D. B. Cooper

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D. B. Cooper
A 1972 FBI composite drawing of Cooper
DisappearedNovember 24, 1971 (50 years ago)
Other namesDan Cooper
Known forHijacking a Boeing 727 and parachuting from the plane mid-flight before disappearing
Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305
Northwest Airlines Boeing 727-51 N467US.jpg
N467US, the aircraft involved in the hijacking
DateNovember 24, 1971
SiteBetween Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington
Aircraft typeBoeing 727-51
OperatorNorthwest Orient Airlines
Flight originPortland International Airport
DestinationSeattle-Tacoma International Airport
Passengers36 (including Cooper)
Fatalities0 (hijacker, fate unknown)
InjuriesNone (hijacker, fate unknown)
Survivors42 (hijacker, fate unknown)

D. B. Cooper is a media epithet used to refer to an unidentified man who hijacked a Boeing 727 aircraft in United States airspace between Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, on the afternoon of November 24, 1971.[1][2] He extorted $200,000 in ransom (equivalent to $1,278,000 in 2020) and parachuted to an uncertain fate over southwestern Washington. The man purchased his airline ticket using the alias Dan Cooper but, because of a news miscommunication, became known in popular lore as D. B. Cooper.

The FBI maintained an active investigation for 45 years after the hijacking. Despite a case file that grew to over 60 volumes over that period,[3] no definitive conclusions were reached regarding Cooper's true identity or fate. The crime remains the only unsolved air piracy in commercial aviation history.[4][5][6] Numerous theories of widely varying plausibility have been proposed over the years by investigators, reporters, and amateur enthusiasts.[4][7] $5,880 of the ransom was found along the banks of the Columbia River in 1980, which triggered renewed interest but ultimately only deepened the mystery. The great majority of the ransom remains unrecovered.

The FBI officially suspended active investigation of the case in July 2016, but the agency continues to request that any physical evidence that might emerge related to the parachutes or the ransom money be submitted for analysis.[8]


On Thanksgiving eve, November 24, 1971, a middle-aged man carrying a black attaché case approached the flight counter of Northwest Orient Airlines at Portland International Airport. He identified himself as "Dan Cooper" and used cash to purchase a one-way ticket on Flight 305, a 30-minute trip north to Seattle.[9] Cooper boarded the aircraft, a Boeing 727-100 (FAA registration N467US), and took seat 18C[4] (18E or 15D by other accounts[10]) and ordered a drink: bourbon and soda. Eyewitnesses described Cooper as being in his mid-40s, wearing a business suit with a black tie and white shirt.[11]

FBI wanted poster of D. B. Cooper

Flight 305, approximately one-third full, departed Portland on schedule at 2:50 p.m. PST.[12] Shortly after takeoff, Cooper handed a note to Florence Schaffner, the flight attendant situated nearest to him in a jump seat attached to the aft stair door.[4] Schaffner, assuming the note contained a lonely businessman's phone number, dropped it unopened into her purse.[13] Cooper leaned toward her and whispered, "Miss, you'd better look at that note. I have a bomb."[14]

The note was printed in neat, all-capital letters with a felt-tip pen.[15] Its exact wording is unknown, because Cooper later reclaimed it,[16][17] but Schaffner recalled that it mentioned the bomb and directed her to sit in the seat beside Cooper.[18] Schaffner did as requested, then quietly asked to see the bomb. Cooper opened his briefcase long enough for her to glimpse eight red cylinders in two rows of four, assumed to be dynamite.[19] A wire was attached to the cylinders, and a large cylindrical battery was in the briefcase as well.[19][20] After closing the briefcase, he stated his demands: $200,000 in "negotiable American currency";[21] four parachutes (two primary and two reserve); and a fuel truck standing by in Seattle to refuel the aircraft upon arrival.[4][22] Schaffner conveyed Cooper's instructions to the pilots in the cockpit; when she returned, Cooper was wearing dark sunglasses.[4]

The captain, William A. Scott, contacted Seattle–Tacoma Airport air traffic control, which informed local and federal authorities. The 35 other passengers were told that their arrival in Seattle would be delayed because of a "minor mechanical difficulty".[23] Northwest Orient's president, Donald Nyrop, authorized payment of the ransom, and ordered all employees to cooperate fully with the hijacker's demands.[24] The aircraft 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 mobilize emergency personnel.[4]

Flight attendant Tina Mucklow recalled that Cooper appeared familiar with the local terrain; at one point he remarked, "Looks like Tacoma down there", as the aircraft flew above it. He also correctly mentioned that McChord Air Force Base was only a 20-minute drive (at that time) from Seattle-Tacoma Airport. Schaffner described him as calm, polite and well-spoken; not consistent with the stereotypes (enraged, hardened criminals or "take-me-to-Cuba" political dissidents) popularly associated with air piracy at the time.[4] "He wasn't nervous", Mucklow told investigators. "He seemed rather nice. He was never cruel or nasty. He was thoughtful and calm all the time." As Schaffner grasped the enormity of what was happening, Cooper reassured her.[4] He ordered a second bourbon and soda, paid his drink tab (and attempted to give Mucklow the change),[4] and requested meals for the flight crew during the stop in Seattle.[25] 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."[26]

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[27]—and made a microfilm photograph of each of them.[28] Cooper rejected the military-issue parachutes offered by McChord AFB personnel, instead demanding four civilian parachutes with manually operated ripcords. Seattle police obtained them from a local skydiving school.[29][16]

Passengers released[edit]

At 5:24 p.m. PST, Cooper was informed that his demands had been met; and at 5:39 p.m., more than an hour after sunset, the aircraft landed at Seattle-Tacoma Airport in heavy rain.[30] Cooper instructed Scott to taxi the jet to an isolated, brightly lit section of the apron and close all window shades in the cabin to deter police snipers.[31] Northwest Orient's Seattle operations manager, Al Lee, approached the aircraft in street clothes (to avoid the possibility that Cooper might mistake his airline uniform for that of a police officer) and delivered the cash-filled knapsack and parachutes to Mucklow via the aft stairs. Once the delivery was completed, Cooper allowed all passengers, Schaffner, and senior flight attendant Alice Hancock to leave the plane.[32]

The refueling process was delayed; a second and later third truck was brought in to complete refueling.[33] An FAA official requested a face-to-face meeting with Cooper aboard the aircraft, which was denied.[34] Cooper grew impatient, saying, "This shouldn't take so long", and sent a note to the crew saying, "Let's get this show on the road."[35] Cooper outlined his flight plan to the cockpit crew: a southeast course toward Mexico City at the minimum airspeed possible without stalling the aircraft—approximately 100 knots (185 km/h; 115 mph)—at a maximum 10,000-foot (3,000 m) altitude. He further specified that the landing gear remain deployed in the takeoff/landing position, the wing flaps be lowered 15 degrees, and the cabin remain unpressurized.[36] First officer William J. Rataczak informed Cooper that the aircraft's range was limited to approximately 1,000 miles (1,600 km) under the specified flight configuration, which meant that a second refueling would be necessary before entering Mexico. Cooper and the crew discussed options and agreed on Reno, Nevada, as the refueling stop.[37][38] Cooper further directed that the aircraft take off with the rear exit door open and its staircase extended.[citation needed] Northwest's home office objected, on grounds that it was unsafe to take off with the aft staircase deployed. Cooper countered that it was indeed safe, but he would not argue the point; he would lower it once they were airborne.[citation needed]

