It was the day before Thanksgiving in Portland, Oregon. Wednesday November 24th 1971. Hard workers were returning home to their loved ones, packing the car up to road trip to see family or flying off to their holiday, leaving behind the hustle and bustle of the city life, wanting to spend Thanksgiving around a warm fire with a feast of roast turkey and meatloaf, passing cranberry sauce around and announcing that they are thankful for the wonderful year they’re having or the beautiful frost which filled the air.
Around 3pm, 37 passengers boarded a Boeing 727 and by 6pm, all but one of those passengers would be seen again.
Dan Cooper had purchased his ticket for Northwest Orient Airlines #305 in cash at the ticket desk. It set him back $20 and suddenly he was on his way to Seattle from Portland. Dan found his way to his seat, 18C, tucked his briefcase under his chair, sat back and let the plane carry him in to the air. Dan ordered a bourbon and soda which the air stewardess swiftly knocked up for him and left, leaving Dan to sip coolly and relax in to his seat.
Dan was wearing a dark coloured suit, a white shirt, a dark overcoat, dark shoes and a black clip-on tie with a mother-of-pearl clip attached halfway down. Dan was six feet tall, give or take a few inches, a little over twelve stone, in his mid-forties and quite slender. Dan had dark hair which parted on the left in a fairly conventional way and he had brown eyes.
Shortly after take-off at 3pm, Dan motioned to the stewardess to come over, he smiled handing her a piece of paper with something scrawled on it. The stewardess offered a glimpse of a smile back to Dan and went to walk off back to her duties; a note from a prospective lover was of no interest to her when she was at work.
Dan called her back and told her “Miss, you better look at that note. I have a bomb” and told her to sit down next to him, hushing her. Dan explained the bomb was in his briefcase, as he pulled it out and opened the lid, exposing eight cylinders, glaring at her with angry red shells, a mismatch of wiring and a huge battery. It was only open for a few seconds but that was long enough for the stewardess.
Dan instructed her to tell the pilot he wanted $200,000 in ‘negotiable American currency’; he wrote down “Put in a knapsack. I want two back parachutes and two front parachutes. When we land, I want a fuel truck ready to refuel. No funny stuff or I’ll do the job”. This note was taken straight to the pilot, where the pilot contacted air traffic control and let them know what was going on.
Every other passenger seemed to be getting along fine on the flight, some were dozing, some were reading, some were just watching the world go by, counting down the minutes until they could see their loved ones and have a proper drink. A few eye witnesses at the time recall that they thought it was strange that the air stewardess should be sitting next to Mr Cooper and also that she spent a lot of time around him, but they didn’t think it totally out of the ordinary and carried on going about their in-flight entertainment.
The plane landed in Seattle, Washington, as planned at 5.39pm and the FBI had already got the money and was in full investigative mode by this point. The money was brought to Dan by the stewardess and all the 36 passengers were allowed to disembark. They were blissfully unaware of the goings-on since the pilot had announced a ‘technical difficulty’ and it wasn’t until they started all being questioned about the mysterious Dan Cooper, that they realised the plane had been hijacked.
Dan Cooper instructed the plane to take off but to stay below 10,000 feet in the air and to be kept at around 115mph. Dan also told the pilot to head to Mexico but he was informed that the plane would need to be refuelled before then as the low speed would mean running out very quickly. After a quick chat, they were headed for Reno, Nevada at 7.40pm.
Two fighter jets were following above and below the plane but due to the low speed of the aircraft, they had to instead circle around it.
After they took off, Dan told the crew to go to the cockpit, shut the door and remain there, but not before reprimanding the handwritten notes he had already given the team. They did as they were told. The last thing they saw of Dan was him trying to tie something around his waist.
Not long after, the pilot was alerted by an alarm that the rear cabin door had been opened.
Dan Cooper took off his J.C Penney’s tie and jumped out of the aircraft into the stormy wind and rain, money tied around his waist, never to be seen again.
The case was soon widely reported around the USA and everyone was trying to find out what became of the mystery man. One newspaper accidentally printed his name as D.B Cooper and this is how the case has been known ever since; this name seems a lot more cryptic and ‘special agent’ than plain ole’ Dan.
Over time, the FBI had looked at around one thousand suspects and never fully ruled many of them out. One person of interest in the Dan Cooper case came not long after the hijacking.
A man by the name of Richard Floyd McCoy hijacked a Boeing 727, passed a note to the stewardess which was eerily similar to the note Dan Cooper had written, and explained there was a bomb in his suitcase. McCoy asked for $500,000 cash this time and proceeded to jump out the back with parachutes he had also requested. Richard had survived this landing and would never have been caught if it wasn’t for a tip the FBI received of a man who McCoy had met in the pub and had been bragging to about the Dan Cooper case, saying “if it were me, I would have asked for $500,000”. McCoy was reprimanded and given a 45-year sentence, however the only reason he wasn’t charged with the Cooper case is because he didn’t match the almost identical description that the stewardesses had given the police after the hijack.
The months following the hijack made the case that bit more intriguing. Dan Cooper wrote a series of letters to local news and radio stations which were all seized by the FBI as evidence. These letters were either typed or lettering cut out from newspapers or magazines and glued on a piece of paper. Some of the letters repeated the phrase “thanks for the hospitality”. The letters were sent from various different sporadic states, sending FBI on a cat-and-mouse chase which never evolved into anything since Dan Cooper always seemed to be on the move as a runaway nomad. After while the letters stopped, and no one heard from the man again.
In 1980, a young boy was with his dad on the Tina Bar beach. The boy was digging and found a paper bag full of degraded, soggy cash in the mud. Police came to look at the money and the serial numbers were checked; they just so happened to be the exact bills which were Dan Cooper’s ransom money. The total came to $5,800 in the paper bag. The area where the money had been found had previously not been searched by the police. It was told that they stopped looking for clues not far from the burial site, so it had been missed. After the heist, the FBI conducted a thorough search in the surroundings areas from where it was believed Dan Cooper had jumped but no one found anything.
Evidence in more recent years had been recovered from the tie which Cooper had taken off before he jumped, but it matched no DNA already in the system. The FBI enlisted help of Citizen Sleuths to go over the case and see if anything had been missed. Citizen Sleuth used their up-to-date equipment on the tie and found traces of titanium, aluminium, bismuth and lycopodium spores. Though this finding was a lead, nothing ever came of it.
There have been many suspects in this case and many theories written about it and speculation as to whether Cooper even survived the jump, especially in the weather conditions at the time. Evidence produced never amounted to anything and the FBI profiling of Dan Cooper suspects never matched the sketch produced from the descriptions given by the stewardesses.
Who was Dan Cooper? Is he still alive? Where did the the money go?