Who is D.B. Cooper?

In 1971, Dan Cooper skyjacked a Boeing 727. After pocketing $200,000 in ransom money, he parachuted into the night, never to be seen again. Now, almost forty years later, the FBI has announced a breakthrough in the case. Is the truth behind D.B. Cooper finally at hand?

D.B. Cooper hijacks Flight 305 

On the afternoon of November 24, 1971, a man calling himself Dan Cooper purchased a one-way ticket on Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305, a thirty-minute trip from Portland, Oregon to Seattle Washington. After takeoff, he passed a note to a flight attendant named Florence Schaffner. Although he later took the note with him, she later recalled that it said, “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.” D.B. Cooper showed her the bomb, which she described as eight red sticks, wire, insulation, and a battery. Then, he proceeded to make his demands:

“I want $200,000 in unmarked 20-dollar bills. I want two back parachutes and two front parachutes. When we land, I want a fuel truck ready to refuel. No funny stuff or I’ll do the job.” ~ Dan Cooper

It seemed clear that D.B. Cooper intended to jump from the plane with a hostage. Donald Nyrop, the President of Northwest Orient, agreed to meet the demands. Upon landing in Seattle, the FBI provided Cooper with the money and four civilian parachutes. In exchange, Cooper released Florence, another flight attendant, and all thirty-six passengers. After refueling, the plane lifted into the air again, on course for Reno, Nevada.

D.B. Cooper Parachutes into History…and Mystery

After takeoff, D.B. Cooper ordered the remaining crew to gather in the cockpit. Around 8:00pm, the crew noticed a flashing warning light, indicating that a passenger staircase in the rear of the aircraft had been deployed. At 8:13pm, the plane jolted. Two hours later, the crew landed in Reno, with the airstair still open. Cooper was nowhere to be found.

Two of the parachutes remained onboard and it quickly became apparent that D.B. Cooper had jumped out of the airplane with the other two, most likely somewhere over Washington’s lower Cascade mountains. The FBI swarmed the plane, gathering additional evidence such as 66 partial fingerprints, a black clip-on tie, and a mother of pearl tie clip.

Using available data, the FBI determined his likely landing area and initiated a manhunt. They also distributed a list of serial numbers corresponding to the ransom money to law enforcement agencies, financial institutions, casinos, racetracks, and other places.  But the investigation failed to unearth any evidence.

What happened to D.B. Cooper?

In February 1980, eight-year old Brian Ingram found three packets of waterlogged bills on the banks of the Columbia River. The money, which totaled $5,800, matched the serial numbers of bills given to D.B. Cooper. The FBI relaunched its investigation. However, they failed to determine how the bills arrived at the location. To this day, the money as well as an instruction placard found in 1978 remain the only pieces of hard evidence found outside the aircraft that can be tied directly to D.B. Cooper.

No one is quite sure what happened to Cooper and the ransom money. Many people believe that he died during his parachute attempt. He wasn’t an experienced jumper, evidenced by the fact that he chose to take flight with a dummy chute used for training exercises that had been purposely planted by the FBI. Also, his jump took place at 10,000 feet in the middle of a raging storm complete with powerful winds, freezing rain, and below-zero temperatures. Under those conditions, he needed to land safely in extremely difficult terrain, something that would be challenging even for an experienced jumper.

Other people believe that he survived the jump and proceeded to live a long life. They point to literally dozens of serious and semi-serious suspects, each one backed by considerable circumstantial evidence. Perhaps the most popular suspect is Kenneth Christiansen. However, a lack of hard evidence makes it difficult to be sure.

Now, investigators hope to finally settle the debate. A few days ago, the FBI made a series of startling announcements pertaining to the D.B. Cooper investigation.

“We do actually have a new suspect we’re looking at…It comes from a credible lead who came to our attention recently via a law enforcement colleague…The credible lead is somebody whose possible connection to the hijacker is strong…And the suspect is not a name that’s come up before.” ~ Ayn Dietrich, FBI Spokeswoman

Ayn also mentioned that the FBI is attempting to compare fingerprints and DNA from the suspect to those found on items recovered from the airplane. She even went so far as to call the lead the “most promising one to date.”

The FBI will face significant hurdles if it wants to prove the identity of D.B. Cooper. Apparently, it is uncertain if the fingerprints recovered from the plane actually belonged to Cooper in the first place. Also, the FBI appears to have misplaced cigarette butts belonging to Cooper, which could dash any hopes for a DNA test.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Forty years have passed since Dan Cooper vanished into the night. His case is shrouded in mystery and mythology. Even his name remains a source of confusion to the general public. Due to a media miscommunication, he is commonly known as D.B. Cooper when in fact, he never used the initials D.B. at all.

Will this latest suspect and supporting evidence be enough to put the case to rest? I have to admit I’m skeptical. Over 1,000 people have been suspected of being D.B. Cooper. And every few years, a new piece of explosive evidence emerges only to be ruled out. There was that misidentified skull in 1981, that tattered parachute in 1988, and that other tattered parachute in 2008. But all the same, I’ll be following this story closely. The unmasking of D.B. Cooper would close America’s last unsolved skyjacking and finally, bring an answer to a case that has baffled hundreds of thousands of people for over forty years.

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