D. B. Cooper
is the name popularly used to refer to an unidentified man who hijacked
Aircraft hijacking is the unlawful seizure of an aircraft by an individual or a group. In most cases, the pilot is forced to fly according to the orders of the hijackers. Occasionally, however, the hijackers have flown the aircraft themselves, such as the September 11 attacks of 2001...
a Boeing 727
The Boeing 727 is a mid-size, narrow-body, three-engine, T-tailed commercial jet airliner, manufactured by Boeing. The Boeing 727 first flew in 1963, and for over a decade more were built per year than any other jet airliner. When production ended in 1984 a total of 1,832 aircraft had been produced...
aircraft in the airspace between Portland, Oregon
Portland is a city located in the Pacific Northwest, near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers in the U.S. state of Oregon. As of the 2010 Census, it had a population of 583,776, making it the 29th most populous city in the United States...
and Seattle, Washington
Seattle is the county seat of King County, Washington. With 608,660 residents as of the 2010 Census, Seattle is the largest city in the Northwestern United States. The Seattle metropolitan area of about 3.4 million inhabitants is the 15th largest metropolitan area in the country...
on November 24, 1971. He extorted $
The United States dollar , also referred to as the American dollar, is the official currency of the United States of America. It is divided into 100 smaller units called cents or pennies....
200,000 in ransom and parachuted to an uncertain fate. Despite an extensive manhunt and an exhaustive (and ongoing) FBI
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is an agency of the United States Department of Justice that serves as both a federal criminal investigative body and an internal intelligence agency . The FBI has investigative jurisdiction over violations of more than 200 categories of federal crime...
investigation, the perpetrator has never been located or positively identified. The case remains the only unsolved airline hijacking in American aviation history.
The suspect purchased his airline ticket under the alias Dan Cooper
, but due to a news media miscommunication he became known in popular lore as "D. B. Cooper." Hundreds of leads have been pursued in the ensuing years but no conclusive evidence has ever surfaced regarding Cooper's true identity or whereabouts, and the bulk of the ransom money has never been recovered. Numerous theories of widely varying plausibility have been proposed by experts, reporters, and amateur enthusiasts.
While FBI investigators have insisted from the beginning that Cooper probably did not survive his risky jump, the agency maintains an active case file—which has grown to more than 60 volumes—and continues to solicit creative ideas and new leads from the public. "Maybe a hydrologist can use the latest technology to trace the $5,800 in ransom money found in 1980 to where Cooper landed upstream," suggested Special Agent Larry Carr, leader of the investigation team since 2006. "Or maybe someone just remembers that odd uncle."
The event began mid-afternoon on Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving Day, is a holiday celebrated in the United States on the fourth Thursday in November. It has officially been an annual tradition since 1863, when, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving to be celebrated on Thursday,...
eve, November 24, 1971, at Portland International Airport
Portland International Airport is a joint civil-military airport and the largest airport in the U.S. state of Oregon, accounting for 90% of passenger travel and more than 95% of air cargo of the state. It is located within Portland's city limits just south of the Columbia River in Multnomah...
in Portland, Oregon. A man carrying a black attaché case approached the flight counter of Northwest Orient Airlines. He identified himself as "Dan Cooper" and purchased a one-way ticket on Flight 305, a 30-minute trip to Seattle, Washington.
Cooper boarded the aircraft, a Boeing 727–100 (FAA registration N467US), and took seat 18C (18E by some accounts, 15D by another) in the rear of the passenger cabin. He lit a cigarette and ordered a bourbon and soda. Onboard eyewitnesses recalled a man in his mid-forties, between 5 in 10 in (1.78 m) and 6 in 0 in (1.83 m) tall. He wore a black lightweight raincoat, loafers, a dark suit, a neatly pressed white collared shirt, a black necktie, and a mother of pearl
Nacre , also known as mother of pearl, is an organic-inorganic composite material produced by some mollusks as an inner shell layer; it is also what makes up pearls. It is very strong, resilient, and iridescent....
Flight 305, approximately one-third full, took off on schedule at 2:50 pm, local time (PST). Cooper passed a note to Florence Schaffner, the flight attendant situated nearest to him in a jumpseat attached to the aft stair door. Schaffner, assuming the note contained a lonely businessman's phone number, dropped it unopened into her purse. Cooper leaned toward her and whispered, "Miss, you'd better look at that note. I have a bomb."
The note was printed in neat, all-capital letters with a felt pen. It read, approximately, "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." Schaffner did as requested, then quietly asked to see the bomb. Cooper cracked open his briefcase long enough for her to glimpse eight red cylinders ("four on top of four") attached to wires coated with red insulation, and a large cylindrical battery. After closing the case he dictated 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." Cooper then ordered Schaffner to convey his instructions to the cockpit. When she returned, he was wearing dark sunglasses.
Flight 305's pilot, William Scott, contacted Seattle-Tacoma Airport
The Seattle–Tacoma International Airport , also known as Sea–Tac Airport or Sea–Tac , is an American airport located in SeaTac, Washington, at the intersections of State Routes 99 and 509 and 518, about west of Interstate 5...
air traffic control
Air traffic control is a service provided by ground-based controllers who direct aircraft on the ground and in the air. The primary purpose of ATC systems worldwide is to separate aircraft to prevent collisions, to organize and expedite the flow of traffic, and to provide information and other...
, which informed local and Federal authorities. The 36 other passengers were informed that their arrival in Seattle would be delayed due to a "minor mechanical difficulty." Northwest Orient's president, Donald Nyrop, authorized payment of the ransom, and ordered all Northwest employees to cooperate fully with the hijacker. The aircraft circled Puget Sound
Puget Sound is a sound in the U.S. state of Washington. It is a complex estuarine system of interconnected marine waterways and basins, with one major and one minor connection to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific Ocean — Admiralty Inlet being the major connection and...
for approximately two hours to allow Seattle police
The Seattle Police Department is the principal law enforcement agency of the city of Seattle, Washington, except for the campus of the University of Washington, for which responsibility falls to the University of Washington Police Department...
and the FBI time to collect Cooper’s parachutes and ransom money (and mobilize emergency personnel).
Schaffner recalled that Cooper appeared to be familiar with the local terrain; at one point he remarked, "Looks like Tacoma down there," as the aircraft flew above it. He also mentioned, correctly, that McChord Air Force Base was only a 20-minute drive from Seattle-Tacoma Airport. Schaffner described him as calm, polite, and well-spoken, not at all consistent with the stereotypes (enraged, hardened criminals or "take-me-to-Cuba" political dissidents) popularly associated with air piracy at the time. Tina Mucklow, another flight attendant, agreed. "He wasn't nervous," she told investigators later. "He seemed rather nice. He was never cruel or nasty. He was thoughtful and calm all the time." He ordered a second bourbon and water, paid his drink tab (and insisted Schaffner keep the change), and offered to request meals for the flight crew during the stop in Seattle.
FBI agents assembled the ransom money from several Seattle-area banks—10,000 unmarked 20-dollar bills, many with serial numbers beginning with the letter "L" indicating issuance by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco
The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco is the federal bank for the twelfth district in the United States. The twelfth district is made up of nine western states-—Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington--plus the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa,...
, most carrying a "Series 1969-C" designation—and made a microfilm photograph of each of them. Cooper rejected the military-issue parachutes initially offered by authorities, demanding instead civilian parachutes with manually-operated ripcord
A ripcord is a part of a skydiving harness-container system; a handle attached to a steel cable ending in a closing pin. The pin keeps the container closed and keeps the spring-loaded pilot chute inside. When the ripcord is pulled, the container is opened and the pilot chute is released, opening...
s. Seattle police obtained them from a local skydiving school.