Back in the air[edit]

Boeing 727 with the aft airstair open

At approximately 7:40 p.m., the Boeing 727 took off with only Cooper, captain Scott, flight attendant Mucklow, first officer Rataczak, and flight engineer Harold E. Anderson on board.[39] Two F-106 fighter aircraft from McChord Air Force Base followed behind the airliner, one above it and one below, out of Cooper's view.[40] 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.[40]

After takeoff, Cooper picked up his briefcase and told Mucklow to show him how to open the door to the aft staircase.[36] He then told her to join the rest of the crew in the cockpit and remain there with the door closed. As she complied, Mucklow observed Cooper preparing the parachutes.[41] 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."[42] This was the last message heard from Cooper.[43] The crew soon noticed a subjective change of air pressure, indicating that the aft door was open.[44] At approximately 8:13 p.m., the aircraft's tail section sustained a sudden upward movement, large enough to require trimming to bring the plane back to level flight.[45] At approximately 10:15 p.m.,[citation needed] the 727 landed, with the aft airstair still deployed, at Reno Airport. FBI agents, state troopers, sheriff's deputies, and Reno police were on hand, although did not approach the plane in case the bomb was still live. Captain Scott confirmed Cooper was no longer aboard, and an FBI bomb squad reported the cabin was clean after a 30-minute sweep.[46]


FBI agents recovered 66 unidentified latent fingerprints aboard the airliner.[6] The agents also found Cooper's black clip-on tie, his tie clip and two of the four parachutes,[47] one of which had been opened and two shroud lines cut from the canopy.[48] Authorities interviewed eyewitnesses in Portland, Seattle and Reno. A series of composite sketches was developed.[49]

Local police and FBI agents immediately began questioning possible suspects.[50] One of the first was an Oregon man with a minor police record named D. B. Cooper, contacted by Portland police on the off-chance that the hijacker had used his real name or the same alias in a previous crime. He was quickly ruled out as a suspect; but a local reporter named James Long, rushing to meet an imminent deadline, confused the eliminated suspect's name with the pseudonym used by the hijacker.[51] A wire service reporter (Clyde Jabin of UPI by most accounts[52][53]) republished the error, followed by numerous other media sources. As a result, "D. B. Cooper" became the most widely remembered pseudonym.[45]

An animation of the 727's rear airstair deploying in flight, with Cooper jumping off. The gravity-operated apparatus remained open until the aircraft landed.

A precise search area was difficult to define, as even small differences in estimates of the aircraft's speed, or the environmental conditions along the flight path (which varied by location and altitude), changed Cooper's projected landing point considerably.[54] An important variable was the length of time he remained in free fall before pulling his ripcord.[35] Neither of the Air Force fighter pilots saw anything exit the airliner, either visually or on radar, nor did they see a parachute open; but at night, with extremely limited visibility and cloud cover obscuring any ground lighting below, an airborne black-clad human figure could easily have gone undetected.[55] The T-33 pilots never made visual contact with the 727.[56]

In an experimental re-creation, with the same aircraft used in the hijacking in the same flight configuration, FBI agents pushed a 200-pound (91 kg) sled out of the open airstair, and were able to reproduce the upward motion of the tail section and brief change in cabin pressure described by the flight crew at 8:13 p.m. It was concluded that 8:13 p.m. was the most likely jump time.[57] At that moment the aircraft was flying through a heavy rainstorm over the Lewis River in southwestern Washington.[54]

Initial extrapolations 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, an artificial lake formed by a dam on the Lewis River.[58] Search efforts focused on Clark and Cowlitz counties, encompassing the terrain immediately south and north, respectively, of the Lewis River in southwest Washington.[59][60] FBI agents and sheriff's deputies from those counties searched large areas of the mountainous wilderness on foot and by helicopter. Door-to-door searches of local farmhouses were also carried out. Other search parties ran patrol boats along Lake Merwin and Yale Lake, the reservoir immediately to its east.[61] No trace of Cooper, nor any of the equipment presumed to have left the aircraft with him, was found.[61]

The FBI also coordinated an aerial search, using fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters from the Oregon Army National Guard, along the entire flight path (known as Victor 23 in US aviation terminology[62] but "Vector 23" in most Cooper literature[4][6]) from Seattle to Reno. Although numerous broken treetops and several pieces of plastic and other objects resembling parachute canopies were sighted and investigated, nothing relevant to the hijacking was found.[63]

Shortly after the spring thaw in early 1972, teams of FBI agents aided by some 200 Army soldiers from Fort Lewis, along with Air Force personnel, National Guardsmen, and civilian volunteers, conducted another thorough ground search of Clark and Cowlitz counties for eighteen days in March, and then an additional eighteen days in April.[64] Electronic Explorations Company, a marine salvage firm, used a submarine to search the 200-foot (61 m) depths of Lake Merwin.[65] Two local women stumbled upon a skeleton in an abandoned structure in Clark County; it was later identified as the remains of Barbara Ann Derry, a teenaged girl who had been abducted and murdered several weeks before.[66][67] Ultimately, the extensive search and recovery operation uncovered no significant material evidence related to the hijacking.[68]

Search for ransom money[edit]

A month after the hijacking, 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. Northwest Orient offered a reward of 15% of the recovered money, to a maximum of $25,000. In early 1972 U.S. Attorney General John N. Mitchell released the serial numbers to the general public.[69] In 1972, two men used counterfeit 20-dollar bills printed with Cooper serial numbers to swindle $30,000 from a Newsweek reporter named Karl Fleming in exchange for an interview with a man they falsely claimed was the hijacker.[70][71]

In early 1973, with the ransom money still missing, The Oregon Journal republished the serial numbers and offered $1,000 to the first person to turn in a ransom bill to the newspaper or any FBI field office. In Seattle, the Post-Intelligencer made a similar offer with a $5,000 reward. The offers remained in effect until Thanksgiving 1974, and though there were several near-matches, no genuine bills were found.[72] In 1975 Northwest Orient's insurer, Global Indemnity Co., complied with an order from the Minnesota Supreme Court and paid the airline's $180,000 claim on the ransom money.[73][74]

Later developments[edit]

Subsequent analyses indicated that the original landing zone estimate was inaccurate: Scott, who was flying the aircraft manually because of Cooper's speed and altitude demands, later determined that his flight path was farther east than initially assumed.[3] Additional data from a variety of sources—in particular Continental Airlines pilot Tom Bohan, who was flying four minutes behind Flight 305—indicated that the wind direction factored into drop zone calculations had been wrong, possibly by as much as 80 degrees.[75] This and other supplemental data suggested that the actual drop zone was south-southeast of the original estimate, in the drainage area of the Washougal River.[76]

FBI Agent Ralph Himmelsbach wrote, "I have to confess, if I [were] going to look for Cooper, I would head for the Washougal."[77] The Washougal Valley and its surroundings have been searched repeatedly by private individuals and groups in subsequent years; to date, no discoveries traceable to the hijacking have been reported.[3] Some investigators have speculated that the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens could have obliterated any remaining physical clues.[78]

Investigation suspended[edit]

On July 8, 2016, the FBI announced that it was suspending active investigation of the Cooper case, citing a need to focus its investigative resources and manpower on issues of higher and more urgent priority. 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.[79][80]

