50 years later, a mysterious hijacker’s midair escape still fascinates Americans
Washington – On the eve of Thanksgiving in 1971, a man in his forties who called himself Dan Cooper approached the counter at the airport and purchased a one-way ticket for the short flight from Portland, Oregon to Seattle.
Within hours, he had tied a bag containing $ 200,000 in ransom for himself – now worth around $ 1.3 million – and parachuted from the plane, never to be found.
Fifty years after its leap into the unknown, the case of DB Cooper – a media pseudonym – remains the only unsolved hijacking in US history.
The FBI called him “a calm man who appeared to be in his mid-forties, wearing a business suit with a black tie and a white shirt.”
He ordered a bourbon and a soda while waiting for the plane to take off.
His plan was quite simple. After the plane left, Cooper handed a note to the flight attendant. Since she didn’t react immediately, he would have leaned down and said, “Miss, you better look at that note.” I have a bomb.
After glimpsing the mass of cables in her briefcase, the very shaken flight attendant wrote down her requests – four parachutes and $ 200,000 – and brought them to the captain as instructed.
When the plane landed in Seattle, Cooper let the 36 passengers go in exchange for cash and parachutes, brought on board by the FBI.
Keeping the crew safe, he instructed the plane to take off again and fly low, this time en route to Mexico City.
But somewhere between Seattle and Reno, Nevada, Cooper jumped out of the back door of the Boeing 727 and into the freezing winter night.
The FBI launched a full-scale investigation, but after several weeks of searching the thick and rugged forests of the American Northwest, investigators found nothing.
More than five years and 800 interviews with suspects later, there was still no sign of the hijacker or his parachute.
Did he even survive the jump? Could her clothes and supplies last long in the frigid nature?
These questions and many more remain unanswered.
“He’s a guy who presented himself James Bond style,” said researcher Eric Ulis, whose own quest to solve the Cooper mystery was the subject of a History Channel documentary.
Ulis, a historian, has been investigating and writing about the case for almost 14 years, and he hosted CooperCon, a conference for other skyjacking mystery enthusiasts.
Mary Jean Fryar, FBI special agent in the 2000s, worked on the investigation.
Cooper, she said, became “kind of a folklore hero” in the United States after his high-altitude robbery.
She describes the current wave of interest around the case as a “cult,” fueled by the fact that the hijacker has never been found.
Theories, some far-fetched, have poured in over the years, and dozens of people have claimed, sometimes on their deathbed, to be DB Cooper.
FBI investigators have examined many intriguing profiles, such as that of Barbara Dayton, an amateur pilot and transgender woman who allegedly confessed to her friends; of Lynn Doyle Cooper, whose niece became convinced of her involvement after showing up bloodied and beaten at Thanksgiving dinner that year; and Sheridan Paterson, a WWII veteran interviewed by Fryar.
The FBI finally closed the case in 2016 “to focus on other investigative priorities.”
Ulis said federal law enforcement has done “a very good job” overall, despite “a few critical errors”.
He argues that the FBI was on the wrong flight route and therefore DB Cooper would have landed miles from the vast search area.
But the aura of mystery surrounding the case continues to inspire Americans.
The DB Cooper paraphernalia is readily available for sale online: fans can choose from coffee mugs, t-shirts, bumper stickers, and socks – and until it closed, there were even a DB Cooper strip club in Texas.
In a time of both disinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us tell the story right.