At 4:39 pm Cooper was informed that his demands had been met and the aircraft landed at Seattle-Tacoma Airport at 5:45 pm. Cooper instructed Scott to taxi the jet to an isolated, brightly-lit section of the tarmac and extinguish lights in the cabin to deter police snipers. Northwest's Seattle operations manager, Al Lee, approached the aircraft in street clothes (to avoid the possibility that Cooper might mistake his airline uniform for that of a police officer) and delivered the cash-filled knapsack and parachutes to Mucklow via the aft stairs. Once the delivery was completed, Cooper permitted all passengers, Schaffner, and senior flight attendant Alice Hancock to leave the plane.
During refueling Cooper outlined his flight plan to the cockpit crew: a southeast course toward Mexico City at the minimum air speed possible without stalling the aircraft (approximately 100 knots (54.4 m/s)) at a maximum 10000 feet (3,048 m) altitude. To ensure a minimum speed he specified that the landing gear
Landing Gear is Devin the Dude's fifth studio album. It was released on October 7, 2008. It was his first studio album since signing with the label Razor & Tie. It features a high-profile guest appearance from Snoop Dogg. As of October 30, 2008, the album has sold 18,906 copies.-Track...
remain down, in the takeoff/landing position, and the wing flaps be lowered 15 degrees. To ensure a low altitude he ordered that the cabin remain unpressurized
Cabin pressurization is the pumping of compressed air into an aircraft cabin to maintain a safe and comfortable environment for crew and passengers when flying at altitude.-Need for cabin pressurization:...
. Copilot William Rataczak informed Cooper that the aircraft's range was limited to approximately 1000 miles (1,609.3 km) under the specified flight configuration, which meant they would have to refuel once again before entering Mexico. Cooper and the crew discussed options and agreed on Reno, Nevada
Reno is the county seat of Washoe County, Nevada, United States. The city has a population of about 220,500 and is the most populous Nevada city outside of the Las Vegas metropolitan area...
as the refueling stop. Finally, Cooper directed that the plane take off with the rear exit door open and its staircase extended. Northwest's home office objected on grounds that it was unsafe to take off with the aft staircase down. Cooper countered that it was indeed safe, but he would not argue the point; he would lower it himself once they were airborne.
An FAA official requested a face-to-face meeting with Cooper aboard the aircraft, which was denied. The refueling process was delayed, reportedly due to a vapor lock in the fuel tanker truck's pumping mechanism, and Cooper became suspicious. However, he allowed a replacement tanker truck to continue the refueling—and a third one after that, when the second ran dry. By the time Cooper finished inspecting the ransom money and parachutes, refueling had been completed.
Back in the air
At approximately 7:40 pm the 727 took off with only Cooper, pilot Scott, flight attendant Mucklow, copilot Rataczak, and flight engineer H.E. Anderson aboard. Two F-106 fighter aircraft scrambled from nearby McChord Air Force Base followed behind the airliner, one above it and one below, out of Cooper's view. A Lockheed T-33 trainer, diverted from an unrelated Air National Guard
The Air National Guard , often referred to as the Air Guard, is the air force militia organized by each of the fifty U.S. states, the commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the territories of Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia of the United States. Established under Title 10 and...
mission, also shadowed the 727 until it ran low on fuel and turned back near the Oregon-California border.
After takeoff, Cooper told Mucklow to join the rest of the crew in the cockpit and remain there with the door closed. As she complied, Mucklow observed Cooper tying something around his waist. At approximately 8:00 pm a warning light flashed in the cockpit, indicating that the aft airstair
An airstair is a passenger staircase that is built in to an airliner — often, though not always, on the inside of a clamshell-style door. The stairs can be raised or lowered while the aircraft is on the ground, allowing passengers and ground personnel to board or depart the aircraft without the...
apparatus had been activated. The crew's offer of assistance via the aircraft's intercom system was curtly refused. The crew soon noticed a subjective change of air pressure, indicating that the aft door was open.
At approximately 8:13 pm the aircraft's tail section sustained a sudden upward movement, significant enough to require trimming to bring the plane back to level flight. At approximately 10:15 pm, Scott and Rataczak landed the 727, with the aft airstair still deployed, at Reno Airport. FBI agents, state troopers, sheriff's deputies, and Reno police surrounded the jet, as it had not yet been determined with certainty that Cooper was no longer aboard; but an armed search quickly confirmed that he was gone.
Aboard the airliner FBI agents recovered 66 unidentified latent fingerprints, Cooper's black clip-on tie and mother of pearl tie clip, and two of the four parachutes, one of which had been opened and two shroud lines cut from its canopy. Eyewitnesses in Portland, Seattle, and Reno, and all individuals who personally interacted with Cooper, were interrogated. A series of composite sketches was developed.
Local police and FBI agents immediately began questioning possible suspects. One of the first was an Oregon man with a minor police record named D. B. Cooper, contacted by Portland police on the off-chance that the hijacker had used his real name, or the same alias in a previous crime. His involvement was quickly ruled out; but an inexperienced wire service reporter (Clyde Jabin of UPI
United Press International is a once-major international news agency, whose newswires, photo, news film and audio services provided news material to thousands of newspapers, magazines and radio and television stations for most of the twentieth century...
by most accounts, Joe Frazier of AP
The Associated Press is an American news agency. The AP is a cooperative owned by its contributing newspapers, radio and television stations in the United States, which both contribute stories to the AP and use material written by its staff journalists...
by others), rushing to meet an imminent deadline, confused the eliminated suspect's name with the pseudonym used by the hijacker. The mistake was picked up and repeated by numerous other media sources, and the moniker "D. B. Cooper" became lodged in the public's collective memory.
A precise search area was difficult to define, as even small differences in estimates of the aircraft's speed, or the environmental conditions along the flight path (which varied significantly by location and altitude), changed Cooper's projected landing point considerably. An important variable was the length of time he remained in free fall before pulling his rip cord—if indeed he succeeded in opening a parachute at all. Neither of the Air Force fighter pilots saw anything exit the airliner, either visually or on radar, nor did they see a parachute open; but at night, with extremely limited visibility and cloud cover obscuring any ground lighting below, an airborne human figure clad entirely in black clothing could easily have gone undetected. The T-33 pilots never made visual contact with the 727 at all.
An experimental re-creation was conducted using the same aircraft hijacked by Cooper in the same flight configuration, piloted by Scott. FBI agents, pushing a 200 pounds (90.7 kg) sled out of the open airstair, were able to reproduce the upward motion of the tail section described by the flight crew at 8:13 pm. Based on this experiment, it was concluded that 8:13 was the most likely jump time. At that moment the aircraft was flying through a heavy rainstorm over the Lewis River
The Lewis River is a tributary of the Columbia River, about long, in southwestern Washington in the United States. It drains part of the Cascade Range north of the Columbia River. The drainage basin of the Lewis River covers about . The river's mean annual discharge is about . Unlike nearby Lewis...
in southwestern Washington.
Initial extrapolations placed Cooper's landing area on the southernmost outreach of Mount St. Helens
Mount St. Helens is an active stratovolcano located in Skamania County, Washington, in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. It is south of Seattle, Washington and northeast of Portland, Oregon. Mount St. Helens takes its English name from the British diplomat Lord St Helens, a...
, a few miles southeast of Ariel, Washington
Ariel is an unincorporated place in Cowlitz County, Washington....
, near Lake Merwin
Lake Merwin is a reservoir on the Lewis River in the U.S. state of Washington. It lies on the border between Clark County and Cowlitz County. It was created in 1931 with the construction of Merwin Dam....
