Mysteries, sightings, disappearances and the resulting conspiracy theories have always piqued the interest of people, irrespective of their age group and other factors. One such case is the unexplained death of D.B. Cooper.
The weird circumstances that take place during the event, the suspicious people involved in the case and their antics: all these factors often intrigue people into brainstorming various possibilities of what could’ve happened, resulting in the formation of numerous theories.
Let us have an in-depth look at what actually happened with Dan Cooper, and figure out as to why his death remains unexplained to this day, making it the only unsolved skyjacking mystery in American history.
1. Cooper Case: An Unsolved Skyjacking Mystery
This weird and twisted case has got all the FBI agents and experts holding their heads, as the circumstances could not be explained whatsoever.
1.1. What Happened?
The Northwest Orient Airlines flight 305 was hijacked by an unidentified man on November 24, 1971. During the flight, set to fly from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington, the unidentified man told one of the flight crew that he was armed with an explosive, and demanded heavy ransom money ($200,000). Another one of Cooper’s demands was of four parachutes after landing in Seattle.
After the flight landed, all the passengers were allowed to deboard, as Cooper allowed them to leave in exchange for ransom money; however, Dan Cooper, the hijacker, asked the authorities to refuel the aircraft, with its final destination being Mexico City. A refueling stop was scheduled to be in Nevada.
However, about 30 minutes after the flight took off, Cooper jumped after opening the aircraft’s door, parachuting somewhere near Southwestern Washington. The hijacker is known to identify himself with the name Dan Cooper.
1.2. Who was D.B. Cooper?
The most surprising and turning point of the whole case became the hijacker himself. The man who identified himself as Dan Cooper remains unidentified to this day, with no trace of existence or identification.
D.B. Cooper is a media epithet for this unidentified personality, which came into existence after a faulty media report.
1.3. What Happened Next?
The FBI and law enforcement agencies toiled after this case for a long duration of 45 years but in vain. FBI agents assigned to this case concluded that cooper died, as he probably could not survive the jump he made from the Northwest Orient flight due to physical risks: the bad weather conditions and lack of proper skydiving gear.
The investigation was put to a halt, and the case was closed in the year 2016. However, theories related to Cooper’s identity continue to flood the media, most of which were drawn by amateur sleuths and citizen sleuths.
One advantage that arose out of this chaos was that the airport authorities and the FBI were quick to take action and strengthen the airport security checks; upgraded metal detectors were installed and specialized baggage-checking measures were adopted. Some technical upgradation processes also took place inside their aircraft.
1.4. The Details
A white man of 40-year approximate age (Cooper) bought a last-minute ticket for a one-way flight aircraft on Thanksgiving Eve, 1971, from Portland International Airport; under the name ‘Dan Cooper’. This trip was estimated to be around 30 minutes long.
Staff and flight attendants described Cooper as a quiet man, wearing a business suit with a black tie and white shirt. He also ordered alcohol, like any other normal individual, while waiting for the flight to take off, notified the flight crew.
After flight 305 took off, he handed a flight attendant a note, stating that he was armed with explosives in the cheap attaché case he was carrying; and asked the attendant to sit with him. As Cooper sat with her, he briefly opened the suitcase to prove his statement: it included a plethora of wires, batteries and red sticks, as judged from a brief glance.
Cooper then handed a new note to the stewardess which was supposed to be delivered to the flight captain, including a demand for $200,000 ransom money (all in twenty dollar bills) and four parachutes: to be delivered at Seattle-Tacoma airport.
After touchdown, Cooper exchanged the 36 passengers of the flight for money without any hassles; except he kept many crew members with him. He instructed to refuel the aircraft, with the final destination being Mexico City.
Only Cooper jumped about 30 minutes after the flight took off, with a parachute and the ransom money he procured, after lowering the rear exit door steps. Every member of the crew returned safely after the plane landed.
2. The Aftermath
2.1. The FBI Procedure
The case gained the name NORJAK, short for Northwestern Hijacking. About 800 suspects were listed, out of which only 12 were shortlisted; however, with no evidence for any of the people.
The theory of Cooper possibly dying due to lack of proper clothes, skydiving equipment, bad weather, and the forest area he jumped in was ruled in. In the year 1980, this theory was further sparked, when a boy found a bag of rotting notes, all in $20 bills near the Columbia river, at the Tina Bar. The bills so found matched the serial numbers of the notes used as ransom cash and amounted to $5,800. The remaining money still remains lost.
The boy who found the money along the Columbia river was Brain Ingram, who later worked as an assistant to Tom Kaye, a paleontologist. Kaye then used many technologies like GPS and satellites to figure out the exact position where Cooper landed, the results of which remain unknown.
The case went on for a long duration of 45 years full of exhaustive investigations and tiring procedures. The case was officially shut close in the year 2016.
2.2. Dan Cooper: Real Name of the Hijacker?
In the year, a sudden clue was found in the pages of a famous Comic book series: Albert Weinberg’s Dan Cooper. The series revolved around a Royal Canadian Air Force Test Pilot, Dan Cooper, who takes part in outer space adventures and real-life events of the era while taking physical risks upon himself.
