The DB Cooper hijacking case in 1971 is one of the most notorious events witnessed in recent history. This case, where a man sky-jacked a plane, before parachuting to an uncertain fate, has attracted considerable interest over the years, with no answer having been found all this time later as to what exactly happened to Cooper. The case will be relived in this article, with a comprehensive background provided, while a contemporary outlook on the case is also discussed. Few cases in recent history have proven as intriguing as this one!
On November 24th 1971, Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305 departed from Portland, Oregon, bound for Seattle, Washington. ‘DB Cooper’ was a passenger on board the flight. Shortly after take-off, Cooper handed a written note to one of the flight attendants. This note suggested Cooper had a bomb. Subsequent ransom demands were made – four parachutes, arrangements for aircraft refuelling, and $200,000 – equivalent to around $1.6M in 2017!
To try and prevent passenger panic, Cooper’s fellow passengers were told a minor mechanical difficulty was to cause a late arrival. The President of Northwest Orient Airlines agreed to the ransom payment. A total of 10,000 $20 notes were arranged for Cooper. Once the aircraft reached Seattle, Cooper was handed the money, before the majority of passengers and airline crew were permitted to leave the aircraft. The aircraft set off again, eventually followed by fighter jets that were scrambled. Yet Cooper would parachute out of the aircraft, with the $200,000 with him. What happened next is a mystery – Cooper has never been seen or heard from since.
While this may have taken place almost half a century ago, sky-jacking was a serious offence. Crew members and fellow passengers were questioned in the aftermath. It was difficult to trace the whereabouts of Cooper – as data was limited as to the height of the aircraft when he jumped – and even the exact time he parachuted out. Furthermore – there was no telling when Cooper actually pulled the cord on the parachute – yet another variable as to his landing spot. This left investigators with a large search grid.
Investigators staged several re-creations, engaged in thorough ground searches in a wide radius, yet their investigations proved fruitless. One of the clever things they did however was hand Cooper notes of a unique serial number. This serial number was released to the public – with rewards provided. This was expected to give the case a boost – however this didn’t prove to help, with no trace of the notes found. Eventually the case seemed to lose momentum.
Fast-forward to 1980, when an eight-year old boy named Brian Ingram – on vacation near Vancouver, Washington, found three packets of the ransom cash. While the cash had weathered over nine years, they were confirmed to belong to the ransom money. But in something that resembled an episode of Lost – more questions than answers were provided by this discovery. Why was only some cash present? Where was the rest? Why hadn’t it been spent? And where was Cooper? Despite various theories being proposed, not one was conclusive. The remaining 9,710 notes have never been found – 46 years on. Unbelievably, this was the only major lead in the case. See this article to find out what happened to the ransom money that was found!
- Cooper Survived the Fall: Cooper may have been able to survive the fall – where he perhaps evaded the FBI for years. But, the cash was never spent, leading to some confusion on that front. In 2017, there was an interesting theory:
- A 40-strong cold-case team suggested they had the definitive answer to this mystery. They suggested Cooper survived the jump, before being helped to safety by three people. They suggested Cooper was a man named Robert W. Rackstraw – a resident of San Diego, California. Rackstraw however denied all allegations. The team based this theory on conversations with informants. This theory is difficult to prove, though the team did apply considerable logic.
- Cooper Perished in the Fall: However, it is also possible that Cooper didn’t survive the fall. The small amount of cash that was found may have fell out during the fall. With Cooper’s landing point unknown, it is likely investigators searched in completely the wrong location – explaining the lack of body.
The case continues to baffle many. In the last few years, aside from the Rackstraw allegation, there have been other developments. A human skull was found in the area, though DNA tests suggested it wasn’t Cooper. There have been several alleged sightings of Cooper down the years too. In 2016, the case was finally suspended by the FBI. Considerable resources were devoted to the case, which, over the course of almost half a century – is unsustainable. The case looks to be as good as over, though many will never give up.
Whenever anyone literally disappears into thin air, there are going to be questions raised. The case has left a legacy on the world – tightened regulations on passengers, including having their bags checked, while improvements were made to the Boeing 727 aircraft, which would make it difficult for a repeat. There have been several copy-cat sky-jacks, though none have managed to create the legacy seen here. DB Cooper has also been featured in several TV shows – most famously Prison Break – where the ransom money plays a key part of the show. It appears as the whole truth will never be known. Cooper would most likely be in his 80s or 90s now. The mystery will go on.