There are many unsolved crimes in history but none more trivial as the 1971 Northwest Orient Airlines hijacking. Who hijacked the plane, and how did he escape?
D.B. Cooper was the name the media assigned to an unknown hijacker who took over a Boeing 727. Cooper earned a hefty $200,000 ransom for the hijack and parachuted somewhere in southwestern Washington. To this day, this crime remains unsolved.
What Happened During the Cooper Hijacking
On November 24, 1971, accounts state that a non-descript person who didn’t jump out of the ordinary bought a twenty-dollar plane ticket to board flight 305 of the Northwest Orient Airlines. The flight was scheduled to travel from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle, Washington.
The man, who hid under a false identity of Dan Cooper, boarded the plane with a briefcase. As soon as the plane took off, Cooper handed a note to one of the flight attendants. The note states that he had a bomb, and when the attendant read it, Cooper opened his briefcase to show what was inside. The suitcase contained several wires, red sticks, and a battery.
Cooper soon demanded $200,000 in twenty-dollar bills and four parachutes. Authorities complied with Cooper’s demands, handing him the money and the parachutes. Cooper, in turn, released the 36 passengers soon as he got the ransom when the plane landed in Seattle.
He then ordered the plane to be refueled and demanded that the pilots fly to Mexico City along with a flight engineer and a flight attendant. Cooper specifically instructed the pilot to fly under 10,000 feet with speeds no faster than 200 knots. And somewhere between Seattle and Reno, Nevada, Cooper did the unthinkable. He lowered the rear steps and jumped from the plane. (Source: Britannica)
The Founding of the Northwest Hijacking Investigations (NORJAK)
The NORJAK, or Northwest Hijacking investigations, was launched by the FBI immediately after the incident. The media caught wind of the crime and dubbed it the DB Cooper hijacking after a miscommunication of the hijacker’s name, believed to be DB Cooper.
The FBI’s initial theory was that the hijacker had extensive knowledge of the Boeing 727 and the area where he jumped. They also theorized that Cooper could have been an ex-military paratrooper based on the escape plan he took.
Upon further investigation, the agency dropped the paratrooper theory because the jump was too dangerous. Winds at that altitude would have reached 200 miles per hour. Another fact supporting Cooper’s inexperience was his failure to notice that the reserve parachute was sewn shut. The parachute was only used for training.
They soon focused on a criminal named Richard Floyd McCoy. McCoy was arrested several months after the NORJAK for committing a similar crime, hijacking a United Airlines flight. McCoy, a Vietnam veteran, a helicopter pilot, and known skydiver, was eliminated as the suspect.
McCoy didn’t fit the physical description provided by two of the flight attendants, and his DNA didn’t match the DNA found in the necktie left by Cooper as he jumped off the plane.
The FBI soon looked into some 800 suspects in the first five years after the hijacking, but all of them were eliminated from the list. In 1980, the agency got a break. A boy some 32 kilometers away from Ariel, Washington, where they hypothesized Cooper’s landing area, found a package with $5,800.
All in $20 bills, the money had the same serial numbers of the ransom money demanded by Cooper. However, that was the last lead the agency got for the case. In 2016, the FBI closed the investigation. (Source: Britannica)