In one of the editions that were published near the incidents of the Cooper case, the cover illustrated Cooper parachuting, which led the FBI agent Larry Carr to believe that the unidentified hijacker took his name from this comic book series.
At first, it was believed that Cooper served in the military and was aware of the area he parachuted in. However, it was later revealed that he was not an experienced skydiver: because of the jump he made in the risky circumstances involved. Cooper opened one of the four civilian parachutes he demanded, which could not be steered because it was sewn shut for training purposes.
He was also wearing clothes and shoes that were not fit for a landing as rough as his. All these translate to too many circumstances that are a threat to one’s life, leaving almost no room for the FBI or public imagination. However, the mystery remains since no solid proof was found.
3. The Unexplained Death of D.B. Cooper: Surprising Details and Evidence
3.1. The Dollar Bills
The ransom money that was asked for was supposed to be supplied specifically in $20 bills, a total amount of $2,00,000. The FBI made it clear later that larger bills weighed less making his skydive a bit easier, but smaller bills were easier to pass.
It was also revealed that Cooper especially asked the staff that the bills should have random serial numbers, not sequential in order. However, the FBI agents who were contacted made sure that all the bills’ serial numbers began with the letter L.
3.2. The Parachutes
For the authorities and the FBI, parachutes were harder to acquire. McChord Air Force Base, Tacoma, offered to provide four parachutes as Cooper demanded; however, he rejected the military-issued parachutes: in turn, asked for civilian parachutes with user-operated ripcords.
The demanded parachutes were then bought from a local skydiving school, which was shut down at the time of Cooper Case.
It was theorized by the FBI that Cooper would Skydive with a crew member or a passenger, putting in the risk of civilian lives in danger. Therefore, dummy parachutes could not be involved. This possibility, however, turned out to be false.
3.3. The Jet
Cooper asked Tina Mucklow, one of the flight attendants to read the instruction card for the operation of the rear exit stairs, and questioned if they could be lowered during the flight. While Mucklow denied it, Cooper confidently said she was wrong.
It was found that Cooper probably chose this flight due to the nature of the jet, a Boeing 727-100. He asked the pilot to keep the altitude below 10,000 feet and airspeed not more than 150 knots. These statements of Cooper led the FBI to believe that he was an experienced skydiver since he was aware of these little details related to skydiving.
Since the Jet Cooper chose was lightweight, these demands were easily met.
He also knew about the fuel capacity of the flight; the craft had the capacity of taking 4,000 gallons of fuel per minute, which Cooper knew. Before taking off from Seattle when refueling was not complete even after 15 minutes, he demanded an explanation.
He also asked the pilot to depressurize the cabin, knowing that there will be no problem in breathing at 10,000 feet, and it will be easier to throw the rear exit door open in those conditions.
3.4. Unknown Jump
At the time when the Cooper Case happened, the cockpit did not have any installed cameras or peepholes to look over the cabin. Due to this, the flight crew never saw Cooper parachuting.
They only got to know something was wrong when they saw a caution light, signaling that the rear door was open. When the crew asked him if something was needed, to which he replied negatively; after that, he assumedly jumped off the plane with a parachute.
These were the last words heard from him. Since he instructed the staff to remain in the cockpit, they remained there, only to assume that Cooper had jumped.
After a while, the captain talked over the intercom, only to receive no replies. When he went to check, he found the cabin empty- Cooper left with the demanded money; the only thing left behind was his black tie that Cooper removed and a second parachute that was unused.
3.5. Cooper’s Tie
In the year 2017, it was revealed that the tie that Cooper left behind him in the aircraft could be used for strong Commercial DNA mapping. It was pointed out that a unique metal was found in his tie.
The list was narrowed down to eight researchers who worked on the project of that metal (a mixture of pure titanium and antimony) at the time. A man named Vince Peterson fit the description of Cooper and travelled regularly to the Northwest. However, he died earlier in the year 2002, and his son denied the accusations.
Peterson worked at a company called Rem-Cru, which often worked with Boeing, which could justify his knowledge about flight 305 and the jet itself. However, no confirmation was received, making the Cooper Case the only unsolved case related to skyjacking.
4. Top 5 Suspects
4.1. Dick Briggs
A man called Dick Briggs claimed to be D.B. Cooper, suggesting he was an expert parachuter due to having served in the Vietnam war (which took place after World War II), as a special forces soldier. However, a while later, the person claiming to be Cooper died in a car accident, and the FBI confirmed that he was not Cooper indeed.
It was later also revealed that Briggs was a part-time weekend warrior for the Air Force. He had never visited Vietnam to serve in the Vietnam war, or the post world war II conflict, and did not know how to use parachutes.
4.2. Robert Rackstraw
Robert Rackstraw, an ex-army man who had multiple rewards for chopper rescues during the Vietnam war, was suspected to be Dan Cooper since he closely resembled sketches of Cooper and his reckless usage of parachutes and lies to the authorities (which justify his capability for having pulled such a plan).
