Dan Cooper walked up to the Northwest Orient Airlines ticket counter in Portland, Oregon, on Nov. 24, 1971, and paid cash for a one-way ticket to Seattle.
Cooper, dark-haired and sporting a white shirt with a black tie, perhaps in his 40s, boarded the plane. He ordered a bourbon and soda before the flight took off. Then, he got the attention of a flight attendant, and passed her a note to say he had a bomb in his briefcase.
Cooper asked the stewardess to sit with him. He popped open the briefcase, revealed a nest of wires, then snapped it shut again. He told the attendant to write down what he said, then demanded $200,000 in $20 bills, as well as four parachutes.
The shocked attendant walked the message to the front of the plane.
When the flight touched down in Seattle, Cooper got what he wanted and allowed the 36 passengers to exit the plane. But he demanded that some of the flight staff stay and that the plane chart a course for Mexico City.
The U.S. tailed the plane with aircraft of its own as the flight headed south, but Cooper would never make it to his desired destination, at least as far as we know.
He had the plane fly low and leisurely. Then, at about 8 p.m., he leapt into the dark with a parachute fastened to his back and the ransom money strapped to his body. Where he went from there, and even whether he survived, are questions the FBI decided to leave unanswered as the agency decided to close the case earlier this week.
It’s possible the agency could reopen the case if, say, they find the extra parachutes or come across stacks and stacks of old $20 bills. But they haven’t found much evidence over the past five decades. Dan Cooper D.B. Cooper, as the media dubbed him isn’t even the guy’s real name, just an alias he gave at the ticket counter.
The FBI has vetted around 100 suspects since that day in ’71. They’ve found some shredded parachute material and the black tie Cooper left on the plane. A boy in 1980 stumbled across a bunch of decaying bills that matched the serial number on the ransom money.
But the agency was never able to weave a thread through the clues that led to the real man behind the Cooper legend.
For now, it’s the only successful airplane hijacking in American history that remains unsolved.
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