D.B. Cooper Hijacked A Plane, Jumped Into A Storm Without A Parachute, And Started A Trend

By | November 19, 2019

D.B. Cooper committed the only successful skyjacking in history

There are few modern American mysteries that are as arresting as the identity of D.B. Cooper, the man who skyjacked a Boeing jet in 1971 before diving from the plane with $200,000 in cash and disappearing into thin air. The investigation has been at a standstill since Cooper vanished, and with little more than a single drawing of Cooper to work from, they've never even come close to figuring out who he really is. The case was officially dropped in 2016 after 45 years of speculation and dead ends, but that doesn't mean amateur sleuths have stopped trying to unlock the mystery at the heart of this case. 

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On the afternoon of November 24, 1971, a man identifying himself as "Dan Cooper" (he was later erroneously reported on as "D.B.") boarded a plane in Portland, Oregon bound for Seattle with just a suitcase and sat in the back. He wore a sharp suit and tie, smoked cigarettes, and ordered a bourbon and soda. Nothing about him seemed unusual by 1971 standards.

After takeoff, he handed a note to a flight attendant, informing her that he had a bomb in his briefcase. The skeptical woman asked to see proof, so he opened the briefcase to reveal a collection of wires, batteries, and eight red cylinders. It could have been phony, but not wanting to take any chances, she delivered the note to the pilot along with Cooper's list of demands: four parachutes, a fuel truck on standby at Sea-Tac, a second flight to Mexico City, and $200,000 in cash.

Once the plane landed in Seattle, Cooper allowed the passengers to walk free and stayed on the plane in order to avoid the FBI snipers that were definitely waiting for him. Once the parachutes and money were brought onto the plane, Cooper switched tacks, telling the pilot to take off for Mexico and make sure he flew "low and slow." Cooper then made his way down the aft stairs before popping open a rear door and diving out of the plane with the cash and two parachutes. That was the last anyone ever saw of him. That's enough for some people to conclude that he didn't survive the jump, but others think he got away with it.

This is the only unsolved air hijacking in U.S. History

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D.B. Cooper didn't invent skyjacking, of course, but he's the only person to pull one off without being caught. In fact, the year after Cooper's caper, no fewer than 15 copycats attempted their own sky-heist, all of them failures. One of the criminals who was most inspired by Cooper was Richard McCoy, a former Sunday school teacher from Utah who hopped out of a plane flying over the state with $500,000. He was caught by the FBI a few days later and sentenced to 45 years in prison. Glenn K. Tripp picked up Cooper's ideas of demanding parachutes and cash but threw in the assassination of his boss for flavor, although he was thwarted by a flight attendant who drugged him with Valium to buy time until the authorities could be reached. He attempted to hijack another plane while on probation but was shot and killed by FBI agents during the crime.

So why did D.B. Cooper succeed where so many failed? Amateur sleuths believe he was connected to Boeing in some way, possibly as a pilot or engineer, which is how he knew how to keep the plane low and slow for his eventual jump. The criminals that followed in his footsteps simply didn't have his insider information.