Physical evidence[edit]

Three major pieces of evidence were found on the plane: a black clip-on tie, a mother-of-pearl tie clip, and eight filter-tipped Raleigh cigarette butts. At some time after the hijacking, the cigarette butts were lost.[81]

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.[82]

Recovered ransom money[edit]

Portion of Brian Ingram's 1980 discovery

On February 10, 1980, eight-year-old Brian Ingram was vacationing with his family on the Columbia River at a beachfront known as Tina (or Tena) Bar, about 9 miles (14 km) downstream from Vancouver, Washington, and 20 miles (32 km) southwest of Ariel. He uncovered three packets of the ransom cash as he raked the sandy riverbank to build a campfire. The bills were disintegrated, but still bundled in rubber bands.[83] FBI technicians confirmed that the money was indeed a portion of the ransom: two packets of 100 twenty-dollar bills each, and a third packet of 90, all arranged in the same order as when given to Cooper.[84][85]

The discovery launched several new rounds of conjecture and ultimately raised more questions than it answered. Initial statements by investigators and scientific consultants were founded on the assumption that the bundled bills washed freely into the Columbia River from one of its many connecting tributaries. An Army Corps of Engineers hydrologist noted that the bills had disintegrated in a "rounded" fashion and were matted together, indicating that they had been deposited by river action, as opposed to having been deliberately buried.[86] That conclusion, if correct, supported the opinion that Cooper had not landed near Lake Merwin nor any tributary of the Lewis River, which feeds into the Columbia well downstream from Tina Bar. It also lent credence to supplemental speculation (see Later developments above) that placed the drop zone near the Washougal River, which merges with the Columbia upstream from the discovery site.[87]

However, the "free-floating" hypothesis presented its own difficulties; it did not explain the ten bills missing from one packet, nor was there a logical reason that the three packets would have remained together after separating from the rest of the money. Physical evidence was incompatible with geologic evidence: Himmelsbach wrote that free-floating bundles would have had to wash up on the bank "within a couple of years" of the hijacking; otherwise the rubber bands would have long since deteriorated.[88] Geological evidence suggested, however, that the bills arrived at Tina Bar well after 1974, the year of a Corps of Engineers dredging operation on that stretch of the river. Geologist Leonard Palmer of Portland State University found two distinct layers of sand and sediment between the clay deposited on the riverbank by the dredge and the sand layer in which the bills were buried, indicating that the bills arrived long after dredging had been completed.[86][89]

In late 2020, analysis of diatoms found on the bills suggests that the bundles found at Tina Bar were not submerged in the river or buried dry at the time of the hijacking in November 1971. Only diatoms that bloom during springtime were found, placing the date range that the money entered the water at least several months after the hijacking.[90][91]

In 1986, after protracted negotiations, the recovered bills were divided equally between Ingram and Northwest Orient's insurer; the FBI retained fourteen examples as evidence.[69][92] Ingram sold fifteen of his bills at auction in 2008 for about $37,000.[93]

To date, none of the 9,710 remaining bills have turned up anywhere. Their serial numbers remain available online for public search.[27] The Columbia River ransom money and the airstair instruction placard remain the only confirmed physical evidence from the hijacking ever found outside the aircraft.[94]

Subsequent FBI disclosures[edit]

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,[54] though they later acknowledged that there is no evidence that the hijacker was the source of the sample material. "The tie had two small DNA samples, and one large sample", said Special Agent Fred Gutt. "It's difficult to draw firm conclusions from these samples."[95] The Bureau also made public a file of previously unreleased evidence, including Cooper's 1971 plane ticket (price: $20.00, paid in cash),[96] and posted previously unreleased composite sketches and fact sheets, along with a request to the general public for information which might lead to Cooper's positive identification.[49][54][97]

They also disclosed that Cooper had chosen the older of the two primary parachutes supplied to him, rather than the technically superior professional sport parachute, and that from the two reserve parachutes, he selected a "dummy", an unusable unit with an inoperative ripcord intended for classroom demonstrations,[54] although it had clear markings identifying it to any experienced skydiver as non-functional.[96] (He cannibalized the other, functional reserve parachute, possibly using its shrouds to tie the money bag shut.[54]) The FBI stressed that inclusion of the dummy reserve parachute, one of four obtained in haste from a Seattle skydiving school, was accidental.[96]

In March 2009, the FBI disclosed that Tom Kaye, a paleontologist from the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle, had assembled a team of "citizen sleuths", including scientific illustrator Carol Abraczinskas and metallurgist Alan Stone. The group, eventually known as the Cooper Research Team,[98] reinvestigated important components of the case using GPS, satellite imagery, and other technologies unavailable in 1971.[94] Although they gained little new information about the buried ransom money or Cooper's landing zone, they were able to find and analyze hundreds of minute particles on Cooper's tie using electron microscopy. Lycopodium spores (likely from a pharmaceutical product) were identified, as well as fragments of bismuth and aluminum.[98]

In November 2011, Kaye announced that particles of pure (unalloyed) titanium had also been found on the tie. He explained that titanium, which was much rarer in the 1970s than in the 2010s, was at that time found only in metal fabrication or production facilities, or at chemical companies using it (combined with aluminum) to store extremely corrosive substances.[99] The findings weakly suggested that Cooper might have worked in such a metal or chemical manufacturing plant.[100]

In January 2017, Kaye reported that rare earth minerals such as cerium and strontium sulfide had also been identified among particles 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.[101][102] Other possible sources of the material included factories that manufactured cathode ray tubes, such as the Portland firms Teledyne and Tektronix.[103]

Theories, hypotheses and conjecture[edit]

FBI sketches of Cooper, with age progression

Over the 45-year span of its active investigation, the FBI periodically made public some of its working hypotheses and tentative conclusions, drawn from witness testimony and the scarce physical evidence.[104]

Suspect profiling[edit]

The official physical description of Cooper has remained unchanged and is considered reliable. Flight attendants Schaffner and Mucklow, who spent the most time with Cooper, were interviewed on the same night in separate cities,[105] and gave nearly identical descriptions: around 5 feet 10 inches (1.78 m) tall, 180 pounds (82 kg), mid-40s, with close-set piercing brown eyes and swarthy skin.[106]

Cooper appeared to be familiar with the Seattle area and may have been an Air Force veteran, based on testimony that he recognized the city of Tacoma from the air as the jet circled Puget Sound, and his accurate comment to Mucklow that McChord AFB was approximately 20 minutes' driving time from the Seattle-Tacoma Airport—a detail most civilians would not know, or comment upon.[107] His financial situation was very likely desperate. According to the FBI's retired chief investigator, Ralph Himmelsbach, extortionists and other criminals who steal large amounts of money nearly always do so because they need it urgently; otherwise, the crime is not worth the considerable risk.[108] Alternatively, Cooper may have been "a thrill seeker" who made the jump "just to prove it could be done".[77]

Agents theorized that Cooper took his alias from a popular French-language Belgian comics series featuring the fictional hero Dan Cooper, a Royal Canadian Air Force test pilot who took part in numerous heroic adventures, including parachuting. (One cover from the series, reproduced on the FBI website, depicts test pilot Cooper skydiving.)[94] Because the Dan Cooper comics were never translated into English, nor imported to the U.S., they speculated that he had encountered them during a tour of duty in Europe.[94]

