This post is a little different – I decided to break it into two parts. The facts, and the conspiracies. – Enjoy
One of the first tricks to spycraft is to blend in with your surroundings. Do nothing, wear nothing, and act in no way that will get you noticed.
That is what happened on November 24, 1971 at the Northwest Orient Airlines ticket counter in the Portland International Airport.
A non-descript individual wearing a dark suit and tie walked up to the counter and paid $20 cash for a flight to Seattle. He was caucasian, about 6′ tall and 175 lbs , and had a receding hairline. (You know, your average guy.)
The name on the ticket was Dan Cooper.
Northwest Airlines flight 305 –a Boeing 727 with tail number N467Us– took off from Portland en route to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEATAC).
A few minutes into the flight, the passenger in 18E ordered a Bourbon and Soda. He paid with a 20 dollar bill and told the stewardess — they were not flight attendants back then– to keep the change. He then handed the pretty 22-year-old stewardess a note.
Tina Mucklow was used to getting hit on by passengers, and disregarded the note. Mr Cooper insisted that she read the note immediately. The note 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.”
What Would You Have Done???
Ms. Mucklow sat down next to the man and he showed her the contents of his briefcase. The case held about eight “red sticks,” a battery, and a bunch of wires.
Mr. Cooper then handed the stewardess some neat handwritten instructions to give to the flight crew.
- Continue on to Seatac as planned
- Provide $200,000 in used $20 bills ($1.1 million in 2015 adjusted for inflation)
- Provide 2 Military parachutes
- Provide 2 Sporting parachutes
In exchange for these demands, he would let the 35 passengers and two of the three stewardess off the plane.
At 5:39 PM Pacific Standard Time (PST), the plane landed at Seattle/Tacoma International Airport and taxied to a remote unlit section of the runways. The only people allowed near the aircraft were the fuel truck operators and the person that delivered the cash and parachutes to Tina.
The ten thousand $20 bills were provided by Seattle First National Bank and were high-speed filmed by the FBI in order to create a list of serial numbers.
After the money and parachutes were brought to the plane, the 35 passengers and stewardesses Alice Hancock and Florance Schaffner were released. This left the three men of the flight crew and Tina Mucklow left onboard.
Mr. Cooper demanded food for the remaining crew and the aircraft prepped for takeoff. He ordered the pilot to fly to Mexico City at a speed of less than 200 MPH (322 KPH) at below 10,000 feet (3048 meters). He claimed the he had an altimeter and would know if the plane climed higher. He also instructed the pilot to maintain 15 degree down angle on the flaps.
–Was Cooper a pilot? He seemed to be pretty specific in his instructions, and he was familiar enough to lower the rear ramp by himself?
The pilot let him know that under those conditions they would need to refuel in Reno, NV in order to reach Mexico City.
At 7:40 PM, the hijacked airliner took off en route to Mexico City. A few minutes into the flight, Cooper ordered Tina Mucklow into the cabin. Once there, she bolted the cabin door from the inside per policy. At 8:00 PM, the rear staircase indicator light came on in the cabin. Someone had opened the rear cargo hatch and lowered the stairs.
The interior temperature of the cabin dropped to -7 F (-22C).
It is believed sometime around 8:15 PM, Dan Cooper –who would be mistakenly called D.B. Cooper– leaped into the dark, freezing, and stormy skies over southern Washington State.
He leapt from an airplane into the dark, with two parachutes and twenty-one pounds of ransom money tied to his body.
Traveling approximately two miles behind flight 305 were two Air Force F-106 fighters. The fighters –from McChord Air Force Base’s 318th Fighter Intercept Squadron— were following the 727 and were not close enough to see anything fall from the plane.
In addition to the fighter aircraft, a C-130 transport plane and a military helicopter also followed in the wake.
The flight continued on to Reno, where the plane landed with the rear stairs in a shredded condition. There was no Dan Cooper on board.
The only evidence left behind, was eight cigarette butts, a black J.C. Penney’s tie, a pearl tie clip, two parachutes, and about 60 unaccounted for fingerprints.
In the days that followed the hijacking, about 1,000 soldiers combed the search area on foot. Helicopters and an Air Force SR-71 surveillance plane flew the route taking pictures.
The search for Cooper started with a Lewis County sheriff deputy patrolling a 25 mile section of the Randle-Trout Lake road, and expanded into the northern section of Clark County, concentrated between Woodland and north of the Oregon border in Southwest Washington. From there, the entirety of southwest Washington state, north of the Columbia River, was scoured by ground searchers, boat, and air for nearly 3 weeks.
“Either he’s hung up in the branches of a tree somewhere and we won’t find him until next deer season,” said Woodland Police Chief Joe May, “or he’s home watching us on television, laughing his fool bead off.”
Other were less optimistic: “We’re either looking for a parachute or a hole in the ground,” said Clark County Undersheriff Tom McDowell.
The FBI and the Air Force took the hijacked plane out over the ocean, lowered the stairs, and attempted to recreate the jump.
Within days, the FBI had questioned a Portland, OR man named D. B. Cooper and the press jumped the gun. The name stuck!
There was never a sign of Cooper found and the money has never turned up. (Actually, I know $5800 was found. See the part 2 article for this information.) — This left a few unanswered questions:
- Who was D.B. Cooper?
- Was he an experienced skydiver?
- Did he survive the jump?
- Did he have military training?
These are questions that still haunt the FBI 44 years later. This case remains one of the only unsolved skyjackings.