After he was laid off, Robert became a four-time felon and an escape artist, which made him quite suspicious. However, no connection was found and this possibility was ruled out as well.
Robert Rackstraw passed away in 2019 due to a long-term heart condition and continued to deny being Dan Cooper, even while he seemed to enjoy the media attention he received due to the suspicion.
There were 93 pieces of evidence that pointed towards him being Dan Cooper, but the identity was never confirmed.
4.3. Richard Floyd McCoy
Richard McCoy was arrested based on a similar hijacking-parachute escape incident scape incident that took place 5 months before NORJAK. However, he was soon released based on not nearly matching the physical descriptions of Dan Cooper.
It was also found that McCoy was celebrating Thanksgiving with his family, ruling out all the possibilities of him being the culprit.
4.4. L.D. Cooper
In 2011, Marla Cooper claimed that her uncle, L.D. Cooper was the one who hijacked flight 305, after claiming to have overheard a conversation. While she claimed to hear that their money problems were over since he had hijacked the plane, she also suggested that no money was recovered, all of it being lost in the jump.
The flight attendants identified L.D. Cooper to be similar-looking to Dan Cooper, however, this theory was titled unlikely by the FBI. It was, in the end, deemed that Cooper did not survive his jump in the year 2016.
4.5. Sheridan Peterson
Sheridan Peterson was a former marine. This California native served in World War II, and was among the prime suspects in the Cooper case; the FBI almost believed that he was the hijacker, disguising himself under the name of Cooper. Sheridan Peterson, who was a native of Northern California was an experienced smokejumper and also a technical editor for Boeing, making him highly suspicious.
Sheridan Peterson, however, was never arrested. In an article that Peterson wrote for National Smokejumper Association Magazine, he commented on the incident, justifying the suspicion of the FBI. Peterson, a California native, wrote:
“Actually the FBI has a good reason to suspect me…There were too many circumstances involved for it to be a coincidence.”
– Peterson, National Smokejumper Association Magazine
At the time of the Cooper case, he was about the approximate age Cooper was, which put him right on the mark to be the hijacker of flight 305. Apart from that, a photo of Sheridan Peterson involved in a skydiving maneuver while wearing a suit and tie was found, which was pretty uncommon and more suspicious.
But the most bizarre event related to Peterson was that the outcome of the DNA sampling was kept confidential by the FBI, unlike other suspects. He died in the year 2021 in Northern California.
5. Cooper: A Hero of Modern History
The person using the alias Cooper, who hijacked the Northwest Orient Flight became a hero, getting many internet forums dedicated to him. The personality appeared in various texts, movies and TV Shows. Cooper also inspired many to copy him, giving birth to his copycat hijackers.
The case of D.B. Cooper remains one of the favorites for amateur sleuths, the FBI and the general public due to the circumstances involved. Many people who closely resembled sketches or matched the descriptions were suspected, but none of the were proven to be him.
Cooper becoming a hero is one of the most upsetting outcomes of the case for the FBI. It is the worst nightmare for any human: a criminal becoming a hero and being an inspiration for youth. Ralph Himmelsbach, who led the case under the FBI showed his grief on this matter as well.
The only unsolved skyjacking incident in modern history, the case of the unexplained death of D.B. Cooper, remains among the most confusing and mind-boggling incidents that the FBI failed to solve; but it continues to gather the attention of everyone to date.
While the numerous theories that have been revolving in the media mostly point to people who were present in the list of suspects provided by the FBI, many bizarre theories as to Cooper being an extra-terrestrial or a time traveler also surfaced, only to become a laughing stock for the others. In the end, it was pointed out by the FBI that Cooper most likely did not survive his fall.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q1 Which Airline Jet was Hijacked in the Cooper Case?
The jet hijacked by Dan Cooper was under the Northwest Orient Airlines, flying from Portland to Seattle. The case was quickly passed to the FBI.
Q2 Is D.B. Cooper a Real Person?
D.B. Cooper is a media report mix-up, which later became famous and got adopted as the hijacker of the Northwest Orient Flight 305, flying from Portland to Seattle. It was found that the name Dan Cooper, the real name, was an alias.
Q3 Where is D.B. Cooper Now?
The hijacker of the Northwest Orient Airlines flight flying from Portland to Seattle remains a mystery; however, many amateur sleuths and the public have many theories for Cooper’s identity.
Q4 Who was the FBI Leader for the Cooper Case?
Ralph Himmelsbach led the Cooper case, an unsolved skyjacking incident, for the FBI. The case was shut down by the FBI after a long struggle, in the year 2016, and the identity of the Portland-Seattle flight hijacker remains unknown.
Q5 What did D.B. Cooper Want?
Cooper asked for $200,000 in $20 bills (which he called “negotiable American currency”) and 4 parachutes, after boarding a flight from Portland to Seattle. He later parachuted from the jet, taking physical risks.
Do you have any interesting theories for the Cooper Case? Do you know about any other such interesting cases? Let us know in the comments!