, an artificial lake formed by a dam on the Lewis River. Search efforts focused on Clark
Clark County is a county located in the southwestern part of the U.S. state of Washington, across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon.Clark County was the first county of Washington, named after William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition...
and Cowlitz Counties, encompassing the terrain immediately south and north, respectively, of the Lewis River in southwest Washington. FBI agents and Sheriff's deputies from those counties searched large areas of the mountainous wilderness on foot and by helicopter. Door-to-door questioning and searches of local farmhouses were also carried out. Other search parties ran patrol boats along Lake Merwin and Yale Lake
Yale Lake is a 3,780 acre reservoir on the Lewis River in the U.S. state of Washington. It lies on the border between Clark County and Cowlitz County. It was created in 1953 with the construction of Yale Dam....
, the reservoir immediately to its east. No trace of Cooper, or any of the equipment presumed to have left the aircraft with him, was found.
The FBI also coordinated an aerial search, using fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters from the Oregon Army National Guard
The Oregon Army National Guard is a Federally mandated and equipped military organization under the civilian direction of the Oregon Military Department, with the Governor of Oregon as its Commander in Chief. It responds to state and national emergencies, military conflicts and natural disasters,...
, along the entire flight path (known as Victor 23
In aviation, an airway is a designated route in the air. Airways are laid out between navigational aids such as VORs, NDBs and Intersections ....
in standard aviation terminology but "Vector 23" in most Cooper literature) from Seattle to Reno. While numerous broken treetops and several pieces of plastic and other objects that, from the air, resembled parachute canopies were sighted and investigated, nothing relevant to the hijacking was found.
In early 1972, after the spring thaw, teams of FBI agents aided by some 200 Army soldiers from Fort Lewis
Joint Base Lewis-McChord is a United States military facility located south-southwest of Tacoma, Washington. The facility is under the jurisdiction of the United States Army Joint Base Garrison, Joint Base Lewis-McChord....
, along with Air Force personnel, National Guard troops, and civilian volunteers, conducted another thorough ground search of Clark and Cowlitz Counties for eighteen days in March, and then an additional eighteen days in April. Electronic Explorations Company, a marine salvage firm, used a submarine to search the 200 feet (61 m) depths of Lake Merwin. Two local women stumbled upon a skeleton (overlooked by searchers) in an abandoned structure in Clark County; it was later identified as the remains of a female teenager who had been abducted and murdered several weeks before. Ultimately, the search operation—arguably the most extensive, and intensive, in U.S. history—uncovered no significant material evidence related to the hijacking.
Subsequent analyses called the original landing zone estimate into question: Scott, who was flying the aircraft manually because of Cooper's speed and altitude demands, later determined that his flight path was significantly farther east than initially assumed. Additional data from a variety of sources—in particular Continental Airlines pilot Tom Bohan, who was flying four minutes behind Flight 305—indicated that the wind direction factored into drop zone calculations had been wrong, possibly by as much as 80 degrees. This and other supplemental data suggested that the actual drop zone was probably south-southeast of the original estimate, in the drainage area of the Washougal River
The Washougal River is a shallow tributary of the Columbia River. Its mouth is located near the towns of Washougal and Camas, Washington. The Washougal river is a popular site for fishing, swimming, and tubing....
"I have to confess," wrote retired FBI chief investigator Ralph Himmelsbach in his 1986 book, "if I [were] going to look for Cooper, I would head for the Washougal." The Washougal Valley and its surroundings have been searched by multiple private individuals and groups in subsequent years. To date, nothing directly traceable to the hijacking has been found.
Search for ransom money
In late 1971 the FBI distributed lists of the ransom serial numbers to financial institutions, casinos, race tracks, and other businesses routinely conducting significant cash transactions, and to law enforcement agencies around the world. Northwest Orient offered a reward of 15 percent of the recovered money, to a maximum of $25,000. In early 1972 U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell
John Newton Mitchell was the Attorney General of the United States from 1969 to 1972 under President Richard Nixon...
released the serial numbers to the general public.
In 1972 two men used counterfeit 20-dollar bills printed with Cooper serial numbers to swindle $30,000 from a Newsweek
Newsweek is an American weekly news magazine published in New York City. It is distributed throughout the United States and internationally. It is the second-largest news weekly magazine in the U.S., having trailed Time in circulation and advertising revenue for most of its existence...
reporter named Karl Fleming in exchange for an interview with a man they falsely claimed was the hijacker.
In early 1973, with the ransom money still missing, The (Portland) Oregon Journal
republished the serial numbers and offered $1,000 to the first person to turn in a ransom bill to the newspaper or any FBI field office. In Seattle, the Post-Intelligencer
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is an online newspaper and former print newspaper covering Seattle, Washington, United States, and the surrounding metropolitan area...
made a similar offer with a $5,000 reward. The offers remained in effect until Thanksgiving, 1974, and while there were several near-matches, no genuine bills were found.
In 1975 Northwest Orient's insurer, Global Indemnity Co., complied with an order from the Minnesota Supreme Court and paid the airline's $180,000 claim on the ransom money.
Statute of limitations
In 1976 discussion arose over impending expiration of the statute of limitations
A statute of limitations is an enactment in a common law legal system that sets the maximum time after an event that legal proceedings based on that event may be initiated...
on the hijacking. Most published legal analysis agreed that it would make little difference, as interpretation of the statute varies considerably from case to case and court to court, and a prosecutor could argue that Cooper had forfeited immunity on any of several valid technical grounds. The question was rendered moot in November when a Portland grand jury returned an indictment against "John Doe, aka
Dan Cooper" for air piracy and violation of the Hobbs Act
The Hobbs Act, named after Congressman Sam Hobbs and codified at , is a U.S. federal law that prohibits actual or attempted robbery or extortion affecting interstate or foreign commerce. Section 1951 also proscribes conspiracy to commit robbery or extortion without reference to the conspiracy...
. In effect the indictment formally initiated prosecution of the hijacker that can be continued, should he be apprehended, at any time in the future.
In the autumn of 1978 a placard containing instructions for lowering the aft stairs of a 727, later verified to be from the hijacked airliner, was found by a deer hunter near a logging road about 13 miles (21 km) east of Castle Rock, Washington
Castle Rock is a city in Cowlitz County, Washington, United States. Nestled between the Willapa Hills and western base of Mount St. Helens, Castle Rock is at the heart of Washington timber country in the Pacific temperate rain forest...
, well north of Lake Merwin but within the basic path of Flight 305.
In February 1980 an eight-year-old boy named Brian Ingram, vacationing with his family on the Columbia River
The Columbia River is the largest river in the Pacific Northwest region of North America. The river rises in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, Canada, flows northwest and then south into the U.S. state of Washington, then turns west to form most of the border between Washington and the state...
about 9 miles (15 km) downstream from Vancouver, Washington
Vancouver is a city on the north bank of the Columbia River in the U.S. state of Washington. Incorporated in 1857, it is the fourth largest city in the state with a 2010 census population of 161,791 as of April 1, 2010...
and 20 miles (32 km) southwest of Ariel, uncovered three packets of the ransom cash, significantly disintegrated but still bundled in rubber bands, as he raked the sandy riverbank to build a campfire. FBI technicians confirmed that the money was indeed a portion of the ransom, two packets of 100 bills each and a third packet of 90, all arranged in the same order as when given to Cooper.
The discovery launched multiple new rounds of conjecture, and ultimately raised many more questions than it answered. Initial statements by investigators and scientific consultants were founded on the assumption that the bundled bills washed freely into the Columbia River from one of its many connecting tributaries. An Army Corps of Engineers hydrologist noted that the bills had disintegrated in a "rounded" fashion, and were matted together, indicating that they had indeed been deposited by river action, as opposed to having been deliberately buried. If so, it confirmed that Cooper had not landed near Lake Merwin, nor in any other part of the Lewis River, which feeds into the Columbia well downstream from the discovery site; and it lent credence to supplemental speculation placing the drop zone near the Washougal River, which merges with the Columbia upstream from the discovery site.
