The Impossible Mystery of D.B. Cooper

This is the single most enigmatic hijacking ever conducted.


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This is the exact passenger airliner that was hijacked by Cooper.

Tyler Smith, Staff Writer

On November 24, 1971, Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305 left from Portland, Oregon, with plans of landing in Seattle, Washington.

In nearly every hijacking case, there is a fatal flaw.

Shortly after takeoff, a man sitting all the way in the back informed a flight attendant via a written note that he was equipped with a bomb, and soon after he was in control of the plane. He identified himself as Dan Cooper—due to a reporting mistake, he would be known as D.B. Cooper—and demanded $200,000 ($1,350,000 when adjusted for inflation) in cash upon arrival in Seattle. After the transaction, he wanted the plane to be flown to Mexico City, where Cooper would be safe from United States authorities. 

In nearly every hijacking case, there is a fatal flaw. This flaw deconstructs the months of planning that went into the crime, getting them caught, or killed. For Cooper, it was the idea that he could fly from Seattle to Mexico City. During the time period, planes did have the ability to fly such a distance, but because the plane intended on flying about 150 miles—from Portland to Seattle. Therefore, Northwest Orient Airlines would not completely fill up on fuel, making the trip impossible.

Sketches of Cooper show the only insight we have of his appearance (FBI)

Surprisingly, the Seattle transaction was a success: the cash was received, the passengers were evacuated, and the flight took off once again, due south. It’s important to note that Cooper requested to keep a flight attendant on board with him, and the motive for this is still unknown. Shortly after this second liftoff, Cooper was still unaware that the flight would not be able to reach his target point, and he would quickly be informed of this inaccuracy by the flight attendant. After a brief discussion between the members on board, it was agreed that they would make a landing in Reno, Nevada, in order to fuel up before the final flight to Mexico City.

About an hour after takeoff, Cooper was left alone, with the flight attendant and pilots in the cockpit. After a subtle thud, the flight attendant went into the main section of the plane to check on Cooper. Rather than finding that the hijacker had simply dropped his briefcase or anything of that nature, the flight attendant found that the aft stairway was open, and Cooper was nowhere to be found.

After months of searching for any trace of the mysterious man, nothing turned up. This result implies two possible realities: D.B. Cooper jumped out of the plane with a parachute and lived, evading capture and successfully stealing over one million dollars in today’s currency. The alternative is that Cooper died upon impacting the ground, with his remains never uncovered.

This is the exact stairway Cooper made his iconic leap from. (FBI)

These theories were debated on for over a decade before a shocking revelation. Wads of cash were discovered on a beach north of Portland totaling over $5,000. While this amount is nothing close to the $200,000 Cooper received in the seventies, it is fair to imply that over the course of the past several years, the majority of the bundles would have been washed away, or completely decomposed. However, some of the bills had legible serial numbers, and when compared to those of the cash given to Cooper, they all matched.

This means that no matter what, Cooper did not get to live his life of luxury after the hijacking, as all of his money was clearly lost. However, what remains a mystery is whether or not Cooper survived the initial jump, the following days after the jump, or if he is still possibly alive to this day. No physical evidence of Cooper himself exists outside of the wads of cash found on an embankment of the Columbia River, and it is extremely likely that nobody will ever truly know what truly happened to D.B. Cooper.