In what would become the only still unsolved hijacking case in US history, on November 24, 1971 the now famous DB Cooper hijacked a Northwest Orient Airlines flight, a Boeing 727-100 which was flying from Portland, OR to Seattle WA. The hijacker checked in as “Dale Cooper,” paying cash for his ticket. He boarded the airplane and hijacked it. When the first news wire reporter from the Washington area picked up on the unfolding hijacking over police radio, he asked if the police had a name for a suspect. In fact, they did. The police had interviewed the man who sold Cooper the ticket and asked him if any of the passengers looked suspicious. Without hesitating, the airline employee responded – “yes, Dale Cooper.” The police told the news reporter the suspect’s name was “D. Cooper”. The reporter asked if that was a “D or a B?” The person responded, “yes.” And thus the legend of “DB Cooper” was born.
On board the plane, shortly after take off, Cooper claimed to have a bomb in his briefcase and, showing it to an airline stewardess, it sure looked convincing with red sticks that may or may not have been dynamite, and a battery and lots of wire. The pilots took the threat seriously and the owner of the airline agreed to Cooper’s demands – $200,000 cash, any denomination, in a satchel, plus two front and two rear parachutes (plus food for the flight crew). This was to be delivered to the plane when it landed and was refueled. Marked $20 bills were loaded into a satchel and handed over to the stewardess who delivered the money to Cooper. The entire time Cooper remained mostly calm and congenial at the rear of the plane. At no time did he harm anyone on board.
Everyone but the flight crew and the stewardess were allowed to leave the plane. Cooper gave orders for the plane to take off and fly south towards Reno at no more than 10,000 feet and with the hydraulically operated rear staircase lowered and extended. The plane could not take off with the rear staircase deployed so Cooper allowed the flight crew to take off with it raised and secured. Somewhere over the woods of Oregon/Washington, Cooper opened the rear staircase and jumped out with his parachutes and cash – the cash strapped to his chest with the cords of one of the parachutes. It was dark and though other planes were trying to tail the hijacked plane, no one actually saw Cooper jump. Cooper had forced the flight crew to stay forward behind the drawn first class curtain so they too did not see Cooper jump. Therefore, no one could say the exact time Cooper bailed out. The best estimate was he jumped at 8:13PM but given the many changes in the flights air speed, the bad weather, and other factors, the search area for Cooper was huge, well over a hundred square miles of some of the most inaccessible and rugged terrain in the continental United States. The search turned up no trace of Cooper or the money.
In February 1980, an eight year-old boy named Brian Ingram, vacationing with his family on the Columbia River about 9 miles downstream from Vancouver, Washington uncovered three packets of the ransom cash, significantly disintegrated but still bundled in rubber bands. FBI technicians confirmed that the money was indeed a portion of the ransom. The boy and his family sue to get the money they found and the judge rewards them half of it. Later, needing alimony money, a now grown Brian sells some of the Cooper loot to raise needed funds. No other traces of Cooper have so far been found.
Did he survive the jump? Some believe he did. Later tests by the FBI demonstrated that it was possible to jump from the rear staircase platform of a 727 and survive. Others believe he jumped out of the plane at a different point than the FBI originally calculated and landed in the Columbia river and drowned. There, some of the money washed up on the beach where young Brian discovered it. Others believe Cooper lost the money in midair or landed with it and stashed it in the ground. Later, rain carried the money down creeks that flow into the river. But what ever his fate, DB Cooper became an American folk hero.