But the "free floating" hypothesis presented its own difficulties: It did not explain the ten bills missing from one packet, nor was there a logical reason that the three packets would have stayed together after separating from the rest of the money. In addition, Ralph Himmelsbach, the FBI chief investigator, observed that bundles floating downstream would have had to wash up on the bank "within a couple of years" of the hijacking; otherwise the rubber bands would have long since deteriorated. Evidence, however, suggested that the bills arrived at the area of their discovery, a beachfront known as Tina's Bar, no earlier than 1974, the year of a Corps of Engineers dredging operation on that stretch of the river. Geologist Leonard Palmer of Portland State University
Portland State University is a public state urban university located in downtown Portland, Oregon, United States. Founded in 1946, it has the largest overall enrollment of any university in the state of Oregon, including undergraduate and graduate students. It is also the only public university in...
found two distinct layers of sand and sediment between the clay deposited on the river bank by the dredge and the sand layer in which the bills were buried, indicating not only that the bills could not have been unearthed by the dredge itself, but that they arrived well after dredging had been completed.
Multiple alternate theories were advanced: Some surmised that the money had been found at a distant location by someone (or possibly even a wild animal), carried to the river bank, and reburied there. There was also the possibility that the money had been found on the riverbank earlier, perhaps before the dredging, and buried in a superficial sand layer at a later time. The sheriff of Cowlitz County proposed that Cooper accidentally dropped a few of the bundles on the airstair, which then blew off the aircraft after he jumped, and fell into the Columbia River. One local newspaper editor opined that Cooper, knowing he could never spend the money, simply dumped it in the river or buried it there (and possibly elsewhere) himself. No hypothesis offered to date satisfactorily explains all of the existing evidence; the means by which the money arrived on the river bank remains unknown.
In 1981 a human skull was unearthed along the same riverbank during excavations in search of additional evidence. Forensic pathologists eventually determined that it belonged to a woman, possibly of Native American ancestry.
In 1986, after protracted negotiations, the recovered bills were divided equally between Ingram and Northwest Orient's insurer; the FBI retained 14 examples as evidence. Ingram sold fifteen of his bills at auction in 2008 for about $37,000. To date, none of the approximately 9,700 remaining bills has turned up, in hiding or in circulation, anywhere in the world. Their serial numbers remain available online for public search.
In 1988 a portion of a parachute was raised from the bottom of the same stretch of the Columbia River, but FBI experts determined that it could not have been Cooper's. In 2008, children unearthed another parachute near Amboy, Washington
Amboy is a census-designated place in Clark County, Washington, United States. The population was 2,085 at the 2000 census.-Geography:Amboy is located at ....
, about 6 miles (10 km) due south of Lake Merwin, which proved to be of World War II-era military origin. The Columbia River ransom money and the airstair instruction placard remain the only bona fide physical evidence from the hijacking ever found outside of the aircraft.
Subsequent FBI disclosures
In late 2007 the FBI announced that a partial DNA profile had been obtained from three organic samples found on the clip-on tie left behind by the hijacker. The Bureau also made public a file of previously-unreleased evidence, including Cooper's 1971 plane ticket from Portland to Seattle (price: $18.52 plus tax, total $20.00, paid in cash); and disclosed that Cooper chose the older of the two primary parachutes supplied to him, rather than the technically superior professional sport parachute.
Furthermore, from the two reserve parachutes given him, Cooper selected a "dummy" — an unusable unit with an inoperative ripcord intended for classroom demonstrations, despite the fact that it had clear markings identifying it to any experienced skydiver as non-functional. (Cooper cannibalized the other, functional reserve parachute, possibly using its shrouds to tie the money bag shut, and to secure the bag to his body, as witnessed by Mucklow.) The FBI stressed that inclusion of the dummy reserve parachute, one of four obtained in haste from a Seattle skydiving school, was accidental. The agency also posted previously unreleased composite sketches and fact sheets, along with a request to the general public for information which might lead to Cooper's positive identification.
In March 2009 the FBI disclosed that Tom Kaye, a paleontologist from the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture
The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture has been a Washington state museum since 1899. It is located at the University of Washington campus at the intersection of N.E. 45th Street and 17th Avenue N.E. in Seattle, Washington, USA, in the University District. It is the only major natural...
in Seattle, had assembled a team including a scientific illustrator, a metallurgist, and Brian Ingram, the discoverer of the Columbia River ransom money. They have initiated a multifocal investigation which includes soil, water, and other experiments on the Columbia River and some of its tributaries. Using technology unavailable in 1971, such as satellite maps and GPS, they are attempting to relocate the exact point of Ingram's 1980 discovery, and then determine if the money floated freely to that location over time or was found elsewhere and reburied there. Other team members are retracing the 727's flight path from Seattle to Reno to more precisely estimate Cooper's landing zone. Others are using electron microscopy to examine pollen found on Cooper's tie in hopes of pinpointing a specific region of the country from which it may have come.
In November 2011 Kaye's team announced that particles of pure titanium
Titanium is a chemical element with the symbol Ti and atomic number 22. It has a low density and is a strong, lustrous, corrosion-resistant transition metal with a silver color....
had been found on the hijacker's clip-on tie. Kaye explained that the metal, which was much rarer in the 1970s than it is today, was found at that time only at metal smelting factories, or at chemical companies using it to store extremely corrosive substances. The findings suggested, he said, that Cooper may have been a chemist or a metallurgist, or may have worked in a metal or chemical manufacturing plant.
The "copycat" hijackings
Cooper was not the first to attempt air piracy for personal gain; only two weeks prior, a man named Paul Cini did it aboard an Air Canada DC-8 over Montana. (He was overpowered by the crew when he put down his gun to strap on the parachute.) However, Cooper inspired a flurry of imitators, as often happens "when a perpetrator seems to have gotten away with it." Most "copycats" struck during the year that followed. Some notable examples:
- Garrett Brock Trapnell
Garrett Brock Trapnell was a con man, bank robber, and aircraft hijacker of the 1960s and early 1970s. Trapnell initiated a string of bank robberies across the United States and Canada that netted him in excess of $1,000,000 over time...
hijacked a TWA airliner en route from Los Angeles to New York City in January 1972. He demanded $306,800 in cash, the release of Angela Davis
Angela Davis is an American political activist, scholar, and author. Davis was most politically active during the late 1960s through the 1970s and was associated with the Communist Party USA, the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Panther Party...
, and an audience with President Richard Nixon. After the aircraft landed at Kennedy Airport he was shot and wounded by FBI agents before being arrested.
- Richard McCoy, Jr.
Richard Floyd McCoy, Jr. was an American aircraft hijacker.McCoy hijacked a United Airlines passenger jet for ransom in 1972. Due to a similar modus operandi, law enforcement officials named McCoy as a suspect for the still-unidentified "D. B...
, a former Army Green Beret
A green beret was the headgear of the British Commandos of World War II. Certain military organisations still wear green berets because they have regimental or unit histories that form a connection with the British Commandos of World War II....
, hijacked a United Airlines 727-100 in April 1972 after it left Denver, Colorado, diverted it to San Francisco, then bailed out over Utah with $500,000 in ransom money. He landed safely, but was arrested two days later.
- Frederick Hahneman used a handgun to hijack an Eastern Airlines 727 in Allentown, Pennsylvania
Allentown is a city located in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, in the United States. It is Pennsylvania's third most populous city, after Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and the 215th largest city in the United States. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 118,032 and is currently...
in May, demanded $303,000, and eventually parachuted into Honduras
Honduras is a republic in Central America. It was previously known as Spanish Honduras to differentiate it from British Honduras, which became the modern-day state of Belize...
, his country of birth. A month later, with the FBI in pursuit and a $25,000 bounty on his head, he surrendered to the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa.