Knowledge and planning[edit]

Evidence suggested that Cooper was knowledgeable about flying technique, aircraft, and the terrain. He demanded four parachutes to force the assumption that he might compel one or more hostages to jump with him, thus ensuring he would not be deliberately supplied with sabotaged equipment.[109] He chose a 727-100 aircraft because it was ideal for a bail-out escape, owing not only to its aft airstair but also to the high, aftward placement of all three engines, which allowed a reasonably safe jump despite the proximity of the engine exhaust. It had "single-point fueling" capability, a then-recent innovation that allowed all tanks to be refueled rapidly through a single fuel port. It also had the ability (unusual for a commercial jet airliner) to remain in slow, low-altitude flight without stalling, and Cooper knew how to control its airspeed and altitude without entering the cockpit, where he could have been overpowered by the three pilots.[110] In addition, Cooper was familiar with important details, such as the appropriate flap setting of 15 degrees (which was unique to that aircraft), and the typical refueling time.[111] He knew that the aft airstair could be lowered during flight—a fact never disclosed to civilian flight crews, since there was no situation on a passenger flight that would make it necessary—and that its operation, by a single switch in the rear of the cabin, could not be overridden from the cockpit.[112] He also may have known that the Central Intelligence Agency was, at the time, using 727s to drop agents and supplies behind enemy lines during the Vietnam War.[113]

Assuming that Cooper was not a paratrooper, but was an Air Force veteran, Special Agent Larry Carr suggested the possibility that he was an aircraft cargo loader. Such an assignment would have given him knowledge and experience in the aviation field; and loaders—because they throw cargo out of flying aircraft—wear emergency parachutes and receive rudimentary jump training. Such training would have given Cooper a working knowledge of parachutes—but "not necessarily sufficient knowledge to survive the jump he made".[114]


The FBI was skeptical of Cooper's odds of survival, concluding that Cooper lacked crucial skydiving skills and experience. "We originally thought Cooper was an experienced jumper, perhaps even a paratrooper", said Special Agent Larry Carr, leader of the investigative team from 2006 until its dissolution in 2016. "We concluded after a few years this was simply not true. No experienced parachutist would have jumped in the pitch-black night, in the rain, with a 172 mph [77 m/s] wind in his face wearing loafers and a trench coat. It was simply too risky. He also missed that his reserve parachute was only for training and had been sewn shut, something a skilled skydiver would have checked."[94] He also failed to bring or request a helmet,[115] chose to jump with the older and technically inferior of the two primary parachutes supplied to him,[54] and jumped into a probable 15 °F (−9 °C) wind at 10,000 feet (3,000 m) in November over Washington state without proper protection against the extreme wind chill.[116][114]

The FBI speculated from the beginning that Cooper did not survive his jump.[94] "Diving into the wilderness without a plan, without the right equipment, in such terrible conditions, he probably never even got his chute open", said Carr.[105] Even if he did land safely, agents contended that survival in the mountainous terrain at the onset of winter would have been all but impossible without an accomplice at a predetermined landing point. This would have required a precisely timed jump—necessitating, in turn, cooperation from the flight crew. There is no evidence that Cooper requested or received any such help from the crew, nor that he had any clear idea where he was when he jumped into the stormy, overcast darkness.[106]

Statute of limitations[edit]

In 1976, discussion arose over impending expiration of the statute of limitations on the hijacking. Most published legal analyses agreed that it would make little difference,[117] as interpretation of the statute varies considerably from case to case and court to court, and a prosecutor could argue that Cooper had forfeited legal immunity on any of several valid technical grounds.[118] The question was rendered moot in November when a Portland grand jury returned an indictment in absentia against "John Doe, aka Dan Cooper" for air piracy and violation of the Hobbs Act.[119] The indictment formally initiated prosecution that can be continued, should the hijacker be apprehended at any time in the future.[119]


Between 1971 and 2016, the FBI processed more than a thousand "serious suspects", including assorted publicity seekers and deathbed confessors.[6] Some notable examples:[115][120][121]

Kenneth Peter Christiansen[edit]

In 2003, Minnesota resident Lyle Christiansen watched a television documentary about the Cooper hijacking. He became convinced that his late brother Kenneth (1926–1994) was Cooper.[4] After repeated futile attempts to convince first the FBI, and then the author and film director Nora Ephron (who he hoped would make a movie about the case), he contacted a private investigator in New York City. In 2010, the detective, Skipp Porteous, published a book postulating that Christiansen was the hijacker.[122] The following year, an episode of the History series Brad Meltzer's Decoded also summarized the circumstantial evidence linking Christiansen to the Cooper case.[123]

Christiansen enlisted in the Army in 1944 and was trained as a paratrooper. The war had ended by the time he was deployed in 1945, but he made occasional training jumps while stationed in Japan with occupation forces in the late 1940s. After leaving the Army, he joined Northwest Orient in 1954 as a mechanic in the South Pacific, and subsequently became a flight attendant, and then a purser, based in Seattle.[4] Christiansen was 45 years old at the time of the hijacking, but he was shorter (5 ft 8 in or 173 cm), thinner (150 pounds or 68 kg), and lighter than eyewitness descriptions of Cooper.[4] Christiansen smoked (as did the hijacker), and displayed a fondness for bourbon (the drink Cooper had requested).[105] 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 conclusively identify him.[4][124]

Despite the publicity generated by Porteous's book and the 2011 television documentary, the FBI stands by its position that Christiansen cannot be considered a prime suspect.[54][125] It cites the poor match to eyewitness physical descriptions, a level of skydiving expertise above that predicted by their suspect profile, and a complete absence of direct incriminating evidence.[126]

Jack Coffelt[edit]

Bryant "Jack" Coffelt (1917–1975) was a con man, ex-convict, and purported government informant who claimed to have been the chauffeur and confidant of Abraham Lincoln's last undisputed descendant, great-grandson Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith. In 1972 he began claiming he was Cooper, and attempted through an intermediary, a former cellmate named James Brown, to sell his story to a Hollywood production company. He said he landed near Mount Hood, about 50 miles (80 km) southeast of Ariel, injuring himself and losing the ransom money in the process. Photos of Coffelt bear a resemblance to the composite drawings, although he was in his mid-fifties in 1971. He was reportedly in Portland on the day of the hijacking, and sustained leg injuries around that time which were consistent with a skydiving mishap.[127]

Coffelt's account was reviewed by the FBI, which concluded that it differed in several details from information that had not been made public, and was therefore a fabrication.[128] Brown, undeterred, continued peddling the story long after Coffelt died in 1975. Multiple media venues, including the CBS news program 60 Minutes, considered and rejected it.[129]

Lynn Doyle Cooper[edit]

L.D. Cooper (1931–1999), a leather worker and Korean War veteran, was proposed as a suspect in July 2011 by his niece, Marla Cooper.[130][131] As an eight-year-old, she recalled Cooper and another uncle planning something "very mischievous", involving the use of "expensive walkie-talkies", at her grandmother's house in Sisters, Oregon, 150 miles (240 km) southeast of Portland.[132] 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.[125] Later, she said, her parents came to believe that L.D. Cooper was the hijacker. She also recalled that her uncle, who died in 1999, was obsessed with the Canadian comic book hero Dan Cooper (see § Theories, hypotheses and conjectures), and "had one of his comic books thumbtacked to his wall"—although he was not a skydiver or paratrooper.[133]

