Thanksgiving Eve in 1971 was pretty crazy in Washington. No, people weren’t frying up turkeys and burning their houses down, rather D. B. Cooper was getting ready to complete one of the nation’s weirdest unsolved skyjackings. If you’re unfamiliar with this story you’re in for a treat.
On November 24th, 1971, a man who called himself “Dan Cooper” boarded a Boeing 727 in Portland, Oregon after buying a last-minute ticket. This fated plane was bound for our very own Seattle, Washington. After boarding the plane, Cooper sat in the back row and ordered himself a drink. It was during this ordering process that he passed stewardess Florence Schaffner a note.
Thinking that Cooper was flirting with her, Schaffner ignored the note to which Cooper told her she should read it. And when she did, to her surprise the note read “Miss, I have a bomb here and I would like you to sit by me.” When Schaffner sat down, Cooper opened a case to reveal what looked like “red sticks of dynamite, a battery, and some copper wire”.
A rather polite way to tell someone you’re about to take over an airliner if you ask us.
Cooper then told her exactly what was to happen. When the plane landed in Seattle, “he wanted $200,000 in cash, two back parachutes, and two front or reserve parachutes designed to clip to the main parachutes.” He additionally requested that a refueling truck be on standby at the tarmac, and also for meals for the flight crew. To make sure she understood he said “No funny stuff, or I’ll do the job” as in blow up the plane.
Keep in mind, the plane also had 36 other passengers on board, none of which knew what was happening. When the plane neared Seattle, it started to circle which alerted passengers to the fact that something was amiss. The crew told passengers that there was a technical issue while on the ground authorities scrambled to get the cash, parachutes, fuel, and food. In this scramble they accidentally grabbed a dummy parachute that couldn’t open.
When the plane landed, the authorities attempted to thwart Cooper by lining snippers up outside and telling him that it was too cold to refuel. That didn’t fool Cooper, and instead he picked up the plane phone, called the authorities and demanded that they “get this show on the road”. That they did, and things only got weirder from there.
Cooper requested that the plane be directed to Mexico City. For the duration of the flight, the pilot was instructed to “fly with the landing gear down and the flaps at 15 degrees” and also that they could “not fly higher than 10,000 feet”. Then something even more puzzling, Cooper said they needed to “take off and fly with the aft stairs down” a feat which was thought impossible by most at the time.
The only people who knew that flying with the aft stairs down was okay were in civil aviation circles. Cooper was clearly comfortable and knowledgeable with planes, so this could be a piece of his mysterious identity that has never been confirmed to this day.
Back to the flight, Cooper was frustrated, as things weren’t going as planned. The money came in the incorrect bags and he had to improvise a backpack by cutting up one of the parachutes. Fast forward a bit and at around 8:05, Cooper leaped from the plane into the dark and rainy night.
When the plane landed, authorities boarded and took every piece of evidence they could, noting that Cooper did not grab the dummy parachute but rather an ex-military parachute that was hard to handle. After a lengthy search in Washington and due to the conditions and Cooper’s preparedness, the FBI has maintained that he did not survive his jump. And as he has yet to be found, we will never truly know.
What we do know is that a plastic placard with instructions for the aft stairs was found near Castle Rock, Washington in 1978 as well as 3 bundles of marked twenties in 1980 near Vancouver, Washington on the banks of the Columbia River. To this day, the case remains open and there have been plenty of folks claiming to be D.B Cooper, none of which have been confirmed.
So if you’re bored you could always try your hand at solving this 50 year old cold case. If you’d like to learn more you can click here. Happy Thanksgiving folks!