- Robb Dolin Heady, a paratrooper
Paratroopers are soldiers trained in parachuting and generally operate as part of an airborne force.Paratroopers are used for tactical advantage as they can be inserted into the battlefield from the air, thereby allowing them to be positioned in areas not accessible by land...
and Vietnam veteran, stormed a United Airlines 727 in Reno in early June, extorted $200,000 and two parachutes, and jumped into darkness near Lake Washoe, about 25 miles (40.2 km) south of Reno. Police found Heady's car (sporting a U.S. Parachute Association bumper sticker) parked near the lake and arrested him as he returned to it the next morning.
- Martin McNally, an unemployed service station attendant, used a submachine gun in late June to commandeer an American Airlines 727 en route from St. Louis to Tulsa, then diverted it eastward to Indiana and bailed out with $500,000 in ransom. McNally lost the ransom money as he exited the aircraft, but landed safely near Peru, Indiana and was apprehended a few days later in a Detroit suburb.
In all, a total of 15 hijackings similar to Cooper's were attempted over the course of 1972. Only Cooper, however, has eluded capture or identification.
Theories and conjectures
In the years since the hijacking the FBI has periodically made public some of its working hypotheses and tentative conclusions about the case, drawn from witness testimony and the scarce physical evidence.
The official physical description remains unchanged and is considered reliable. Flight attendants Schaffner and Mucklow, who spent the most time with Cooper, were interviewed separately on the same night in separate cities, and gave nearly identical descriptions: 5 in 10 in (1.78 m) to 6 in 0 in (1.83 m) tall, 170 to 180 lb (77.1 to 81.6 ), mid-40s, with close-set piercing brown eyes. Passengers and other eyewitnesses gave very similar descriptions.
Agents believe that Cooper was familiar with the Seattle area and may have been an Air Force veteran, based on testimony that he recognized the city of Tacoma from the air as the jet circled Puget Sound, and his accurate comment to flight attendant Mucklow that McChord Air Force Base was approximately 20 minutes' driving time from the Seattle-Tacoma Airport—a detail most civilians would not know, or comment upon. His financial situation was very likely desperate: Extortionists and other criminals who steal large amounts of money nearly always do so, according to experts, because they need it urgently; otherwise, the crime is not worth the considerable risk. (A minority opinion is that Cooper was "a thrill seeker" who made the jump "just to prove it could be done.")
Agents theorize that he took his alias from a popular French comic book series of the 1970s featuring the fictional hero Dan Cooper, a Royal Canadian Air Force test pilot who took part in numerous heroic adventures, including parachuting. (One cover from the series, reproduced on the FBI web site, depicts test pilot Cooper skydiving in full paratrooper regalia.) Because the Dan Cooper comics were never translated into English nor imported to the US, they speculate that he may have encountered them during a tour of duty in Europe.
They believe that he was a careful and shrewd planner: He asked for four parachutes to force the assumption that he might compel a hostage to jump with him, thus ensuring he would not be deliberately supplied with sabotaged equipment. The amount and form of the ransom (if sources are correct that he specified 20-dollar bills) appear also to have been carefully calculated in advance: 50- or 100-dollar bills would have drawn attention and been too difficult to pass, and a larger quantity of 20-dollar bills would have been too heavy and bulky for his jump.
Cooper was apparently quite familiar with the 727-100 aircraft: It was the ideal choice at the time, not only for its aft airstair, but also the high, aftward placement of all three engines, allowing a reasonably safe jump without risk of immediate incineration by jet exhaust. It had "single-point fueling" capability, a recent innovation which allowed all tanks to be refueled rapidly through a single fuel port. It also had the ability (unusual for a commercial jet airliner) to remain in slow, low-altitude flight without stalling; and Cooper knew how to control its air speed and altitude without entering the cockpit, where he could have been overpowered by the three pilots. In addition, Cooper was familiar with important details, such as the appropriate flap setting of 15 degrees (which was unique to that aircraft), and the typical refueling time. He knew that the aft airstair could be lowered during flight—a fact never disclosed to civilian flight crews since there was no situation on a passenger flight that would make it necessary—and that its operation, by a single switch in the rear of the cabin, could not be overridden from the cockpit. He may even have known, particularly if he served in Vietnam or had friends who did, that the Central Intelligence Agency had been using 727s to drop agents and supplies behind enemy lines in Vietnam.
The Bureau feels strongly, however, that he lacked crucial skydiving skills and experience. "We originally thought Cooper was an experienced jumper, perhaps even a paratrooper," said Special Agent Carr, the current chief investigator. "We concluded after a few years this was simply not true. No experienced parachutist would have jumped in the pitch-black night, in the rain, with a 200-mile-an-hour wind in his face, wearing loafers and a trench coat. It was simply too risky. He also missed that his reserve 'chute was only for training, and had been sewn shut—something a skilled skydiver would have checked." He also failed to bring or request a helmet, and he chose to jump with the older and technically inferior of the two primary parachutes supplied to him.
Assuming Cooper was not a paratrooper, and was an Air Force veteran, Carr believes he could have been an aircraft cargo loader. Such an assignment would have given him knowledge and experience in the aviation industry; and because Air Force loaders throw cargo out of flying aircraft, they wear emergency parachutes in case they accidentally fall out. The rudimentary jump training loaders receive would have given Cooper a working knowledge of parachutes—but "not necessarily sufficient knowledge to survive the jump he made."
The Bureau has argued from the beginning that Cooper did not survive his jump. "Diving into the wilderness without a plan, without the right equipment, in such terrible conditions, he probably never even got his 'chute open," said Carr. Even if he did land safely, agents contend, survival in the mountainous terrain would have been all but impossible without an accomplice at a predetermined landing point, which would have required a precisely-timed jump, necessitating, in turn, cooperation from the flight crew. There is no evidence that Cooper had any such help from the crew, nor any clear idea where he was when he jumped into the overcast darkness.
Since 1971 the FBI has processed over a thousand "serious suspects", along with assorted publicity seekers, crackpots, and deathbed confessors. Most—but not all—have been definitively ruled out. The following is a compendium of the most prominent and better-known suspects:
In 2003 a Minnesota resident named Lyle Christiansen, after watching a television documentary about the Cooper hijacking, became convinced that his elder brother Kenneth was D. B. Cooper. After repeated futile attempts to convince first the FBI, and then the author and film director Nora Ephron
Nora Ephron is an American film director, producer, screenwriter, novelist, playwright, journalist, author, and blogger.She is best known for her romantic comedies and is a triple nominee for the Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay; for Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally... and Sleepless in...
(who he hoped would make a movie about the case), he contacted a private investigator in New York. In 2010 the detective, Skipp Porteous
Skipp Porteous is a former Evangelical Christian minister, now an outspoken critic of religious extremism of all kinds. A convert to Judaism, he has claimed that "man created God in his own image, and he doesn't like the image."...
, published a book theorizing that Christiansen was indeed the hijacker. In early 2011 a History Channel documentary also summarized the circumstantial evidence linking Christiansen to the Cooper case.
Christiansen enlisted in the Army in 1944 and was trained as a paratrooper. The war had ended by the time he was deployed in 1945, but he did make occasional training jumps (for bonus money) while stationed in Japan with occupation forces in the late 1940s. After leaving the Army he joined Northwest Orient in 1954 as a mechanic in the South Pacific, and subsequently became a flight attendant, and then a purser
The purser joined the warrant officer ranks of the Royal Navy in the early fourteenth century and existed as a Naval rank until 1852. The development of the warrant officer system began in 1040 when five English ports began furnishing warships to King Edward the Confessor in exchange for certain...
