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D. B. Cooper : The hijacker who was never caught

Who was D. B . Cooper ?


A middle aged man carrying a briefcase walked into Portland International Airport, in the afternoon of November 24, 1971. He purchased a one-way ticket to Seattle, Washington. The man identified himself as Dan Cooper and, along with 36 other passengers and a crew of 6, he soon boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 305.

Once aboard Cooper made himself comfortable in the middle of the last row of seats on the right side of the cabin. He ordered a drink and smoked because this was the 70s. Once the flight was cleared for departure, Cooper turned around and handed an envelope to a flight attendant named, Florence Schaffner.Inside the envelope, was a note with a handwritten message stating he had a bomb. Schaffner unwillingly sat down beside him and looked at what appeared to be eight sticks of dynamite inside his briefcase.

Cooper’s demands were very simple. He wanted $200,000 in cash and four parachutes. He also demanded a fuel truck to stand ready to refuel the aircraft once they landed in Seattle. If they failed to meet with his demands, he threatened them by quoting, “Do the job”.

Once the flight was airborne, Schaffner went to inform the cockpit crew, while another flight attendant, by the name of Tina Mucklow remained by Cooper’s side. By using a telephone in the rear of the cabin, Mucklow acted as an intermediary between Cooper and the flight crew for the remainder of the hijacking. For the next hour and a half, Flight 305 maintained a holding pattern near Seattle while local and federal authorities scrambled to procure the ransom as well as the four parachutes. 10,000 $20 bills were collected from a local bank while the owner of a nearby skydiving school supplied the chutes.

At 5:45 P.M., more than two hours past its scheduled arrival, Flight 305 finally  landed in Seattle. By this point, it was well after sunset, and the aircraft was brought to a remote section of the tarmac. Once the flight came to a stop, both the ransom and the parachutes were handed over to Mucklow, who then brought them back aboard. In exchange Cooper permitted two of the flight attendants as well as the passengers to disembark, many of whom had not yet realized that the flight had been hijacked.

 With the Ransom paid and only four crew members remaining onboard, Cooper told Mucklow to inform the Captain that he wanted to fly to Mexico City. They were to fly with the landing gear down, the flaps at 15 degrees, and below 10,000 feet. The lights in the cabin were to be switched off, and the aft stairway, which opens from the underbelly of the fuselage,was to remain extended.

Two of Cooper’s demand could not be satisfied. First of all, the flight configuration he had  requested would not allow for a non-stop flight to Mexico City. As such, Cooper proposed a refueling stop in Phoenix, Yuma, or Sacramento before they all agreed on Reno, Nevada. Second of all, it was not possible to depart with the ventral staircase extended. Cooper agreed to retract the stairs on the condition that Mucklow remained by his side and taught him how to extend them once the plane was airborne. Parked for nearly two hours due to complications with refueling, Flight 305 was back in the air by 7:36 P.M.

Less than 5 minutes after take off, Cooper told Mucklow to head for the cockpit and that, from this point onwards, he was not to be disturbed. The last time she saw Cooper, he was standing in the middle of the aisle as if though he was preparing to jump. Mucklow joined the rest of the crew, locked the cockpit door behind her, and some three hours later flight 305 safely landed in Reno. Once the flight came to a stop, the crew carefully ventured into the rear of the cabin, but there was no sign of Cooper nor the bomb.

It seemed there was only one explaination for the hijacker’s absence. At some point, between Seattle and Reno, Cooper had strapped on a parachute, walked down the stairs, and leaped into the dark of night.

As soon as it was clear Cooper was no longer on board, dozens of FBI agents converged upon the aircraft, only to discover a disappointing amount of physical evidence. A black clip on tie, eight cigarette butts and two of the parachutes were all that Cooper left behind. Evidently, he brought the ransom and briefcase along with him.

Based on his description, the FBI agents produced several sketches. Before they could mount a search, however, the FBI had to figure it out when Cooper abandoned the ship. But that was easier said than done. None of the four crew members witnessed Cooper jumping from the plane not did the pilots of two fighter jets, which escorted the flight between Seattle and Reno, which is not at all too surprising given it was the middle of the night.

Although the flight crew did report something odd. The last communication with the hijacker occurred at approximately 8:05 P.M. When the crew used the intercom to offer assistance, which Cooper declined. Within the 10 minutes, the crew experienced what they described as an oscillation or vibration of the aircraft. At the time, the crew suspected it might have been produced by Cooper’s jump.

 Okay so that took care of the when but where? When Cooper was very explicit about the flight’s configuration and destination, he never specified any kind of route. In fact Cooper grew so impatient with the refueling in Seattle that he dismissed the Captain’s request to file a flight plan and simply told him to “ get the show on the road”. As such, the captain chose to fly along an airway known as Victor 23 without any input from Cooper. By using Victor 23 as guide, authorities estimated the most probable location of the flight at the approximated time of the jump was about 40 kilometers north of Portland.

And so, at the break of dawn, the FBI mounted an impressive search operation using helicopters, airplanes, and ground. The terrain was quite difficult and was covered with forest so it was truly like finding a needle in a haystack. Despite there best efforts, authorities never managed to find a single trace of Cooper nor the items he brought along with him.

For years they investigated, brought in suspects but non fitted the exact identity of Cooper. An in 2016, the FBI had to admit defeat and officially closed down the case. Unless someone stumbles upon Cooper’s remains or manages to track down the money, it seems there’s little hope of resolution. 

Did Cooper survive?

What’re your thoughts on what happened to Cooper ? 

Drop in comments below.


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