. Cooper came home wearing a bloody shirt—the result, he said, of an auto accident He was also was obsessed with the Canadian comic book hero Dan Cooper and “had one of his comic books thumbtacked to his wall”. The FBI said that his DNA did not match the DNA found on Cooper’s tie. Although they admit they do not know for certain the DNA found on the tie clip was the hijackers.
- Barbara Dayton – This story really takes a twist. Barbara Dayton was a recreational pilot and University of Washington librarian who was born Robert Dayton. Dayton served in the U.S. Merchant Marine and then the Army during World War II. After discharge, Dayton worked with explosives in the construction field and aspired to a professional airline career, but could not obtain a commercial pilot’s license. Dayton claimed to have staged the Cooper hijacking, dressed as a man, to “get back” at the airline field and the FAA, whose insurmountable rules and conditions had prevented her from becoming an airline pilot. She claimed that she hid the ransom money in a cistern near Woodburn, a suburban area south of Portland, but eventually recanted her story,
- William Gossett was a Marine Corps, Army, and Army Air Forces veteran who fought in Korea and Vietnam. His military experience included advanced jump training and wilderness survival. Gossett was obsessed with the Cooper hijacking and collected articles on it. As he grew older he admitted to three of his sons, a retired Utah judge, and a friend in the Salt Lake City public defender’s office that he had committed the hijacking. Pictures of Gossett bear a close resemblance to the Cooper composite drawing. Gossett had a key that he showed to his sons to a Vancouver, British Columbia, safe deposit box which, he claimed, contained the long-missing ransom money. Gossett’s eldest son, Greg, said that his dad was a compulsive gambler who was always broke but somehow right before Christmas 1971, just weeks after the Cooper hijacking., he showed him a bunch of cash in wads. His son said he thought his dad just gambled all the money away in Las Vegas. Other than these statements the FBI never found any further truth that he had any links to this hijacking.
There were many other suspects but these seem to be the top contenders. Maybe we will never know the truth behind who the real D.B. Cooper is, but he sure has captured our imagination and inner sleuth detecting curiosities! There is even a holiday for him now, D.B. Cooper Day, celebrated on November 24th.
Books on D.B. Cooper
- Skyjack: The Hunt for D. B. Cooper Audible Audiobook
- D. B. Cooper and Flight 305: Reexamining the Hijacking and Disappearance Hardcover Book
- Into The Blast – The True Story of D.B. Cooper Revised Edition Book
- Unsolved Case Files: Escape at 10,000 Feet: D.B. Cooper and the Missing Money (Unsolved Case Files, 1)