, based in Seattle. Christiansen was 45 years old at the time of the hijacking, but he was shorter (5 ft. 8 in.), thinner (150 pounds), and lighter-complected than eyewitness descriptions. He was also balder; but his brother claims he wore a toupée routinely prior to the Cooper hijacking, and never wore it again afterward. Another witness, a longtime friend, confirmed that Christiansen ceased wearing his toupée after the hijacking, and claimed (as have proponents of other suspects) that she recognized the hijacker's tie clip as one belonging to Christiansen. Christiansen smoked (as did the hijacker), and displayed a particular fondness for bourbon (Cooper's preferred beverage). He was also left-handed. (Evidence photos of Cooper's black tie show the tie clip applied from the left side, suggesting a left-handed wearer.) Flight attendant Florence Schaffner told a reporter that photos of Christiansen fit her memory of the hijacker’s appearance more closely than those of other suspects she had been shown. (Tina Mucklow, who had the most contact with Cooper, has never granted a press interview.)
Christiansen reportedly purchased a house with cash a few months after the hijacking. While dying of cancer in 1994, he told Lyle, "There is something you should know, but I cannot tell you." Lyle said he never pressed his brother to explain. After his death family members discovered gold coins and a valuable stamp collection, along with over $200,000 in his bank accounts. They also found a folder of news clippings about Northwest Orient which began about the time he was hired in the 1950s, and stopped just prior to the date of the hijacking, despite the fact that the hijacking was by far the most momentous news event in the airline's history. Christiansen continued to work part-time for the airline for many years after 1971, but apparently never clipped another Northwest news story.
Despite the recent flurry of publicity, the FBI is standing by its position that Christiansen cannot be considered a prime suspect. They cite a poor match to eyewitness physical descriptions (despite Lyle’s toupée theory), a level of skydiving expertise above that predicted by their suspect profile, and an absence of direct incriminating evidence.
William Pratt Gossett (born July 29, 1930, in San Jose, California
San Jose is the third-largest city in California, the tenth-largest in the U.S., and the county seat of Santa Clara County which is located at the southern end of San Francisco Bay...
) was a Marine Corps
A marine is a member of a force that specializes in expeditionary operations such as amphibious assault and occupation. The marines traditionally have strong links with the country's navy...
, Army, and Army Air Force veteran who saw action in Korea and Vietnam. His military experience included advanced jump training and wilderness survival. After retiring from military service in 1973 he worked as an ROTC instructor, taught military law at Weber State University
Weber State University is a public university located in the city of Ogden in Weber County, Utah, USA. It was founded in 1889 and is a coeducational, publicly supported university offering professional, liberal arts and technical certificates, as well as associate, bachelor's and master's degrees...
in Ogden, Utah
Ogden is a city in Weber County, Utah, United States. Ogden serves as the county seat of Weber County. The population was 82,825 according to the 2010 Census. The city served as a major railway hub through much of its history, and still handles a great deal of freight rail traffic which makes it a...
, and hosted a radio talk show in Salt Lake City which featured discussions about the paranormal
Paranormal is a general term that designates experiences that lie outside "the range of normal experience or scientific explanation" or that indicates phenomena understood to be outside of science's current ability to explain or measure...
. He died on September 1, 2003 in Lincoln City, Oregon
Lincoln City is a city in Lincoln County, Oregon, United States. It is named after the county. The population was 7,930 at the 2010 census.- History :...
, following a stroke.
Gossett was widely known to be obsessed with the Cooper hijacking. He amassed a voluminous collection of Cooper-related news articles, and told one of his wives that he knew enough about the case to "write the epitaph for D.B. Cooper." Late in his life he reportedly told three of his sons, a retired Utah judge, and a friend in the Salt Lake City public defender's office that he had committed the hijacking. Photos of Gossett taken circa 1971 bear a close resemblance to the most widely circulated Cooper composite drawing.
According to Galen Cook, a lawyer who has collected information related to Gossett for years, Gossett once showed his sons a key to a Vancouver, British Columbia, safe deposit box which, he claimed, contained the long-missing ransom money. Gossett's eldest son, Greg, said that his father, a compulsive gambler who was always "strapped for cash", showed him "wads of cash" just before Christmas 1971, weeks after the Cooper hijacking. He speculated that Gossett gambled the money away in Las Vegas.
In 1988 Gossett changed his name to "Wolfgang" and became a Catholic priest, which Cook and others interpreted as an effort to disguise his identity. Other circumstantial evidence includes testimony which Cook claims to have obtained from William Mitchell, a passenger on the hijacked aircraft, regarding a mysterious "physical detail" (which he will not divulge) common to the hijacker and Gossett. Cook also claims to have found "possible links" to Gossett in each of four letters signed by "D.B. Cooper" and mailed to three newspapers within days after the hijacking, although there is no evidence that the actual hijacker created or mailed any of the letters.
The FBI says that they have no direct evidence implicating Gossett, and cannot even reliably place him in the Pacific Northwest at the time of the hijacking. "There is not one link to the D.B. Cooper case," said Special Agent Carr, "other than the statements [Gossett] made to someone."
Richard Floyd McCoy, Jr.
McCoy was an Army veteran who served two tours of duty in Vietnam, first as a demolition expert, and later, with the Green Berets, as a helicopter pilot. After his military service he became a warrant officer
A warrant officer is an officer in a military organization who is designated an officer by a warrant, as distinguished from a commissioned officer who is designated an officer by a commission, or from non-commissioned officer who is designated an officer by virtue of seniority.The rank was first...
in the Utah National Guard
The Utah National Guard consists of the:* Utah Army National Guard**19th Special Forces Group **85th WMD CST**97th Troop Command**115th Engineer Group **211th Aviation Group**300th MI Brigade **640th Regiment...
and an avid recreational skydiver, with aspirations, he said, of becoming a Utah State Trooper.
On April 7, 1972 McCoy staged the best-known of the so-called "copycat" hijackings. He boarded United Airlines' Flight 855 (a Boeing 727 with aft stairs) in Denver, and brandishing what later proved to be a paperweight resembling a hand grenade and an unloaded handgun, he demanded four parachutes and $500,000. After delivery of the money and parachutes at San Francisco International Airport
San Francisco International Airport is a major international airport located south of downtown San Francisco, California, United States, near the cities of Millbrae and San Bruno in unincorporated San Mateo County. It is often referred to as SFO...
, McCoy ordered the aircraft back into the sky and bailed out over Provo, Utah, leaving behind his handwritten hijacking instructions and his fingerprints on a magazine he had been reading. He was arrested on April 9 with the ransom cash in his possession, and after trial and conviction, received a 45-year sentence. Two years later he escaped from Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary
The United States Penitentiary in Lewisburg is a male inmate high security federal penitentiary and satellite minimum security prison camp housing some 1,000 and 500 respectively, just outside Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. The Lewisburg Penitentiary was opened in 1932...
with several accomplices by crashing a garbage truck through the main gate. Tracked down three months later in Virginia Beach
Virginia Beach is an independent city located in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area of Virginia, on the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay...
, McCoy was killed in a shootout with FBI agents.
In their 1991 book, D.B. Cooper: The Real McCoy
, parole officer Bernie Rhodes and former FBI agent Russell Calame asserted that they had identified McCoy as D.B. Cooper. They cited obvious similarities in the two hijackings, claims by McCoy's family that the tie and mother-of-pearl tie clip left on the plane belonged to McCoy, and McCoy's own refusal to admit or deny that he was Cooper. A principal proponent of their theory was the FBI agent who killed McCoy. "When I shot Richard McCoy," he said, "I shot D. B. Cooper at the same time."
While there is no reasonable doubt that McCoy committed the Denver hijacking, the FBI does not consider him a suspect in the Cooper case due to significant non-matches in his age (29) and description; a level of skydiving skill well above that thought to be possessed by the hijacker; and credible evidence that McCoy was in Las Vegas on the day of the Seattle hijacking, and at home in Utah the day after, having Thanksgiving dinner with his family.
Duane L. Weber was a World War II Army veteran who served time in at least six prisons from 1945 to 1968 for burglary and forgery. He was proposed as a suspect by his widow, based primarily on a deathbed confession: Three days before he died in 1995, Weber told his wife, "I am Dan Cooper." The name meant nothing to her until months later, she said, when a friend told her of its significance in the hijacking. She went to her local library to research D.B. Cooper, found Max Gunther
Max Gunther was an Anglo-American journalist and writer, author of 26 books, including the finance best-seller The Zurich Axioms....