In August 2011, New York magazine published an alternative witness sketch, reportedly based on a description by Flight 305 eyewitness Robert Gregory, depicting horn-rimmed sunglasses, a "russet"-colored suit jacket with wide lapels, and marcelled hair. The article notes that L.D. Cooper had wavy hair that looked marcelled (as did Duane Weber).[134] The FBI announced that no fingerprints had been found on a guitar strap made by L.D. Cooper.[135] One week later, they added that his DNA did not match the partial DNA profile obtained from the hijacker's tie, but acknowledged that there is no certainty that the hijacker was the source of the organic material obtained from the tie.[95]

Barbara Dayton[edit]

Barbara Dayton (1926–2002), a recreational pilot and University of Washington librarian who was born Robert Dayton, served in the U.S. Merchant Marine and then the Army during World War II.[136] 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 underwent gender reassignment surgery in 1969 and changed her name to Barbara. She claimed to have staged the Cooper hijacking two years later, disguised as a man, in order to "get back" at the airline industry and the FAA, whose insurmountable rules and conditions had prevented her from becoming an airline pilot.[137] Dayton said that the ransom money was hidden in a cistern near Woodburn, a suburban area south of Portland, but eventually recanted the entire story, ostensibly after learning that hijacking charges could still be brought. The FBI has never commented publicly on Dayton, who died in 2002.[136][138]

William Gossett[edit]

William Pratt Gossett (1930–2003) was a Marine Corps, Army, and Army Air Forces veteran who saw action in Korea and Vietnam. His military experience included jump training and wilderness survival. Gossett was known to be obsessed with the Cooper hijacking. According to Galen Cook, a lawyer who has collected information related to Gossett for years, Gossett once showed his sons a key to a Vancouver, British Columbia, safe deposit box which, he claimed, contained the long-missing ransom money.[139]

The FBI has no direct evidence implicating Gossett, and cannot even reliably place him in the Pacific Northwest at the time of the hijacking.[140] "There is not one link to the D.B. Cooper case," said Special Agent Carr, "other than the statements [Gossett] made to someone".[141]

John List[edit]

John Emil List (1925–2008) was an accountant and World War II and Korean War veteran who murdered his wife, three teenage children, and 85-year-old mother in Westfield, New Jersey, fifteen days before the Cooper hijacking, withdrew $200,000 from his mother's bank account, and disappeared.[142] He came to the attention of the Cooper task force due to the timing of his disappearance, multiple matches to the hijacker's description, and the reasoning that "a fugitive accused of mass murder has nothing to lose".[143] After his capture in 1989, List admitted to murdering his family, but denied any involvement in the Cooper hijacking. Although his name continues to appear in Cooper articles and documentaries, no substantial evidence implicates him, and the FBI no longer considers him a suspect.[144] He died in prison in 2008.[145]

Ted Mayfield[edit]

Theodore Ernest Mayfield (1935–2015) was a Special Forces veteran, pilot, competitive skydiver, and skydiving instructor. He served time in 1994 for negligent homicide after two of his students died when their parachutes failed to open.[146] Later, he was found indirectly responsible for thirteen additional skydiving deaths due to faulty equipment and training. He was also arrested (but not convicted) for armed robbery in his youth.[147] In 2010, he was sentenced to three years' probation for piloting a plane 26 years after losing his pilot's license and rigging certificates.[148] He was suggested repeatedly as a suspect early in the investigation, according to FBI Agent Ralph Himmelsbach, who knew Mayfield from a prior dispute at a local airport. He was ruled out, based partly on the fact that he called Himmelsbach less than two hours after Flight 305 landed in Reno to volunteer advice on standard skydiving practices and possible landing zones, as well as information on local skydivers.[149][147] Additionally, Mayfield's daughter says she called him at his home number the night of the Cooper hijacking; he answered and calmly discussed the incident and his phone call with the FBI.[147]

In 2006, two amateur researchers named Daniel Dvorak and Matthew Myers proposed Mayfield as a suspect once again.[147] They suggested that Mayfield called Himmelsbach not to offer advice, but to establish an alibi; they also challenged Himmelsbach's conclusion that Mayfield could not possibly have found a phone in time to call the FBI less than four hours after jumping into the wilderness at night.[147] Mayfield denied any involvement. The FBI offered no comment beyond Himmelsbach's original statement that Mayfield was ruled out as a suspect early on.[149][147]

Richard McCoy Jr.[edit]

Richard McCoy Jr.

McCoy (1942–1974) was an Army veteran who served two tours of duty in Vietnam, first as a demolition expert, and later with the Green Berets as a helicopter pilot.[150] After his military service he became a warrant officer in the Utah National Guard and an avid recreational skydiver, with aspirations, he said, of becoming a Utah State Trooper.[151]

On April 7, 1972, McCoy staged the best-known of the so-called "copycat" hijackings (see below).[152] He boarded United Airlines' Flight 855 (a Boeing 727 with aft stairs) in Denver, Colorado, and brandishing what later proved to be a paperweight resembling a hand grenade and an unloaded handgun, he demanded four parachutes and $500,000.[143] After delivery of the money and parachutes at San Francisco International Airport, McCoy ordered the aircraft back into the sky and bailed out over Provo, Utah, leaving behind his handwritten hijacking instructions and his fingerprints on a magazine he had been reading.[153]

He was arrested on April 9 with the ransom cash in his possession, and after trial and conviction, received a 45-year sentence.[151][154] Two years later he escaped from Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary with several accomplices by crashing a garbage truck through the main gate.[155] Tracked down three months later in Virginia Beach, McCoy was killed in a shootout with FBI agents.[152][156]

In their 1991 book, D.B. Cooper: The Real McCoy, parole officer Bernie Rhodes and former FBI agent Russell Calame asserted that they had identified McCoy as Cooper.[157] They cited obvious similarities in the two hijackings, claims by McCoy's family that the tie and mother-of-pearl tie clip left on the plane belonged to McCoy, and McCoy's own refusal to admit or deny that he was Cooper.[152][158] A proponent of their claim was the FBI agent who killed McCoy. "When I shot Richard McCoy", he said, "I shot D. B. Cooper at the same time."[152]

Although there is no reasonable doubt that McCoy committed the Denver hijacking, the FBI does not consider him a suspect in the Cooper case because of mismatches in age and description;[159][160] a level of skydiving skill well above that thought to be possessed by the hijacker;[105] and credible evidence that McCoy was in Las Vegas on the day of the Portland hijacking,[69] and at home in Utah the day after, having Thanksgiving dinner with his family.[125][161]

Sheridan Peterson[edit]

The 1971 sketch of Cooper's description, and photo of Peterson from around the same time.

Sheridan Peterson (1926–2021) served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II and was later employed as a technical editor at Boeing, based in Seattle. Investigators took an interest in Peterson as a suspect soon after the skyjacking because of his experience as a smokejumper and love of taking physical risks, as well as his similar appearance and age (44) to the Cooper description.

Peterson often teased the media about whether he was really D.B. Cooper. Entrepreneur Eric Ulis, who spent years investigating the crime, said he was "98% convinced" that Peterson was Cooper; but when pressed by FBI agents, Peterson insisted he was in Nepal at the time of the skyjacking. He died in 2021.[162]

Robert Rackstraw[edit]

FBI sketch of D.B. Cooper from 1971 compared to 1970 Army ID picture of Robert Rackstraw.

