The F.B.I. released these artist sketches of the man who hijacked a jet over Oregon in 1971, then got away by parachute with $200,000 in ransom money. He became known in song and legend as D.B. Cooper. Credit F.B.I., via Reuters
It remains one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in the United States, a startling crime that captured the American imagination, inspiring songs, movies, TV shows and books.
In 1971, a man who called himself Dan Cooper hijacked a passenger plane from Oregon to Seattle where he freed the 36 passengers in exchange for $200,000 in cash. As the nearly empty flight took off again, flying south, he parachuted out of the airplane with the ransom, and was never seen again.
But after 45 years in which hundreds of leads were probed and discarded, the F.B.I. said this week it was no longer actively pursuing what it called one of the longest and most exhaustive investigations in its history.
Who was D.B. Cooper?
No one knows. Or someone does, but is not telling. The F.B.I. has described him as a “nondescript” man. He appeared to be in his mid-40s, which if true would make him about 90 years old by now. As the caper became widely known, he was referred to as “D.B. Cooper” in media reports.
How did he pull it off?
On Nov. 24, 1971, the man calling himself “Dan Cooper” approached the counter of Northwest Orient Airlines in Portland, Ore., dressed in a business suit and carrying a briefcase. He paid cash for a one-way ticket on Flight 305 to Seattle.
“Thus began one of the great unsolved mysteries in F.B.I. history,” the F.B.I. said.
A “quiet” man, he ordered a bourbon and soda while waiting for takeoff. In midair just after 3 p.m., from seat 18C, he handed the flight attendant a note saying he had a bomb in his briefcase and showed her a glimpse of wires and red sticks. She wrote down his demands — four parachutes and $200,000 in twenty-dollar bills — and passed them to the captain.
In Seattle, the passengers were exchanged for the money and parachutes. The flight resumed with “Mr. Cooper” and the crew en route for Mexico City, with the plane flying no higher than 10,000 feet, as he demanded.
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After 8 p.m., somewhere between Seattle and Reno, he jumped out of the back of the plane into a wooded area with a parachute and the ransom, and disappeared.
How did the story affect American culture?
The high-flying exploit of the man known as D.B. Cooper infused American popular culture. The parts of his story that were known were dramatic enough to inspire writers, directors and musicians, but the unanswered questions had to be patched up with guesswork.
The 2004 movie “Without a Paddle” was about three friends who headed into the wilderness in search of the lost ransom money and ended up finding his skeleton.
In 1981, the movie “The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper” opened with Treat Williams in the lead role as a former Green Beret named J.R. Meade. The movie was based on J.D. Reed’s 1980 book, “Free Fall.” Other fictional books included “D.B.” by Elwood Reid in which “Cooper” is actually a Vietnam vet named Phil Fitch, and James M. Cain’s “Rainbow’s End” in the 1970s, which had similarities.
Artists from Todd Snider to Chuck Brodsky have written and performed songs about him.