Skip to main content

The Unsolved Mystery of Skyjacker, Dan Cooper

In November 24, 1971, a man estimated to be in his mid-forties approached the flight counter of Northwest Orient Airlines at Portland International Airport, Oregon. The man, calling himself Dan Cooper, bought in cash a one-way ticket on flight 305 bound to Seattle, Washington.

The man was wearing a dark business suit, a skinny black tie, a white shirt, and street shoes. He was carrying on one of his hands an attaché case.

Sitting on the last row of the plane, at seat number 18-C, the man lit a cigarette, and ordered a bourbon and soda before the plane took off

Dan Cooper

Dan Cooper

A few minutes after 3.00 p.m., Cooper handed a stewardess a note. The stewardess put the note in her purse, probably thinking it was one of the many notes she received from male passengers, and went on with her work.

However, at the man's calm insistence, she read the note. It said that he had a bomb and he wanted her to sit beside her. She obliged.

The stewardess asked him to show her the bomb. He opened the briefcase which had a mass of wires and red colored sticks.

He dictated to her what to write, and told her to take the note to the captain of the plane. His demands were: to be given a sum of $200,000 arranged in twenty-dollar bills put in a knapsack, and four parachutes, when the plane lands on Seattle. Also, a fuel truck should be on the sight to refuel the plane.

In exchange for his demands, two of the three stewardess and 36 passengers who had boarded the plane would be allowed to alight at Seattle.

Airline officials and FBI agents complied with his request as he had threatened if his demands were not met, he would blow the plane apart.

The plane took off once the exchange was through. He directed the plane to be flown south to Reno, Nevada, at a speed of 200mph (322km/hr), at a height of 10,000 feet with the wing flaps at fifteen degrees.

He ordered the crew to stay in the cockpit.

Between Seattle and Reno, some minutes after 8.00 p.m., Cooper jumped off the plane.

In the cockpit, a red light flashed signifying the rear boarding ramp of the plane had been unlatched.

Scroll to Continue

Not hearing anything from the skyjacker for about 20 minutes, the captain thought of reaching out at him. The captain thought the man might be experiencing difficulty in unlatching the ramp.

"Anything we can do for you?" he asked though the intercom.

There wasn't any response. Instead, the light flashed again in the cockpit. Another light flashed indicating that the ramp was fully unlatched.

"No," the answer came back through the interphone, some seconds after the ramp was fully extended.

The plane landed safely at Reno with its rear ramp down. Cooper was nowhere to be seen. And the money was missing in the plane.

He didn't leave fingerprints to identify him as he had reacquired his note from the stewardess.

With only a physical description, a tie, two parachutes, and the ransom money serial numbers as their lead; the FBI carried out one of the longest and extensive search for the skyjacker.

Shortly after the plane landed in Reno, a manhunt for the skyjacker began which involved FBI agents, police, and soldiers from Ft. Lewis, Washington. It's thought that Cooper might have jumped from the plane near Woodland, Washington.

The hunt for the runaway criminal involved both air - helicopters and planes - and land - jeeps and track dogs - search.

Did he survive the jump? Did he make away with the money, safely? The FBI thinks he couldn't have survived the jump. However, the investigative agency doesn't rule out the notion the skyjacker might have succeeded in his mission. On the agency's website, it's stated, "Perhaps Dan Cooper didn't survive his jump from the plane. After all, the parachute he used couldn't be steered, his clothing and footwear were unsuitable for a rough landing, and he had jumped into a wooden area at night - a dangerous proposition for a seasoned pro, which evidence suggests Cooper was not. This theory was given an added boost in 1980 when a young boy found a rotting package full of twenty-dollar bills($5,800 in all) that matched the ransom money serial numbers."

The other possibility is that he may have landed in Lake Merwin. The lake measuring 30 miles (48km) long, a mile wide (1.6km) and too deep would have taken divers a considerable time and the possibility of not finding the body. It would have been an exhaustive and perhaps, an impossible task. In that case, could he have landed in the lake and swam safely to land, with the money on tow? Keep in mind that a team of treasure hunters onboard a submarine weren't successful in locating his body or the money.

In July 8, 2016, the FBI closed the case as they felt the resources that were allocated to Cooper would serve good if they were used to investigate other urgent cases. It's stated on the agency's website, "...the FBI redirected resources allocated to the D.B. Cooper case in order to focus on other investigative priorities. During the course of the 45-year NORJAK investigation, the FBI exhaustively reviewed all credible leads, coordinated between multiple field officers to conduct searches, collected all available evidence, and interviewed all identified witnesses. Evidence obtained during the course of the investigation will now be preserved for historical purposes at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C."

© 2020 Alianess Benny Njuguna

Related Articles