November 24, 1971: The Mysterious D.B. Cooper Hijacks Plane and is Never Seen Again!

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A Brief History

On November 24, 1971, a man known only as D.B. Cooper jumped with a parachute from a Boeing 727 into history as the only unsolved airplane hijacker!

Digging Deeper

Digging deeper, we find a white male, mistakenly identified as D.B. Cooper, getting on a flight out of Portland, Oregon heading to Seattle, Washington on Northwest Orient Airlines.

Carrying a briefcase and wearing a suit, D.B. looked like a typical businessman of perhaps just over average height and early middle age.  Cooper handed a note to a stewardess who plopped it into her purse without giving it a glance, being used to men giving her their phone number or hotel room. Seeing her actions, Cooper advised her to look at the note and told her that he had a bomb.

Sitting next to the hijacker, she was given instructions that he wanted $200,000, 4 parachutes, and a tanker truck on the runway at Seattle, obviously intending to land, get his goods, refuel, and take off for parts unknown.  The stewardess demanded to see the bomb, which Cooper showed her inside his briefcase.  Of course, we may never know if it was real. Cooper’s demands were given to the pilots who in turn contacted the Seattle authorities with the hijack information.

Local and federal authorities on the ground gathered the ransom (all in $20 bills in a backpack) and the parachutes, refueled the plane, and the passengers were released leaving the aircrew as hostages.  Then it was off to Cooper’s stated destination, Mexico.  Oddly, he also demanded that the jet fly as slow as possible (120 mph) and at a maximum of 10,000 feet, with the landing gear down and the back door open!  Coupled with his demand for parachutes, it was obvious what was coming next.

With all the aircrew forward, no one was in the back to see exactly when (or if?) Cooper jumped out of the plane, but when it landed at Reno, Nevada he certainly seemed to be gone, leaving 2 of the parachutes behind.  Darkness having fallen prior to this last leg of the flight, no one reported seeing a parachute, and no one knows exactly where he jumped, possibly in Washington, Oregon or northern California.  With such a huge possible landing zone, it is not surprising that no trace of Cooper was ever found.

Two intriguing items were, however, discovered related to this incident: an instructional placard on lowering the rear stairs of a 727 in 1978 (near Castle Rock, Washington) and even more exciting, the discovery of 290 of the $20 bills found on the bank of the Columbia River by an 8 year old boy.  The money was positively identified by serial numbers, but no other traces were ever found, despite massive searches by authorities and amateurs.  Modern forensics and DNA science has also come up short.

The legacy of the man known as D.B. Cooper lives on today in popular culture, providing grist for the conspiracy mill and references in modern TV, movies and books.  This incident also triggered copycat hijackers, and spurred major changes to air travel, with passengers and their carry on luggage going through metal detectors.

Question for students (and subscribers): What do you think happened to Cooper?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

Cooper ranks seventh on the list of “Top 10 Dead Persons Still Said To Be Alive After Death,” sixth on the list of “Top 10 Unexplained Disappearances,” and fourth on the list of “Top 10 Unexplained Mysterious Disappearances in History.”  Anyone who can solve this mystery deserves a round of applause.  Many have tried…

Gray, Geoffrey.  Skyjack: The Hunt for D. B. Cooper.  Broadway Books, 2012.

Gunther, Max.  D.B. Cooper: What Really Happened.  Contemporary Books, 1985.

The featured image in this article, FBI sketches of Cooper, with age progression, is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.