The Air Pirate Who Deceived The FBI And Escaped By Parachute With $ 200,000

Thanksgiving night in 1971 was approaching, and the Portland International Airport in the United States was abuzz with anxious people, luggage thrown on the ground, crews in distress. Among so many travelers, there was one who was about to fly to Seattle on a Northwest Orient Airlines plane and who until that moment had not attracted attention at all: about 45 years old, with a height close to one meter eighty centimeters, white shirt , dark suit, moccasins, as he was described shortly after, he would become his country’s most mysterious air hijacker and an enigma that persists to this day.

Identified as Dan Cooper – later known as DB Cooper in newspaper covers, television newscasts and all kinds of media – the man boarded the plane carrying 36 passengers and four crew members.

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He sat in the back, in seat 18 C, and it wasn’t long before he lit a cigarette, something allowed in those years on commercial flights. Shortly before takeoff, he asked flight attendant Florence Schaffner to come to his place and left a note in one of his pockets. The woman, who was barely 23 years old, imagined that it was one of the many proposals she received, usually against her will, during flights (she would later report that this was common: men leaving her their phone number or inviting in that way for her or her companions to go out).

When the stewardess returned to her position, she checked her pocket and read the note, she was paralyzed with shock: the mystery man told her that he had a bomb and that if she did not sit next to him to receive instructions, he was ready to set it off.

Cooper immediately made his demands heard: he wanted $ 200,000 in unmarked tickets, two sets of parachutes, and the assurance that everything he asked for would be delivered to him at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. He said again that he was carrying a bomb and showed the woman who sat next to him a briefcase with cables and elements that resembled an explosive.

The flight attendant had to notify the plane’s commander, William Scott, of the situation in mid-flight, and he promised that they would soon get everything Cooper asked for. Scott contacted the Seattle police by radio, who in turn summoned the FBI due to the severity of the episode. As the flight time shortened, the pilot sent the flight attendant to speak with the kidnapper and to try to discover if what he was carrying in his briefcase was a real bomb.

Cooper was angered by noticing the crewmembers’ intentions and exploded in anger. He asked again that the airport have everything ready with his order: the tickets, all 20 dollars, unmarked and two sets of parachutes (two backstrokes, two of the so-called “emergency”).

During the negotiations, the kidnapper maintained a dialogue with the stewardess all the time and even asked for a whiskey, which he offered to pay with the money he had on him. The climate was one of tension and doubts: the crew suspected that among the other passengers there was an accomplice of the discreet man who had deceived everyone.

On the ground, meanwhile, the security forces were trying to find mechanisms to meet the requirements of the kidnapper, but also to see the possibility of following in his footsteps once the delivery of the money was completed. That is why, among other things, they started looking for special tickets. They did so, after an order they made to the San Francisco Federal Reserve: 10,000 $ 20 bills, almost all printed in 1969 and with serial numbers preceded by the letter L. They also used a device with a microfilm envelope. each one, to be able to record the numbers and have a record of those that would be given to Cooper.

Around 5 p.m., and after the pilot and flight attendants assured the hijacker that all his orders were ready at the airport, the plane landed in Seattle.

Cooper made sure Scott kept the aircraft away from the rest of the planes, in a place that was not easily accessible by police or snipers who could complicate the operation. In addition, he requested that a single person bring the money and the parachutes to the plane. This is how it happened: an airline employee approached the order through the back door, from which the passengers and some crew members later descended.

The hijacker, however, retained pilot Scott, one of the officers accompanying him in the cockpit and one of the flight attendants.

At the airport, nervousness continued to increase: as a truck approached to refuel the plane, the hijacker saw strange movements and asked them to hurry to take flight again and continue. The police were guarding all the movements but he had several difficulties: he could not get close to the aircraft and he did not even have a photo of Cooper.

Almost two hours later, once the hijacker was able to confirm that everything he had asked for was in, the plane was ready to take off again. Cooper asked the pilot to steer the course toward Mexico City, but one of the crew said that would be impossible because the plane was able to fly just 1,600 kilometers. Finally, they decided to fly to Reno, in the state of Nevada, to refuel again and start the trip to the neighboring country.

Shortly after takeoff, the hijacker asked the flight attendant who was accompanying him to go to the cockpit with the pilot and stay there. As she moved forward, the woman could see Cooper making strange movements. Once in the cockpit, she and her colleagues observed a warning sign: a light on the dashboards indicated that Cooper was trying to open the rear door of the plane. Although the intercoms asked him not to do it, there was no case. Shortly after, they noticed a change in pressure: the hijacker had parachuted out of the plane and was never seen again.

According to later calculations, the unusual escape took place around 8 p.m. while the plane was going through a storm in southwestern Washington state, making it impossible to detect any trace of the man who had vanished.

From that moment, the Cooper case, which began to add the initials DB to his name due to some clues that the FBI tracked down, became a kind of great national debate. The clumsiness in the investigation – for reasons that have not been explained until today, evidence was lost such as the cigarette butts that the kidnapper smoked and the fingerprints left on the whiskey glass, among others – fueled the malicious comments. A seemingly innocuous man had managed to fool the world’s most important federal and security agency.

All kinds of searches were made, land and aircraft searches to be able to find any clue of Cooper. But there was nothing, no physical evidence was left of the kidnapper: no body, no parachute, no briefcase. Nothing.

Nine years later, in 1980, a boy found a package on the banks of the Columbia River, between Oregon and Washington. They were almost 3,000 dollars and the series of the bills coincided with the numbering of those used to pay the ransom.

But that finding only prompted new controversies and different theories about the identity of the fugitive kidnapper. At the same time, the figure of the mysterious DB Cooper began to enlarge, like a shadow at sunset. The years turned him into a kind of great pop beast: he inspired songs, some novels (one especially curious, under the inevitable title of Freefall) and even a festival in his honor, in which he is honored with parachute jumps and music. From time to time his name also appears as a reference in series or feature films (it happened, for example, in Prison Break Y Better call saul).

One of the people who investigated the Cooper case the most is the journalist Geoffrey Gray, who went into the archives of the FBI and found thousands of letters, documents, even poems about and for Cooper.

A documentary released in 2020 by HBO reconstructed the case and brought together different people who claim to have met the real Cooper. It is that, beyond an identikit designed by the FBI, there were no more clues and his whereabouts remains a mystery.

“If you love someone, their past is not important,” he says in The mystery of DB Cooper, Jo Weber, a woman who claims that in 1995, on her deathbed, the man who was her husband confessed to having been the most famous air hijacker in the United States.

The documentary also shows the testimonies of people who investigated another suspect, Richard McCoy, Jr., a man who just four months after the Cooper episode hijacked another airliner: using the alias James Johnson, he boarded a United flight Airlines and shortly after takeoff, he handed an envelope to a flight attendant that read “Hijacking Instructions.” He was asking for four parachutes and $ 500,000. At the time of that kidnapping, McCoy was caught and sentenced to 45 years in prison. But he managed to escape. Two years later a group of FBI agents found him and one of them shot him with a shotgun, which left the kidnapper lying down until he died a few minutes later. Whether it was Cooper or not could not be determined.

In The mystery of DB Cooper Several more people appear who claim to have known the kidnapper: a woman says it was her father, another that it was her uncle.

On July 12, 2016, the FBI announced that it was ending the investigation of the case in order to allow room for “more urgent priorities.”

As investigations, books and movies on the case continue to emerge, the man who fooled everyone and disappeared into the sky remains an enigma.

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