Robert Wesley Rackstraw (1943–2019) was a retired pilot and ex-convict who served on an army helicopter crew and other units during the Vietnam War. He came to the attention of the Cooper task force in February 1978, after he was arrested in Iran and deported to the U.S. to face explosives possession and check kiting charges. Several months later, while released on bail, Rackstraw attempted to fake his own death by radioing a false mayday call and telling controllers that he was bailing out of a rented plane over Monterey Bay.[163] Police later arrested him in Fullerton on an additional charge of forging federal pilot certificates; the plane he claimed to have ditched was found, repainted, in a nearby hangar.[164][165] Cooper investigators noted his physical resemblance to Cooper composite sketches (although he was only 28 in 1971[166]), military parachute training, and criminal record, but eliminated him as a suspect in 1979 after no direct evidence of his involvement could be found.[167][168]

In 2016, Rackstraw re-emerged as a suspect in a History program[169] and a book.[170] On September 8, 2016, Thomas J. Colbert, the author of the book, and attorney Mark Zaid filed a lawsuit to compel the FBI to release its Cooper case file under the Freedom of Information Act.[171]

In 2017, Colbert and a group of volunteer investigators uncovered what they believed to be "a decades-old parachute strap" at an undisclosed location in the Pacific Northwest.[172] This was followed later in 2017 with a piece of foam, which they suspected of being part of Cooper's parachute backpack.[173]

In January 2018, Tom and Dawna Colbert reported that they had obtained a "confession" letter originally written in December 1971 containing "codes" that matched three units Rackstraw was a part of while in the Army.[174][175]

One of the Flight 305 flight attendants reportedly "did not find any similarities" between photos of Rackstraw from the 1970s and her recollection of Cooper's appearance.[166] Rackstraw's attorney called the renewed allegations "the stupidest thing I've ever heard",[176] and Rackstraw himself told People.com, "It's a lot of [expletive], and they know it is."[166] The FBI declined further comment.[171] Rackstraw stated in a 2017 phone interview that he lost his job over the 2016 investigations.[177] "I told everybody I was [the hijacker]", Rackstraw told Colbert, before explaining the admission was a stunt. He died in 2019.[178]

Walter R. Reca[edit]

Walter R. Reca (1933–2014) was a Michigan native, military veteran, and member of the Michigan Parachute Team.[179][180] He was proposed as a suspect by his friend Carl Laurin at a press conference on May 17, 2018.[181][182] In 2008, Reca told Laurin via a recorded phone call that he was the hijacker.[183]

Reca gave Laurin permission in a notarized letter to share his story after his death. He also allowed Laurin to tape their phone conversations about the crime over a six-week period in late 2008. In over three hours of recordings, Reca shared details about his version of the hijacking. He also confessed to his niece, Lisa Story.[184]

From Reca's description of the terrain on his way to the drop zone, Laurin concluded that he landed near Cle Elum, Washington. After Reca described an encounter with a dump truck driver at a roadside cafe after he landed, Laurin located Jeff Osiadacz, who was driving his dump truck near Cle Elum the night of November 24, 1971 and met a stranger at the Teanaway Junction Café just outside of town. The man asked Osiadacz to give his friend directions to the café over the phone, presumably to be picked up, and he complied.[185] Laurin convinced Joe Koenig, a former member of the Michigan State Police, of Reca's guilt.[186] Koenig later published a book on Cooper, titled Getting the Truth: I Am D.B. Cooper.[187]

These claims have aroused skepticism. Cle Elum is well north and east of Flight 305's known flight path, more than 150 miles (240 km) north of the drop zone assumed by most analysts, and even further from Tina Bar, where a portion of the ransom money was found. Reca was a military paratrooper and private skydiver with hundreds of jumps to his credit, in contradiction to the FBI's publicized profile of an amateur skydiver at best. Reca also did not resemble the composite portrait the FBI assembled, which Laurin and Osiadacz used to explain why Osiadacz's suspicions were not aroused at the time.[185] In response to the allegations against Reca, the FBI said that it would be inappropriate to comment on specific tips provided to them, and that no evidence to date had proved the culpability of any suspect beyond a reasonable doubt.[188]

William J. Smith[edit]

In November 2018, The Oregonian published an article proposing William J. Smith (1928–2018), of Bloomfield, New Jersey,[189] as a suspect. The article was based on research conducted by an Army data analyst, who sent his findings to the FBI in mid-2018.[190] Smith, a New Jersey native, was a World War II veteran. After high school, he enlisted in the Navy and volunteered for combat air crew training. After his discharge, he worked for the Lehigh Valley Railroad and was affected by the Penn Central Transportation Company bankruptcy in 1970, the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history at that time. The article proposed that the loss of his pension created a grudge against the corporate establishment and transportation field. It also created a sudden need for money. He was 43 at the time of the hijacking. In Smith's high school yearbook, a list of alumni killed in World War II lists an Ira Daniel Cooper, possibly the source for the hijacker's pseudonym.[190] The analyst claimed that Smith's naval aviation experience would have given him knowledge of planes and parachutes, and his railroad experience would have helped him find railroad tracks and hop on a train to escape the area after landing.[191]

According to the analyst, aluminum spiral chips found on the clip-on tie could have come from a locomotive maintenance facility. Smith's information about the Seattle area may have come from his close friend Dan Clair, who was stationed at Fort Lewis during World War II. (The analyst noted that the man who claimed to be Cooper in Max Gunther's 1985 book identified himself as "Dan LeClair".[190]) Smith and Clair worked together for Conrail in Newark, New Jersey, at the Oak Island Yard. Smith retired from that facility as a yardmaster. The article noted that a picture of Smith on the Lehigh Valley Railroad website showed a "remarkable resemblance" to Cooper FBI sketches.[192] The FBI said that it would be inappropriate to comment on tips related to Smith.[190]

Duane L. Weber[edit]

Duane L. Weber (1924–1995) was a World War II Army veteran who served time in at least six prisons from 1945 to 1968 for burglary and forgery. He was proposed as a suspect by his widow, based primarily on a deathbed confession: three days before he died in 1995, Weber told his wife Jo, "I am Dan Cooper." The name meant nothing to her, she said; but months later, a friend told her of its significance in the hijacking. She went to her local library to research D.B. Cooper, found Max Gunther's book, and discovered notations in the margins in her husband's handwriting.[6] Like the hijacker, Weber drank bourbon and chain-smoked. Other circumstantial evidence included a 1979 trip to Seattle and the Columbia River.[6]

Himmelsbach said "[Weber] does fit the physical description (and) does have the criminal background that I have always felt was associated with the case", but did not believe Weber was Cooper.[193] The FBI eliminated Weber as an active suspect in July 1998 when his fingerprints did not match any of those processed in the hijacked plane,[194] and no other direct evidence could be found to implicate him.[6] Later, his DNA also failed to match the samples recovered from Cooper's tie.[54][125]

Similar hijackings[edit]

Cooper was not the first to attempt air piracy for personal gain. In early November 1971, for example, a Canadian man named Paul Joseph Cini hijacked an Air Canada DC-8 over Montana, but was overpowered by the crew when he put down his shotgun to strap on the parachute he had brought with him.[195] Cooper's apparent success inspired a flurry of imitators, mostly during 1972. Some notable examples from that year:

  • Garrett Brock Trapnell hijacked a TWA airliner en route from Los Angeles to New York City on January 28. He demanded $306,800 in cash, the release of Angela Davis, and an audience with President Richard Nixon. After the aircraft landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport, he was shot and wounded by FBI agents, then arrested.[196]
  • Richard Charles LaPoint, an Army veteran and "New England beach bum",[197] boarded Hughes Airwest Flight 800 at McCarran airport in Las Vegas on January 20. Brandishing what he claimed was a bomb while the DC-9 was on the taxiway, he demanded $50,000, two parachutes, and a helmet.[198] After releasing the 51 passengers and two flight attendants, he ordered the plane on an eastward trajectory toward Denver,[199] then bailed out over the treeless plains of northeastern Colorado. Authorities, tracking the locator-equipped parachute and his footprints in the snow and mud, apprehended him a few hours later.[200][201][202]
  • Richard McCoy Jr., a former Army Green Beret, hijacked a United Airlines 727-100 on April 7 after it left Denver, Colorado, diverted it to San Francisco, then bailed out over Utah with $500,000 in ransom money. He landed safely, but was arrested two days later.[203]
  • Frederick Hahneman used a handgun to hijack an Eastern Air Lines 727 in Allentown, Pennsylvania on May 7, demanded $303,000, and eventually parachuted into Honduras, his country of birth. A month later, with the FBI in pursuit and a $25,000 bounty on his head, he surrendered at the American Embassy in Tegucigalpa.[204]
  • Martin McNally, an unemployed service-station attendant, used a submachine gun on June 23 to commandeer an American Airlines 727 en route from St. Louis to Tulsa, then diverted it eastward to Indiana and bailed out with $500,000 in ransom.[205] McNally lost the ransom money as he exited the aircraft, but landed safely near Peru, Indiana and was apprehended a few days later in a Detroit suburb.[206]

Fifteen hijackings similar to Cooper's—all unsuccessful—were attempted in 1972.[207] With the advent of universal luggage searches in 1973 (see Airport security), the general incidence of hijackings dropped dramatically.[208] There were no further notable Cooper imitators until July 11, 1980, when Glenn K. Tripp seized Northwest flight 608 at Seattle-Tacoma Airport, demanding $600,000 ($100,000 by an independent account),[209] two parachutes, and the assassination of his boss. A quick-thinking flight attendant secretly drugged Tripp's alcoholic beverage with Valium. After a 10-hour standoff, during which Tripp reduced his demands to three cheeseburgers and a ground vehicle in which to escape, he was apprehended.[210] Tripp would later attempt to hijack the same Northwest flight on January 21, 1983, and this time demanded to be flown to Afghanistan. When the plane landed in Portland, he was shot and killed by FBI agents.[211]


Airport security[edit]

The Cooper hijacking marked the beginning of the end for unfettered and unscrutinized commercial airline travel. Despite the initiation of the federal Sky Marshal Program the previous year,[208] 31 hijackings were committed in U.S. airspace in 1972; 19 of them were for the specific purpose of extorting money and most of the rest were attempts to reach Cuba.[212] In 15 of the extortion cases, the hijackers also demanded parachutes.[207] In early 1973, the FAA began requiring airlines to search all passengers and their bags. Amid multiple lawsuits charging that such searches violated Fourth Amendment protections against search and seizure, federal courts ruled that they were acceptable when applied universally, and when limited to searches for weapons and explosives.[208] Only two hijackings were attempted in 1973, both by psychiatric patients; one hijacker, Samuel Byck, intended to crash the airliner into the White House to kill President Nixon.[213]

Aircraft modifications[edit]

A Cooper vane in the unlocked position

Due to multiple "copycat" hijackings in 1972, the FAA required that the exterior of all Boeing 727 aircraft be fitted with a spring-loaded device, later dubbed the "Cooper vane", that prevents lowering of the aft airstair during flight.[214] The device consists of a flat blade of aluminum mounted on a pivot. The pivot is at the center of the blade. The vane is fastened to the forward end of the blade forward of the pivot and extends away from the fuselage. The long edge of the vane is perpendicular to the blade. When the airplane is in flight, the force of air pushing against the vane exceeds the resistance of the spring and rotates the vane and blade about the pivot so that the vane becomes parallel with the airflow. This places the portion of the blade aft of the pivot over the edge of the airstair and physically blocks the airstair from opening. When the airplane is on the ground and the force of the spring is greater than the airflow against the vane, the spring rotates the vane perpendicular to the airflow and pivots the blade away from the edge of the airstair. This allows normal operation of the airstair on the ground. Operation of the vane is automatic and cannot be overridden from within the aircraft.[208][215] As a direct result of the hijacking, the installation of peepholes was mandated in all cockpit doors. This enables the cockpit crew to observe passengers without opening the cockpit door.[112]

Subsequent history of N467US[edit]

The aircraft involved in the hijacking in 1979 while in service with Piedmont Airlines

In 1978, the hijacked 727-100 aircraft was sold by Northwest to Piedmont Airlines where it was re-registered N838N and continued in domestic carrier service.[216] In 1984, it was purchased by the charter company Key Airlines, re-registered N29KA, and incorporated into the Air Force's civilian charter fleet that shuttled workers between Nellis Air Force Base and the Tonopah Test Range during the F-117 Nighthawk development program.[217] In 1996, the aircraft was scrapped for parts in a Memphis boneyard.[69]

Death of Earl J. Cossey[edit]

On April 23, 2013, Earl J. Cossey, the owner of the skydiving school that furnished the four parachutes that were given to Cooper, was found dead in his home in Woodinville, a suburb of Seattle. His death was ruled a homicide due to blunt-force trauma to the head. The perpetrator remains unknown.[218] Some commenters alleged possible links to the Cooper case,[219] but authorities responded that they have no reason to believe that any such link exists.[220] Woodinville officials later announced that burglary was most likely the motive for the crime.[221]

In popular culture[edit]

Himmelsbach famously called Cooper a "rotten sleazy crook",[222] but his bold and unusual crime inspired a cult following that was expressed in song, film, and literature. Restaurants and bowling alleys in the Pacific Northwest hold regular Cooper-themed promotions and sell tourist souvenirs. A "Cooper Day" celebration has been held at the Ariel General Store and Tavern each November since 1974 with the exception of 2015, the year its owner, Dona Elliot, died.[223]

