The Disappearance of D. B. Cooper

The Disappearance of D. B. Cooper

The mysterious case of D. B. Cooper, or Dan Cooper, is certainly a very strange one that is still unsolved to this day roughly forty-something years later. People were grasping at straws then and even now to try and solve this disappearance and to really find who Cooper was and what his motives were.

On November 24th, 1971 an unidentified man walked into the Northwest Orient Airlines at the Portland International Airport with a black briefcase. He identified himself as Dan Cooper and purchased a one way ticket on Flight 305 which was a  30-minute trip to Seattle. He boarded a Boeing 727-100, lit a cigarette and ordered a bourbon and soda on the plane. Eyewitnesses reported him as being around his mid-forties, between 5 ft 10 in. and 6 ft tall. He was wearing a black lightweight trench coat, loafers, a dark suit, a neatly pressed white collared shirt, and a black necktie. His flight took off at 2:50 PM, and shortly after takeoff he handed a nearby flight attendant, Florence Schaffner, a note. She just assumed Cooper was trying to give her his number and she simply slipped the note into her pocket, but then Cooper leaned in and whispered, “Miss, you’d better look at that note. I have a bomb.” The note was printed in neat capital letters and was written with a felt pen. It’s not entirely clear what was written on the note, but the general message of it was that Cooper said he had a bomb and directed Schaffner to sit next to him. She asked for proof of the bomb and he opened up his briefcase which contained eight red cylinders attached to wires coated with red insulation and a large cylindrical battery.

After Cooper closed the briefcase he demanded $200,000 in only $20 bills, four parachutes (two primary and two reserve), and a fuel truck standing by in Seattle to refuel the plane on arrival. Schaffner went to the cockpit and gave the pilots the instructions and when she returned Cooper was wearing sunglasses. The pilot, William Scott, contacted the Seattle-Tacoma Airport air traffic control center about the situation, and in turn they informed the local and federal authorities. There were only thirty-six other passengers on board the plane and they were told that their arrival in Seattle would be delayed due to a “minor mechanical difficulty” which in reality was the plane flying around in a circle really for about two hours so that the FBI and local police could gather at the airport with the ransom money and the parachutes. Northwest Orient’s president Donald Nyrop authorized payment of the ransom and ordered all employees to cooperate fully with Cooper. According to Schaffner, Cooper seemed familiar with the area and the terrain, remarking at one point, “Looks like Tacoma down there” and also correctly mentioning that the McChord Air Force Base was only a 20-minute drive (at that time) from the Seattle-Tacoma airport. He was described as being calm, polite, well-spoken, and pretty nice. He ordered another bourbon and paid for his drink tab and even offered to request meals for the flight crew during the stop in Seattle. FBI agents got the ransom money from several Seattle banks and they made microfilm photographs of each one to save. Cooper rejected the parachutes that were offered to him that were from the military and demanded civilian parachutes which the police obtained through a local skydiving school. At around 5:24 PM Cooper was informed that his demands were met and at 5:39 PM the aircraft landed at the airport. He then ordered William Scott to taxi the jet to an isolated brightly lit section of the tarmac and extinguish the lights in the cabin to deter police snipers. Northwest Orient’s Seattle operations manager Al Lee approached the aircraft in civilian clothing and delivered the cash filled knapsack and parachutes to Tim Mucklow (who was another flight attendant) via the aft stairs. Once the delivery was made Cooper permitted all the passengers, Florence Schaffner, and senior flight attendant Alice Hancock to leave the plane.

During the time they were refueling, he outlined his next plan of action with the cockpit crew. He picked a southeast course towards Mexico City at the minimum airspeed possible without stalling the aircraft at a maximum of 10,000 foot altitude. He also instructed that the landing gear be still deployed in the landing position, the wing flaps lowered about 15 degrees, and the cabin un-pressurized. Copilot William Rataczak told Cooper that the aircraft’s range was limited to about 1,000 miles under those specific flight configurations and that they would need to refuel again before entering Mexico. Cooper and the crew agreed on Reno, Nevada as the refueling spot and as a final demand Cooper wanted the plane to take off with the rear exit door open and the stairs extended. The home office objected on the basis it was unsafe. Cooper disagreed in that it was safe but, he didn’t argue. He said he would lower it himself once they took off.

An FAA official requested to speak to Cooper face to face, but his request was denied. Once they landed in Reno the refueling process was delayed due to a vapor lock in the fuel tanker truck’s pumping mechanism. Cooper was becoming suspicious , but allowed a replacement tanker to continuing refueling and even a second one after the first one went dry. Finally at around 7:40 PM the plane took off once more with just Cooper, pilot William Scott, flight attendant Tim Mucklow, copilot William Rataczak, and the flight engineer H. E. Anderson. He told Mucklow to join the rest of the crew in the cockpit after takeoff and told him to remain inside with the door closed. Mucklow saw him tying something around his waist. McChord Air Force Base deployed two F-106 fighter planes to follow the plane Cooper was on, one above and one below out of his view. A Lockheed T-33 trainer was shadowing the 727 before running low on fuel and having to turn back near the Oregon-California state line.

At around 8 PM a warning light flashed in the cockpit indicating that the aft air stair apparatus had been activated. The crew offered assistance via the aircraft’s intercom system to Cooper, but their help was refused. At around 8:13 PM the plane’s tail section sustained an upward moment suddenly and it was significant enough that it required trimming to bring the plane back to a level flight. At around 10:15 PM the plane landed with the air stair still deployed at Reno Airport. The FBI, state troopers, sheriff’s deputies, and Reno police surrounded the plane, but a thorough search of the plane revealed Cooper was no longer on it.

The entire plane was searched and there were sixty-six fingerprints found on the black tie Cooper was wearing that he left behind, a pin, two of the four parachutes with one being opened and two shroud lines were cut from the canopy. Eyewitnesses were interviewed in Portland, Oregon and in Reno and anyone who personally interacted with Cooper and composite sketches were made. The local police and the FBI began to question suspects. The first suspect was an Oregon man with a minor criminal background by the actual name of D. B. Cooper, but was quickly ruled out as a subject since it was the error of someone in the media accusing him. The search of the area was difficult due to the little differences in things such as the plane’s speed could have changed Cooper’s landing. Since there was low visibility there is a lot of doubt surrounding whether he actually deployed his parachute or not. There was an experiment done to see where Cooper might have landed and determined that he jumped at around 8:13 PM and may have landed near Mt. St. Helens. A search of the area proved nothing, however. In late 1971 the FBI distributed lists of the ransom bills and a young boy found a knapsack on Tina Bar (which is a beach) in Washington state and the serial number matched those that were listed by the FBI. They were disintegrated, but were indeed part of the money that was given to Cooper.

There hasn’t been much evidence found as to where Cooper went after exiting the plane, but after about forty-five years this case has been closed but periodically opened up when new evidence emerges. There have even been some recent discoveries that have been linked to his disappearance.

There have been many theories as to who D. B. Cooper really is but no one has been actually confirmed to be him. There’s been a lot of suspects but nothing final. I believe whoever D. B. Cooper was is long gone now, but he did exist and somehow survived the bad weather and landing in the woods and lived his live shrouded in mystery. To have this case solved would be an amazing victory to the FBI and all those who have been following this case for years, but will it really be solved?

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