's book, and discovered notations in the margins in her husband's handwriting.
She then recalled, in retrospect, that Weber once had a nightmare during which he talked in his sleep about jumping from a plane, leaving his fingerprints on the "aft stairs." He also reportedly told her that an old knee injury had been incurred by "jumping out of a plane." Like the hijacker, Weber drank bourbon and chain smoked. Other circumstantial evidence included a 1979 trip to Seattle and the Columbia River during which Weber took a walk alone along the river bank in the Tina's Bar area; four months later Brian Ingram made his ransom cash discovery in the same area.
The FBI eliminated Weber as an active suspect in July 1998 when his fingerprints did not match any of those processed in the hijacked plane, and no other direct evidence could be found to implicate him. Later, his DNA also failed to match the samples recovered from Cooper's tie, though the Bureau has since conceded that they cannot be certain that the organic material on the tie came from Cooper.
John Emil List was an accountant and World War II and Korea veteran who murdered his wife, three teenaged children, and 85-year-old mother in Westfield, New Jersey fifteen days before the Cooper hijacking, withdrew $200,000 from his mother's bank account, and disappeared. He came to the attention of the Cooper task force due to the timing of his disappearance, multiple matches to the hijacker's description, and the reasoning that "a fugitive accused of mass murder has nothing to lose." After his capture in 1989, List admitted to murdering his family, but denied any involvement in the Cooper hijacking. While his name continues to crop up in Cooper articles and documentaries, no direct evidence implicates him, and the FBI no longer considers him a suspect. He died in prison in 2008.
Dayton was a recreational pilot and University of Washington librarian. Born a male and named Bobby, he served in the Merchant Marine in 1926 and then the Army during World War II. After his discharge he worked with explosives in the construction industry. Later he became a private pilot and aspired to fly professionally, but could not obtain a commercial pilot's license.
In 1969 he underwent gender reassignment surgery and became Barbara. Two years later, she said, she staged the Cooper hijacking, disguised as a man, to "get back" at the airline industry and the FAA, whose insurmountable rules and conditions had prevented her from becoming an airline pilot. She said she hid the ransom money in a cistern near her landing point in Woodburn, Oregon (a suburban area south of Portland). Eventually she recanted her entire story, ostensibly after learning that she could still be charged with the hijacking. The FBI has never commented publicly on Dayton, who died in 2002.
Mayfield is an Army Special Forces veteran, former pilot, competitive skydiver, skydiving instructor, and ex-convict who served time for negligent homicide after several of his students died when their parachutes failed to open. His criminal record also includes armed robbery and transportation of stolen aircraft. He was suggested repeatedly as a suspect early in the investigation, according to FBI Agent Ralph Himmelsbach, who knew Mayfield from a prior dispute at a local airport. He was ruled out, based partly on the fact that he called Himmelsbach less than two hours after Flight 305 landed in Reno to volunteer advice on standard skydiving practices and possible landing zones.
In 2006 two amateur researchers named Daniel Dvorak and Matthew Myers proposed him as a suspect once again, attracting coverage from a Portland television station and the syndicated program Inside Edition
. They claimed they had assembled a convincing circumstantial case that would be presented in detail in a forthcoming book. (Among other things, they theorized that Mayfield called Himmelsbach not to offer advice, but to establish an alibi; and they challenged Himmelsbach's conclusion that Mayfield could not possibly have found a phone in time to call the FBI less than four hours after jumping into the wilderness at night.) Mayfield denied any involvement, and repeated a previous assertion that the FBI called him
five times while the hijacking was still in progress to ask about skydiving techniques. (Himmelsbach said the FBI never called Mayfield.) Mayfield further charged that Dvorak and Myers asked him to play along with their theory, and "we'll all make a lot of money." (Dvorak and Myers called any inference of collusion a "blatant lie.")
Dvorak died in 2007, and the pair’s investigation and book apparently died with him. The FBI has offered no comment beyond Himmelsbach's original statement that Mayfield, who still resides in Sheridan, Oregon
Sheridan is a city in Yamhill County, Oregon, United States. Platted in the 1860s when it received a post office, the city was incorporated in 1880. A major fire burned much of the city in 1913, and a flood covered much of the city in 1964...
, was ruled out as a suspect early on.
Coffelt was a conman, ex-convict, and purported government informant who claimed to have been the chauffeur and confidante of Abraham Lincoln's last undisputed descendant, great-grandson Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith
Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith was the great-grandson of Abraham Lincoln. In 1975, he became the last undisputed descendant of Lincoln when his sister, "Peggy" Beckwith, died without children.-Biography:...
. In 1972, he also began claiming he was D.B. Cooper, and attempted through an intermediary, a former cellmate named James Brown, to sell his story to a Hollywood production company. He said he landed near Mount Hood
Mount Hood, called Wy'east by the Multnomah tribe, is a stratovolcano in the Cascade Volcanic Arc of northern Oregon. It was formed by a subduction zone and rests in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States...
(about 50 miles (80.5 km) southeast of Ariel), losing the ransom money and injuring himself in the process. Photos of Coffelt bear a resemblance to the composite drawings, although he was in his mid-fifties in 1971. He was reportedly in Portland on the day of the hijacking, and sustained leg injuries around that time which were consistent with a skydiving mishap.
Coffelt's account was reviewed by the FBI, which concluded that it differed in significant details from information that had not been made public, and was therefore a fabrication. Brown, undeterred, continued peddling the story long after Coffelt died in 1975. Multiple media venues, including the television news program 60 Minutes
, considered and rejected it. In a 2008 book about Lincoln's descendants, author Charles Lachman revived Coffelt as a suspect and retold his tale, apparently unaware that it had been discredited 36 years previously.
Lynn Doyle Cooper
In late July 2011, an FBI spokesperson told a British newspaper that the Bureau was investigating a "promising new suspect". In early August, a woman named Marla Cooper came forward as the source of the new information. She claimed that she had proposed her uncle, a leather worker and Korean War veteran named Lynn Doyle Cooper, as the new suspect, and had provided the FBI with evidence—including a photo and a guitar strap her uncle had made—for fingerprint and DNA analysis. The woman told ABC News that as an 8-year-old she recalled her two uncles planning something "very mischievous", involving the use of "expensive walkie-talkies", at her grandmother's house in Sisters, Oregon
Sisters is a city in Deschutes County, Oregon, United States. It is part of the Bend, Oregon Metropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 959 at the 2000 census, but more than doubled to 2038 as of the 2010 census.- History :...
, 150 miles (241.4 km) south of Portland. The next day flight 305 was hijacked; and though the uncles ostensibly were turkey hunting, one, L.D. Cooper, came home wearing a bloody shirt—the result, he said, of an auto accident. Later, she said, her parents came to believe that L.D. Cooper was the hijacker. She also recalled that her uncle, who died in 1999, was obsessed with the Canadian comic book hero Dan Cooper (see above), and "had one of his comic books thumbtacked to his wall"—although he was not a skydiver or paratrooper.
On August 3 the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
reported that no fingerprints had been found on the guitar strap. On August 9 Special Agent Fred Gutt disclosed that L.D. Cooper's DNA did not match the partial DNA profile obtained from the hijacker's tie; but he acknowledged that the FBI cannot be certain that the hijacker was the source of the organic material obtained from the tie. "The tie had two small DNA samples, and one large sample lifted off in 2000–2001," he said. "It's difficult to draw firm conclusions from these samples." He added that the Bureau "[has not] come up with anything that is inconsistent with [Marla Cooper's] story", and will continue its investigation, with a focus on locating a sample of L.D. Cooper's fingerprints.
