This Day In History: November 24, 1971
An unidentified man referred to as D.B. Cooper hijacked a Boeing 727 airplane between Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington. Cooper bought a one-way ticket on a Northwest Orient Airlines, Flight 305 to Seattle, Washington leaving Portland, Oregon at 2:50 p.m. He brought with him aboard the plane a black suit-case supposedly containing a bomb.
During the 30 minute flight, Cooper handed a ransom note to the nearby flight attendant telling her he had a bomb and was going to use it if necessary. He demanded $200,000 in unmarked $20 dollar bills, along with two front parachutes and two back parachutes. His demands were delivered to the pilot William Scott, who then delivered them to the air traffic control center at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport. Cooper’s flight landed at the SEA-TAC Airport at 5:45 p.m. After his money and parachutes were delivered, the passengers were released along with two of the flight attendants. The hijacker then delivered his flight plan to the cockpit crew. The plane was to take a course heading southeast to Mexico City and was to maintain an altitude of 10,000 feet. The crew was ordered by Cooper to remain in the cockpit for the duration of the flight.
At 7:40 p.m., the aircraft took off heading south. At approximately 8:00 p.m., the instruments on the plane indicated that the door had been opened and the stairs lowered. Outside at 10,000 feet the temperature was around 10 degrees below zero, the weather was stormy, and the wind speed would have been around 200 mph. Around 10:15 p.m., the aircraft landed in Reno with FBI Agents, state troopers, sheriff’s deputies, and the Reno police surrounded the aircraft. After a quick search, it was confirmed that Cooper was no longer on the airplane and his approximant departure happened between 8:00 p.m. and 8:13 p.m. Even with a thorough search and an exhaustive FBI investigation, the hijacker has never been located nor positively identified. Originally, they had tried to tail the plane, but chose military F-106 fighter jets to do it with, which could not fly as slow as the airline plane was required to fly by Cooper.
It is believed that he probably didn’t survive the jump. First, the F.B.I. had trouble locating parachutes for Cooper in the time they had allotted. Because of this, out of the four chutes they gave him, they accidentally gave him one non-functional practice parachute and one parachute that was quite old. They had not intended to give him bad parachutes at the time, because they thought there was a chance he’d be taking some of the crew with him. He didn’t, but did pick the old primary parachute and the secondary non-functional, practice chute. Further, Cooper had no jacket or rain protective gear and jumped on a cold stormy, pitch-black night into hilly terrain filled with trees. Finally, no spent money has ever been recovered with the serial numbers matching those given to Cooper. There has been $5,800 recovered though, which was found near the Columbia River about 40 miles from the predicted landing site, still bundled. However, this isn’t seen as conclusive evidence that he didn’t survive because it could have just as easily been blown out of the bag during the jump or accidentally left there, if Cooper took a boat downstream. In addition to that, there were ten bills missing from the bundles, which would likely have had to be manually taken out of the tightly bound bundles. Further, the parachutes were very brightly covered and should have been easy to spot had he not survived. So the mystery continues on whether he survived and who exactly he was in the first place. Even recent DNA samples from evidence left in the plane have failed to turn up any leads.