What happened to D. B. Cooper?

The most mysterious heist in history.

FBI sketch of what Dan Cooper looks like.


FBI sketch of what Dan Cooper looks like.

Mitchell Thompson, Reporter

One of the greatest heists in history started on November 24th, 1971. A man going by the name of Dan Cooper boarded a one way flight from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington. He was wearing a suit and carrying nothing but a briefcase. Shortly after takeoff, he handed a note to a flight attendant. She ignored it, thinking the man was just trying to give her his number, until he later told her, “Miss, you’d better look at that note. I have a bomb.” The note told her to sit next to him, and after doing so Dan Cooper showed her the bomb and made his demands.


Upon landing, he wanted $200,000 ($1,462,572.84 today), and four parachutes. He also wanted the plane to be refueled and ready for takeoff. Only then would he release the passengers. He also asked that a flight attendant would sit by him. (D.B.) These demands would be met by the time they landed.


Strangely enough, Cooper seemed to be very calm and kind despite the situation. He never was rude or raised his voice. On their way to Seattle, the flight attendant and him even had a good conversation. He seemed to know the area very well, correctly guessing which cities or landmarks they were flying over. When asked why he chose Northwest Airlines to hijack, he responded, “It’s not because I have a grudge against your airlines, it’s just because I have a grudge.


When the plane landed, he was given everything he had asked for, and the passengers plus two flight attendants were let off the plane. None of the passengers knew the plane was hijacked. He then instructed the plane to take off to Reno, Nevada. The plane needed to stay at minimum airspeed, go no higher than 10,000 feet, keep the landing gear deployed, keep the cabin unpressurised. and keep the wing flaps at 15 degrees. (crime)


After the plane took off, he asked the remaining flight attendant to lower the rear stairs. When she expressed her fears of being sucked out of the plane, Cooper let her go up to the cabin and not return, as he would lower the stairs himself. Cooper told her that he would take the bomb with him as she entered the cabin. This was the last time he was ever seen. The pilots got a warning that the staircase was lowered 20 minutes after takeoff. When landing in Reno, the only thing left in the plane was his tie and two parachutes.


This is the case of D. B. Cooper, one of the most famous cold cases in history. Dan Cooper had perfectly gotten away with stealing $200,000 with next to no evidence left behind. He certainly jumped from the staircase of the plane with two parachutes, the money, and his bomb. After a long and extensive manhunt, the FBI found nothing relating to the hijacking. To add insult to injury, Cooper’s estimated landing spot was at the base of Mt. Saint Hellens, whose eruption most likely destroyed any evidence left in the area in March of 1980. (D.B.)


This isn’t to say there was no evidence though. A month before Mt. Saint Hellens erupted, an eight year old boy found some loose money matching the serial numbers of the ransom money on the bank of Columbia River downstream from Vancouver, Washington. This was a good find, but ultimately gave no answers to the case. This was the only physical evidence found, but there are plenty of eyewitness accounts about his appearance and general characteristics.


There are, of course, other leads though. Out of the four parachutes he was given, he chose to take the older two, one being a demonstration chute (could not open, therefore being unusable), and the other a military grade chute. He left behind the two newer recreational parachutes, giving credence to the theory of him learning how to parachute from the military. Also, he seemed to have extensive knowledge of aircraft in general and the Washington area.


Dan Cooper’s plan was expertly thought out. Even the most strange acts he carried out had a purpose. He asked for four parachutes so it would seem like he was taking hostages with him. This ensured his parachutes would not be fakes or sabotage (although it seems one was fake on accident anyways). This also might explain why he wanted to keep a flight attendant on board with him.


For better or for worse, the leading theory is that Dan Cooper did not survive the fall. There of course was the 50-50 chance he opened the wrong parachute, but also his seeming lack of knowledge about parachuting. While he clearly learned how to use one at some point, he was certainly not experienced. No sensible skydiver would jump at night, in the rain, wearing no safety equipment. Even if he somehow landed perfectly, he still would have had to make it back to civilization in the cold November climate in Washington. Even still, no one suspect has ever been identified, so it seems Cooper fell off the face of the Earth. (D.B.)


However, there are some reasons he would be alive. For one, no body was found, along with no clothing or briefcase or parachutes. Also, the money that was found on the Columbia River still had a rubber band holding it together. This proves the money was left there years after the initial jump. This does bring up many questions, but seems to prove at least someone had the money before the little boy did, most likely Cooper himself. (crime)


While there have been many suspects, none of them have been confirmed to be Dan Cooper. There were a few copycats following Cooper’s general pattern shortly afterwards, but all of them were arrested. It appears Cooper committed the perfect crime. There has been no evidence discovered since that lead to any new clues. His fate is left unknown. It seems that with one final jump out of the plane, Dan Cooper disappeared into the dead of night, never to be seen again.


“D.B. Cooper Hijacking.” Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10 May 2022, www.fbi.gov/history/famous-cases/db-cooper-hijacking

Crime Museum, LLC. “D.B. Cooper.” Crime Museum, 7 June 2021, www.crimemuseum.org/crime-library/cold-cases/d-b-cooper