The Cooper hijacking marked the beginning of the end of unfettered and uninspected airline travel. President Richard Nixon initiated the sky marshal program
The Federal Air Marshal Service is a United States federal law enforcement agency under the supervision of the Transportation Security Administration of the United States Department of Homeland Security...
, which placed armed undercover federal agents on selected flights. Despite this, 31 hijackings were committed in U.S. airspace in 1972, 19 of them for the specific purpose of extorting money. (Most of the rest were attempts to reach Cuba.) In 15 of the extortion cases, the hijackers also demanded parachutes. In early 1973, the FAA began requiring airlines to search all passengers and their bags. Amid multiple lawsuits charging that such searches violated Fourth Amendment
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution is the part of the Bill of Rights which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, along with requiring any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause...
protections against search and seizure, federal courts ruled that they were acceptable when applied universally, and when limited to searches for weapons and explosives. In contrast to the 31 hijackings in 1972, only two were attempted in 1973, both by psychiatric patients, one of whom
Samuel Joseph Byck was an unemployed former tire salesman who attempted to hijack a plane flying out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport on February 22, 1974. He intended to crash into the White House in the hope of killing U.S...
intended to crash the airliner into the White House to kill President Nixon.
In the wake of multiple "copycat" hijackings in 1972 the FAA required that all Boeing 727 aircraft be fitted with a device, later dubbed the "Cooper vane
A Cooper vane is a mechanical aerodynamic wedge that prevents the ventral airstair of an aircraft from being lowered in flight. Following three hijackings in 1972, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered that Boeing 727 aircraft be fitted with Cooper vanes. The device was named for famed...
", which prevented lowering of the aft airstair during flight. Several airlines elected to abandon use of the airstair entirely, and simply welded the aft doors of their 727s shut.
A less-well-known modification mandated as a direct result of the hijacking was the installation of peepholes in all cockpit doors, making it possible for the cockpit crew to observe events in the passenger cabin with the cockpit door closed.
Subsequent history of N467US
In 1978 the hijacked 727-100 aircraft was sold by Northwest to Piedmont Airlines where it was renumbered N838N and continued in domestic carrier service. In 1984 it was purchased by the now-defunct charter company Key Airlines, renumbered N29KA, and incorporated into the Air Force's civilian charter fleet that shuttled workers between Nellis Air Force Base
Nellis Air Force Base is a United States Air Force Base, located approximately northeast of Las Vegas, Nevada. It is under the jurisdiction of Air Combat Command .-Overview:...
and the Tonopah Test Range
Tonopah Test Range , also known as Area 52, is a restricted military installation located about southeast of Tonopah, Nevada. It is part of the northern fringe of the Nellis Range, measuring . Tonopah Test Range is located about northwest of Groom Dry Lake, home of the Area 51 facility...
during the top-secret F-117 Nighthawk
The Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk was a single-seat, twin-engine stealth ground-attack aircraft formerly operated by the United States Air Force . The F-117A's first flight was in 1981, and it achieved initial operating capability status in October 1983...
development program. In 1996 the aircraft was scrapped for parts in a Memphis boneyard.
While D.B. Cooper was ineluctably an air pirate and extortionist (Himmelsbach famously called him a "rotten sleazy crook") who endangered the lives of 42 people and caused immeasurable inconvenience for many others, his bold, adventurous, unprecedented crime inspired a cult following, expressed through song, film and literature. Cities in the Pacific Northwest sold tourist souvenirs and held celebrations in his memory. He is remembered in Ariel, Washington
Ariel is an unincorporated place in Cowlitz County, Washington....
with a 'Cooper Day' event held annually on the weekend after Thanksgiving weekend, and elsewhere with Cooper-themed promotions held by restaurants and bowling alleys. Cooper has also been used in the storylines of such popular TV series as Prison Break
Prison Break is an American television serial drama created by Paul Scheuring, that was broadcast on the Fox Broadcasting Company for four seasons, from 2005 until 2009. The series revolves around two brothers; one has been sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit, and the other devises an...
NewsRadio is an American television situation comedy that aired on NBC from 1995 to 1999. The series was created by executive producer Paul Simms, and was filmed in front of a studio audience at CBS Studio Center and Sunset Gower Studios...
, and Numb3rs
Numb3rs is an American television drama which premiered on CBS on January 23, 2005, and concluded on March 12, 2010. The series was created by Nicolas Falacci and Cheryl Heuton, and follows FBI Special Agent Don Eppes and his mathematical genius brother, Charlie Eppes , who helps Don solve crimes...
, as well as a book called The Vesuvius Prophecy
based on The 4400
The 4400 is a science fiction TV series produced by CBS Paramount Network Television in association with Sky Television, Renegade 83, and American Zoetrope for USA Network. The show was created and written by Scott Peters and René Echevarria, and it stars Joel Gretsch and Jacqueline McKenzie...
- Cold case (criminology)
- List of people who disappeared mysteriously
- Philippine Airlines Flight 812
Philippine Airlines Flight 812 was a scheduled passenger flight from Francisco Bangoy International Airport in Davao City to Ninoy Aquino International Airport near Manila. On May 25, 2000, an Airbus A330-301 operating on the route was hijacked by a man later identified as Reginald Chua, just...
- Samuel Byck
Samuel Joseph Byck was an unemployed former tire salesman who attempted to hijack a plane flying out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport on February 22, 1974. He intended to crash into the White House in the hope of killing U.S...
- Tosaw, Richard T. (1984) D.B. Cooper: Dead or Alive?. Tosaw Publishing. ISBN 0-9609016-1-2. (Early compendium of information, some at variance with later, more authoritative accounts; self published; includes a complete listing of ransom serial numbers.) (Based on interviews with a woman known as “Clara”, who claimed to have discovered an injured Cooper two days after the hijacking and lived with him until he died a decade later; considered a hoax by the FBI.) (Himmelsbach was the FBI's chief investigator on the case until his retirement in 1980; “Norjak” is FBI shorthand for the Cooper hijacking.)
- Rhodes, B and Calame, R. (1991) D.B. Cooper: The Real McCoy. Univ. of Utah Press ISBN 0-87480-377-2. (Summary of the circumstantial case that "copycat" Richard McCoy was D.B. Cooper.)
- Reid, Elwood
Elwood Reid is an American novelist and short-story writer. He worked as a cook, barkeeper, teacher and spent two years in Alaska working as a carpenter. He is a 1996 graduate of the University of Michigan Creative Writing MFA Program...
(2005). D.B.: A Novel. Anchor Books. ISBN 0-385-49739-3 (A work of fiction which proposes a factually unsupported solution to the hijacking.)
- Forman, P and Forman, R. (2008) The Legend of D.B. Cooper – Death by Natural Causes. Borders Personal Publishing. ISBN 1-60552-014-4 (The self-published story of Barbara Dayton, who claimed to have staged the hijacking disguised as a man, then recanted her story.)
- Grant, Walter. (2008) D.B. Cooper, Where Are You? Publication Consultants. ISBN 1-59433-076-X (A writer's fanciful account of what may have happened.)
- Nuttall, George C. (2010) D.B. Cooper Case Exposed: J. Edgar Hoover Cover Up? Vantage Press. ISBN 0-533-16390-0 (Factually unsupported theory of conspiracy and cover-up.) (Straightforward accounting of official information and evidence.)
- Elmore, Gene. (2010) D.B. Cooper: Aftermath. iUniverse. ISBN 1-4502-1545-9 (Self-published work of fiction, interwoven with some of the commonly-known facts.) (A compilation of the circumstantial evidence implicating Kenneth Christiansen.)
- Gray, Geoffrey. (2011) Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper. Crown. ISBN 0-307-45129-1 (A newly published book by the author of the 2007 New York Magazine article that proposed Kenneth Christiansen as a suspect.)