So far, there has only been one unsolved, successful hijacking of an airliner over American airspace. The FBI and other investigators have run into more than 1,000 dead ends in their efforts to finally figure out just who adopted the alias of Dan Cooper.
In the evening of November 24, 1971, at the Portland, Oregon airport, a man, who identified himself as Dan Cooper, boarded a Northwest Orient 727 with a one-way pass to Seattle, Washington.
When the aircraft became airborne, the man ordered a whiskey, lit a cigarette (in-flight smoking was still allowed in those days), then gave a note to the stewardess.
“I HAVE A BOMB IN MY BRIEFCASE. I WILL USE IT IF NECESSARY. I WANT YOU TO SIT NEXT TO ME. YOU ARE BEING HIJACKED.”
The events that followed made Cooper an American folk hero. A wire-service reporter mis-heard Dan Cooper’s first name and wrote the suspects alias as “D.B. Cooper”.
The hijacker told the stewardess to hand the list of his demands to the pilot. D.B. Cooper asked for $200,000 and four parachutes. In exchange, the hijacker would allow 36 passengers and crew to exit the plane upon arrival in Seattle.
The authorities and the FBI obtained the cash and parachutes, then organized the exchange for some of the hostages. The swap was peaceably made and quickly the airliner was aloft again. The only people aboard were the pilot, co-pilot, a stewardess, and D.B.Cooper. The culprit instructed the flight crew to set their headings for Mexico and to maintain an altitude of just less than 10,000 feet.
When the Boeing 727 finally reached cruising height, the hijacker lowered the airplane’s rear stairway, checked his parachute pack, and stepped down and out into the stormy, cold night sky. D.B. Cooper was not to be seen again.
Military and law-enforcement helicopters were alerted and flew to the Cascade Mountain vicinity where the hijacker had exited the airliner. However, D.B. Cooper had vanished. He might be dead, or he could have stashed the parachute and hiked through the wet wilderness to escape to points unknown.
One big clue finally came to light in February, 1980. An eight-year-old boy discovered some $6,000 of the marked ransom cash on a beach. The rest of the ransom money was still missing. The find was enough to briefly return the name, D.B. Cooper, to the evening news reports.
FBI investigators have followed up on several convincing leads, but none of them have panned out. The agency says that the major suspects have been ruled out because fingerprints don’t match those of the culprit, the descriptions aren’t even close to witness descriptions, or the DNA doesn’t match.
From time to time, the FBI announces that they have an actual suspect that will solve the decades old crime. But, eventually, each investigation peters out.
The Blue Jay of Happiness points out that D.B. Cooper has been a boon to part of the economy. There have been several books about the hijacking, at least one television documentary, and a movie starring Robert Duvall.