Cooper has appeared in the story lines of the television series Prison Break, The Blacklist, NewsRadio, Leverage, Journeyman, Renegade, Numb3rs, 30 Rock, Drunk History, and Loki, as well as the 1981 film The Pursuit of D. B. Cooper, the 2004 film Without a Paddle, and a book titled The Vesuvius Prophecy, based on The 4400 TV series.[224]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Grossweiler, Ed (November 26, 1971). "Hijacker bails out with loot". Free Lance-Star. (Fredericksburg, Virginia). Associated Press. p. 1.
  2. ^ "Wilderness area combed for parachute skyjacker". The Bulletin. (Bend, Oregon). UPI. November 26, 1971. p. 1.
  3. ^ a b c Seven, Richard (November 17, 1996). "D.B. Cooper – Perfect Crime or Perfect Folly?". The Seattle Times. Archived from the original on October 2, 2012. Retrieved April 24, 2011.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Gray, Geoffrey (October 21, 2007). "Unmasking D.B. Cooper". New York magazine. ISSN 0028-7369. Archived from the original on October 22, 2007. Retrieved April 24, 2011.
  5. ^ Himmelsbach & Worcester 1986, p. 135.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Pasternak, Douglas (July 24, 2000). "Skyjacker at large". U.S. News & World Report. 129 (4): 72–73. ISSN 0041-5537.
  7. ^ "F.B.I. makes new bid to find 1971 skyjacker". The San Francisco Chronicle. Associated Press. January 2, 2008. Archived from the original on January 2, 2008. Retrieved January 2, 2008.
  8. ^ McNerthney, Casey (July 12, 2016). "D.B. Cooper case no longer actively investigated by FBI". Kiro7.com. Archived from the original on July 13, 2016. Retrieved July 12, 2016.
  9. ^ Olson, James S. (1999). Historical Dictionary of the 1970s. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. p. 107. ISBN 978-0313305436.
  10. ^ Ali, Lorraine (November 25, 2020). "49 years ago, D.B. Cooper became an ideal hero for cynical times. He still is". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 13, 2022.
  11. ^ "FBI.gov History". Archived from the original on November 5, 2016. Retrieved December 3, 2019.
  12. ^ "Hijacked plane makes landing at Seattle airport". Spokesman-Review. Associated Press. November 25, 1971. p. 1. Archived from the original on March 23, 2020. Retrieved September 22, 2018.
  13. ^ Bragg, Lynn E. (2005). Myths and Mysteries of Washington. Guilford, Connecticut: Globe Pequot. p. 2. ISBN 978-0762734276.
  14. ^ Steven, Richard (November 24, 1996). "When D.B. Cooper Dropped From Sky: Where did the daring, He jumped off the plane. mysterious skyjacker go? Twenty-five years later, the search is still on for even a trace". The Philadelphia Inquirer. p. A20.
  15. ^ "Unmasking D.B. Cooper". New York Magazine. Archived from the original on August 16, 2016. Retrieved June 28, 2016.
  16. ^ a b "D.B. Cooper". Crimemuseum.org. Archived from the original on June 29, 2016. Retrieved June 28, 2016.
  17. ^ Himmelsbach & Worcester 1986, p. 13.
  18. ^ "The D.B. Cooper Mystery". FBI.gov. Archived from the original on October 13, 2010. Retrieved June 28, 2016.
  19. ^ a b When Schaffner's description was relayed to the FBI command post in Portland, agents pointed out that dynamite sticks are typically brown or beige in color; the eight red cylinders were probably highway or railroad flares. But because they could not be certain, intervention could not be recommended. (Himmelsbach & Worcester 1986, pp. 40–41)
  20. ^ "Transcript of Crew Communications" (PDF). N467us.com. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 21, 2013. Retrieved February 25, 2011.
  21. ^ According to most sources, Cooper directed that the ransom be supplied in the form of 20-dollar bills; but Himmelsbach, who was present when the demands were first received, wrote that he specified only "negotiable American currency, denomination not important." (Himmelsbach & Worcester 1986, p. 18) All sources agree that the ransom was supplied in the form of 20-dollar bills.
  22. ^ Himmelsbach & Worcester 1986, p. 18.
  23. ^ Himmelsbach & Worcester 1986, p. 20.
  24. ^ Himmelsbach & Worcester 1986, p. 19.
  25. ^ Himmelsbach & Worcester 1986, p. 22.
  26. ^ Perry, Douglas (November 15, 2018). "New suspect in D.B. Cooper skyjacking case unearthed by Army data analyst; FBI stays mum". The Oregonian. Retrieved January 13, 2022.
  27. ^ a b "D B Cooper's Loot Serial Number Searcher". Check-six.com. October 19, 2010. Archived from the original on June 17, 2008. Retrieved November 29, 2010.
  28. ^ Himmelsbach & Worcester 1986, p. 25.
  29. ^ Himmelsbach & Worcester 1986, p. 28.
  30. ^ Ingram, Lydia (December 15, 2019). "Tracking D.B. Cooper". ArcGIS StoryMaps. Retrieved January 13, 2022.
  31. ^ "Mystery: D. B. Cooper". Unsolved Mysteries. Series 1. Episode 2. October 12, 1988. NBC.
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  33. ^ Himmelsbach & Worcester 1986, pp. 35–36.
  34. ^ Rothenberg, David; Ulvaeus, Marta (1999). The New Earth Reader: The Best of Terra Nova. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. p. 4. ISBN 978-0262181952.
  35. ^ a b Caldwell, Earl (November 26, 1971). "Hijacker Collects Ransom of $200,000; Parachutes From Jet and Disappears". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 13, 2022.
  36. ^ a b Rothenberg & Ulvaeus 1999, p. 5.
  37. ^ Buergin, Miles (October 14, 2020). "Knowing Nevada: Revisiting the Mystery of D.B. Cooper". KRNV. Retrieved January 13, 2022.
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  39. ^ Himmelsbach & Worcester 1986, p. 36.
  40. ^ a b Himmelsbach & Worcester 1986, p. 45-46.
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  45. ^ a b Bragg 2005, p. 4
  46. ^ Himmelsbach & Worcester 1986, p. 48.
  47. ^ Earl Cossey, the skydiving instructor who supplied the parachutes, told some sources that three of the four parachutes (one primary and both reserves) were returned to him. The FBI has always maintained that only two parachutes, a primary and a cannibalized reserve, were found aboard the plane. (Gunther 1985, p. 50)
  48. ^ Cowan, James (January 3, 2008). "F.B.I. reheats cold case". National Post. Archived from the original on January 21, 2008. Retrieved January 9, 2008.
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  53. ^ Browning, William (July 18, 2016). "A reporter's role in the notorious unsolved mystery of 'D.B. Cooper'". Columbia Journalism Review. New York. Archived from the original on July 21, 2016. Retrieved July 19, 2016.
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  • Colbert, Thomas J.; Szollosi, Tom (2016). The Last Master Outlaw: How He Outfoxed the FBI Six Times – but Not a Cold Case Team (1st ed.). Jacaranda Roots Publishing. p. 330. ISBN 978-0997740431.
  • Gunther, Max (1985). D. B. Cooper: What Really Happened. Chicago: Contemporary Books. ISBN 978-0809251803. OCLC 12103370. (Disclaimer: Large amounts of content based on alleged interviews with a woman known as "Clara", who claimed to have discovered an injured Cooper two days after the hijacking and lived with him until he died a decade later. This material is considered a hoax/fabrication by the FBI and others, whether by Gunther or "Clara".)
  • Himmelsbach, Ralph P.; Worcester, Thomas K. (1986). Norjak: The Investigation of D. B. Cooper. West Linn, Oregon: Norjak Project. ISBN 978-0961741501. (Himmelsbach was the FBI's chief investigator on the case until his retirement in 1980; "Norjak" is FBI shorthand for the Cooper hijacking.)
  • Olson, Kay Melchisedech (2010). D.B. Cooper Hijacking: Vanishing Act. Compass Point Books. ISBN 978-0756543594. (Straightforward accounting of official information and evidence.)

External links[edit]