The DB Cooper hijacking case in 1971 is one of the most notorious events witnessed in recent aviation history.
This case, where a man sky-jacked a plane, before parachuting to an uncertain fate, has attracted considerable interest over the years.
However, no answer has ever been found as to what happened to the man known as DB Cooper. DB Cooper has gone down in folklore due to his actions, and has become a household name of sorts.
This article looks at this disappearance. There is also a reader’s poll at the end of the article, which we hope you partake in. We will all be able to see what the consensus is among our readers as to what happened.
Very little is known about the man involved in this disappearance. There are some facts – such as how the person involved referred to himself as “DB Cooper” – which was also the name of a passenger listed on the flight manifest.
On November 24th 1971, Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305 departed from Portland, Oregon – bound for Seattle, Washington. Cooper was one of the passengers onboard. The flight started in normal circumstances, but this would soon change.
Shortly after take-off, Cooper gave an air stewardess a handwritten note. On this note, Cooper suggested that he had a bomb. He then made a ransom threat. He demanded that four parachutes, arrangements for aircraft refuelling and $200,000 (equivalent to approximately $1.8million in 2021) were all made available to him, or he would detonate his bomb.
The aircraft pilot was informed of the situation, and they relayed the information to a nearby control tower. The President of Northwest Orient Airlines agreed to the ransom payment. As a result, a total of 10,000 $20 notes were arranged for Cooper’s arrival.
To try and prevent passenger panic, Cooper’s fellow passengers were informed that a minor mechanical difficulty would cause a late arrival into Seattle. When the plane arrived, Cooper was handed the money.
The majority of passengers and airline crew were allowed to leave the aircraft. Once Cooper’s ransoms were met, including more parachutes being added and the plane being refuelled, the plane took off once again.
After it became clear a sky-jacking incident was in place, fighter jets were scrambled to follow the aircraft, with the intention of not letting Cooper escape.
However, soon into the second flight, Cooper parachuted out of the aircraft with the money. What happened next is a mystery – with Cooper never being seen nor heard from since.
Sky-jacking was a serious offence, even back in 1971. Investigators launched an investigation into the event. An immediate search for Cooper was made difficult due to uncertainty over his landing place.
The height of the aircraft, the exact time Cooper left the aircraft and when he pulled the cord on his parachute, were all variables that made it very difficult to pinpoint where Cooper may have landed.
An initial search grid that law enforcement officials identified as being a potential landing area for Cooper, failed to find any trace of Cooper or the money. But with the number of variables in play, it was incredibly difficult to identify where Cooper may have landed.
Crew members and all passengers were questioned in the aftermath of the event. Investigators also staged re-enactments in an effort to find where Cooper could have landed, However these re-creations proved fruitless.
One area that investigators had hoped would be helpful is through the unique serial number of the bank notes given to Cooper. The serial number was released to the public, with the hope that this would identify when the notes were being used.
However, this, and many other attempted interventions, failed to help the case. As the next few years went by, the case seemed to lose momentum, with Cooper seemingly having disappeared. But this was far from the end of the case.
In 1980, there was a development. An 8-year old boy named Brian Ingram, found three packets of the ransom cash. Ingram was on vacation near Vancouver, Washington. While the cash had weathered over the nine years, they were confirmed to be part of the ransom money – with the serial number confirming this.
But in something that almost resembled an episode of Lost – this discovery just led to more questions than answers being asked. Why only some of the cash was found, where the rest was and where Cooper himself was were all pertinent questions.
Despite various theories being proposed, not one was conclusive. There are still 9,710 notes which belong to DB Cooper out there. As time continues to go by, it seems likely that we will never get an answer. Unbelievably, this was the only major lead in the case, which has largely gone cold.
Various people have been accused of being Cooper. Some people have claimed their father, uncle or brother were Cooper, though most were baseless accusations. Many seem to have circumstantial evidence, though no concrete findings have ever been made.
Many amateur sleuths have attempted to piece together the evidence available. Several different suspects have been accused, although the FBI have largely dismissed theories proposed. Among the names that are often mentioned as possibly being Cooper are Robert Rackstraw, Walter Reca, Richard McCoy Jr., Robert Lepsy and Kenneth Christiansen among others.
DB Cooper has attracted a cult following since the incident. His disappearance has become one of the most well-known events in recent memory. DB Cooper has been featured across popular culture, from being the focus of countless documentaries and books, an actual character in shows like Prison Break and Loki, and even having a celebration in his honour each year in Ariel, Washington.
Within reason, there are only two possible outcomes; either Cooper survived the fall, or he perished in the fall. There are arguments in support of both of these theories.
We take a look at the evidence for both:
Theory One: Cooper survived the fall
DB Cooper may have been able to survive the fall. This theory would explain why no body was ever found. However, it could be questioned why Cooper did not decide to spend any of the money.
It is possible that Cooper was a thrill-seeker, and pulled off the crime for adrenaline purposes. But even if he did this and therefore disregarded the money, then where is the remaining thousands of notes?
While Cooper did leave the plane at significant speed, as long as he used his parachute properly, he could have survived. Cooper seemed to know the area well, according to flight attendants. He could have had someone waiting in his landing area for him to help him escape.
Theory Two: Cooper died in the fall
However, it is also possible that Cooper wasn’t able to survive the fall, and that he instead plunged to death. This would explain why none of the money was ever spent. But it wouldn’t explain why only some of the money was ever found.
In terms of the lack of body, there was never truly any final conclusion on where Cooper’s landing area was. It is likely that even after all this time, that no one has ever searched in the area. Even if Cooper’s body was in sight, it could have since been consumed by wild animals.
The FBI contributed many resources into the search for Cooper. The collective might of the FBI generally results in the case being solved. If Cooper did survive, there is a good argument to suggest that the FBI would’ve tracked them down.
With the above theories in mind, we now invite you to cast your vote on the theory that you believe is most likely in the poll below.
The DB Cooper case has left a lasting impression on the world. It seems as if the identity of Cooper will never be known. In fact, the FBI suspended the DB Cooper case in 2016. In doing so, the FBI released their evidence to the public, with anyone now able to peruse it.
The case led to improvements in airport security, various changes to aircraft design, and improved security measures on public flights. While problems still existed, these changes aimed to safeguard against any potential repeat.
The DB Cooper case will forever lead to questions being asked. Few disappearances have captured the imagination of the public as much as Cooper’s has. Whatever happened to Cooper, a strong legacy has been left behind.