DB Cooper Found? Not Yet!

On the 24th November 1971, a man using the alias Dan Cooper booked a one-way ticket from the Northwest Orient Airlines counter at Portland Airport for a seat on a Boeing 727 aircraft scheduled to fly between Portland, in the State of Oregon, to Seattle in the state of Washington. Flight 305 was usually just a short haul domestic flight that would take around 30 minutes. At the time, flights within countries had quite poor security precautions and passengers were not screened as they are today.

THE ONLY AIR PIRATE THAT GOT AWAY

Cooper was smartly dressed, carried a businessman’s attaché briefcase and seemed quite ordinary as he sat down in seat 18c* in the rear section of the plane. Flight 305 took off on schedule at 2:50 pm and without incident. Cooper is said to have seemed very relaxed, lit a cigarette and ordered a bourbon and soda to drink. Little did anyone realise that within minutes he would not only hijack the plane but he would enter the record books as the first and only air pirate to get away with it.

THE SKYJACK BEGINS

Shortly after paying for his drink, Cooper handed a note to an air stewardess called Florence Chaffier. She put it in her pocket thinking Cooper was just giving her his phone number. Cooper then stopped her next time she passed by and whispered, “Miss, you’d better look at that note. I have a bomb.” Chaffier then went to the kitchenette area and read the handwritten note which stated: “I have a bomb in my briefcase. I will use it if necessary. I want you to sit next to me. You are being hijacked.”

After consulting with Tina Mucklow, Chaffier did sit down next to Cooper who dictated his demands to her which she wrote down on her order pad.  He stated that he required the provision of 200,000 in “negotiable American currency” and two sets of parachutes. In addition, a refueling truck was to be ready for the plane and the instruction that the items should be delivered when they landed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Washington State. Failure to comply with these instructions would result in Cooper blowing up the plane.

THE WAITING GAME

Cooper then opened his briefcase and showed Chaffier what appeared to be a bomb made up of eight red cylinders, wires and a sizeable battery. The stewardess immediately notified the captain, who notified Sea-Tac Flight Control who, in turn notified the police who called in both the FBI and Northwest Orient Airlines. A combined executive decision, led by NWOA President Donald Nyrop, was made to agree to the demands, which were modest, and to do what they could to save the passengers. Chaffier returned to tell Cooper that his conditions would be met and noticed that he had put on a pair of dark sunglasses.

For the next two hours Flight 305 circled over a wide sea inlet known as Puget Sound while Seattle police and the FBI collected Cooper’s hijack money and parachutes. It also gave them time to assemble emergency crews in case of a disaster.

The ransom money was collected by FBI agents from a number of local banks, the bill numbers were recorded on microfilm and then packed into a black and white bank bag. The denomination demanded was for $20 dollar bills which required at total of 10,000 notes be packed into blocks of $2000. Most had serial numbers starting with ‘L’ showing that they had been issued by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. These were supplied along with four military parachutes. Cooper rejected these and insisted on civilian parachutes with manually operated ripcords. After a delay these were sourced from a local skydiving school owned by Earl Cossey. Satisfied, Cooper allowed all the passengers to leave the plane holding back the two pilots, (Scott & Rataczak) a flight engineer (Anderson) and a single flight attendant (Mucklow).

While waiting on the ground Cooper instructed Scott that he would be flying to Mexico and that the rear stairs of the aircraft were to be fully lowered before takeoff. The aircraft was to fly at 10,000 feet with its landing gear out and flaps set at 15 degrees. The plane was not to exceed a maximum speed of 170 knots (some reports say 100 knots) and the passenger cabin was to remain unpressurised. The captain refused to take off with the stairs lowered and Cooper eventually accepted this apparently saying that he would lower them later himself.

IN THE AIR AND OUT THE DOOR

Very shortly after flight 305 had taken off Cooper instructed flight attendant Mucklow to go into the cockpit and stay there with the door shut. If she or any of the others opened the door he would blow up the plane. As she turned to leave she observed that Cooper had started to tie something to his waist.   At around 8:00 pm a cockpit warning light indicated that cooper had opened the rear airstairs. Via the intercom system the crew asked if Cooper needed any assistance. This was refused with a simple ‘no’ after which the crew had no further communication with their hijacker. At 8:13 pm the aircraft’s tail section sustained a sudden upward movement leading the crew to believe that Cooper had jumped from the aircraft.

TOUCH DOWN IN RENO

Two hours and 15 minutes later the plane landed at Reno Airport to refuel and was immediately surrounded by FBI and police. An armed teamed entered the plane via the rear airstair which was still deployed and confirmed that Cooper was no longer onboard.

Although the jet fighters tailing flight 305 had not witnessed anyone leave the plane it was assumed that Cooper had jumped between 8:13 and 8:15 pm which would have made his drop zone north East of the town of Ariel which was itself just north of Portland. The weather at this time was very cold, raining with significant crosswinds. The terrain in which Cooper would have landed would have been forested, unforgiving and difficult to traverse. Experts including the FBI quickly stated that to parachute in the prevailing conditions would have been near suicidal. It was quickly assumed that it was unlikely that Cooper would have survived such a jump.

An intensive, some say largest ever, manhunt was immediately launched but found no trace whatsoever of Dan (DB) Cooper.

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER

In 1978, seven years after the event, a deer hunter stumbled across a placard containing instructions for lowering the rear airstair of a 727 around 13 miles (21 km) east of Castle Rock in Washington State. This was some distance from the estimated drop zone but still in line with the primary path of Flight 305. However, it has never been confirmed that the placard found was the same placard from Flight 305 although circumstantial evidence suggest that this may be likely.

In February 1980 Brian Ingram (8) was on holiday with his family on the Columbia River at a location known as Tena Bank some 9 miles (14 km) east Vancouver, Washington and 20 miles (32 km) southwest of Ariel.   While clearing a fire pit for his father, Brian discovered three packets of the ransom money. The packaging and notes were significantly degraded but the FBI were later able to confirm that they were a part of the ransom given to Cooper. One of the packets had 10 banknotes missing. The location of the find has caused much controversy as there is no way that the money could have arrived naturally at Tena Bar from the calculated drop zone.

Over the decades many further official and unofficial searches of the region have taken place. There have been numerous finds from parachutes to skeletons but not one of these finds can be linked to the disappearance of DB Cooper.

SOME THINGS JUST DON’T ADD UP!

As with all great mysteries that have entered the public consciousness and become ‘legends’ in their own right it is critical to separate the fact from the fiction – to separate the truth from the exaggeration. It is vital to point out that there are several variations of the DB Cooper story and many anomalies and discrepancies as well as some huge assumptions that defy commonsense.

In the next section Aquiziam will review and explain the very many things that don’t quite fit and are probably wrong with the traditionally accepted version of the DB Cooper Story.