Time to read: 3 minutes
On November 24th, 1971, a man who called himself Dan Cooper boarded a Northwest Orient Airlines Boeing 727 from Portland to Seattle. He was dressed in a dark suit, black tie, white shirt, and a black raincoat. The middle-aged man, who appeared calm and collected, handed a note to one of the flight attendants. The note stated that he had a bomb in his briefcase and demanded $200,000 in cash, four parachutes, and a fuel truck to refuel the plane when it landed in Seattle. The FBI and local law enforcement agencies scrambled to comply with Cooper’s demands, and the plane took off again with Cooper and the ransom money onboard.
What followed was a bizarre chain of events that has become one of the most fascinating and enduring mysteries in modern American history. Cooper directed the pilot to fly to Mexico City, but as the plane passed over the rugged terrain of Washington State, he put on a parachute and jumped out of the rear exit with the money, never to be seen again.
Who was Dan Cooper, and what happened to him after he jumped out of the plane? These questions have intrigued investigators, journalists, and armchair detectives for more than five decades.
The hijacking, which came to be known as the DB Cooper case, has become a cultural phenomenon, inspiring movies, books, and TV shows. It has also sparked countless theories and speculation about who Cooper was and where he might have gone.
The FBI has investigated the case for over 45 years, making it one of the longest and most extensive investigations in the bureau’s history. The case has generated more than 1,000 leads, and the FBI has interviewed over 800 suspects, but none have been definitively linked to the hijacking.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the case is Cooper’s disappearance. Despite an extensive search by the FBI and local law enforcement agencies, Cooper’s body and the majority of the ransom money have never been found. This has led to speculation that Cooper survived the jump and lived out the rest of his life under a new identity.
There have been several suspects over the years, including Vietnam veteran Robert Rackstraw, who had a background in aviation and a history of criminal activity. In 2018, the History Channel aired a documentary claiming that DNA evidence found on the tie clip Cooper left on the plane belonged to Rackstraw. However, the FBI has never definitively linked Rackstraw to the hijacking.
Another suspect was Kenneth Christiansen, a former military paratrooper and Northwest Orient Airlines employee who resembled the composite sketch of Cooper. He also had a history of gambling and was facing financial difficulties around the time of the hijacking. However, there is no concrete evidence linking Christiansen to the crime.
One of the most popular theories is that Cooper was actually a CIA operative who was tasked with carrying out a covert mission. Some proponents of this theory point to the fact that Cooper appeared to have knowledge of the Boeing 727’s unique rear stairwell design, which was not widely known at the time. However, there is no concrete evidence to support this theory, and the FBI has repeatedly denied that Cooper was connected to any government agency.
Another theory is that Cooper was a skilled skydiver who planned the hijacking and escape meticulously. Supporters of this theory point to the fact that Cooper requested four parachutes and that he chose to jump over rugged, remote terrain. However, the FBI has noted that the parachutes Cooper received were not suitable for skydiving and that the jump was incredibly risky, even for an experienced skydiver.
Despite the lack of definitive answers, the DB Cooper case continues to capture the public’s imagination. It remains an unsolved mystery that has endured for over five decades, inspiring countless theories, books and documentaries.
Who was DB Cooper? We may never know for sure.