Welcome to Dread: The Unsolved. 1971: Dan Cooper enters the Portland International Airport and purchases a one-way ticket to Seattle. Smartly dressed in a suit and tie, Cooper raises no suspicions. Shortly after takeoff, Flight Attendant Florence Schaffner approaches Cooper to ask if he needs anything. She is handed a note.
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She thinks he is being fresh, and has passed her a phone number. She pockets the note and continues on with her job. Later, as she passes Cooper again, he beckons her closer. He tells her that she would be wise to read the note, because he has a bomb in his suitcase.
Schaffner walks to the back of the plane and reads the note. The note itself was then returned to Cooper. The exact wording of the demands is unknown, but the gist of it is this: I have a bomb, I want $200,000 in cash and 2 parachutes.
Pilot William Scott notified air traffic control. Air traffic control notified Seattle Police. Seattle Police notified the FBI. The FBI contacted the president of the airline; Donald Nyrop. Nyrop was stunned. He saw a disaster in the making, and asked that Cooper’s demands be met. Schaffner, meanwhile, went to sit with Cooper. He cracked his briefcase to reveal what appeared to be two sticks of dynamite, wired and ready to go.
Cooper instructed the crew to keep the plain in the air until his parachutes and cash were ready. Cooper was of course not the only person on this flight. It was the day before Thanksgiving, and travelers from all over the U.S were on board. Holiday travel being as popular then as it is now. The pilot called over the intercom that due to mechanical issues, the plane would have to circle before landing. No one other than the crew knew what Cooper was doing.
Dan Cooper seemingly held all the cards. He had a bomb in a briefcase, and a score of potential victims. On the ground, FBI agents were scurrying to meet Cooper’s demands. He wanted the money in 20’s only, as smaller bills would mess up the weight ratio he required for his parachute. The money was easy enough, local banks were more than happy to assist the FBI. Parachutes were a whole different problem.
Cooper refused military parachutes and asked that he be provided civilian chutes. The FBI isn’t normally in the business of stockpiling civilian gear, so they had to wake up the owner of a nearby skydiving school. After his initial reluctance, he agreed to sell the FBI 4 parachutes. No one knew Cooper’s full plan, but they had an inkling: Cooper was going to use one of the parachutes to jump out of the plane. The second parachute he asked for – the FBI figured- would be used for a hostage.
The idea of giving Cooper fake parachutes was discussed. It was quickly dismissed when they realized that giving a dummy parachute to Cooper’s hostage would be outright murder on their part. So when the money and the parachutes were ready, the plane made it’s landing. An airport employee met the plane on the tarmac. The lights had been dimmed. When Cooper received his ransom, he released the 36 passengers on board, along with Forence Schaffner. Stewardness Tina Mucklow remained on the plane, along with the cockpit crew.
A Federal Aviation Administration official asked Cooper if he could board. He wanted to have a frank talk with Cooper about the penalties of air piracy. His request was denied. The plane was going back up in the air. Cooper asked Mucklow to read him the instructions for the aft stairs. She stated she didn’t think that the stairs could be opened mid-flight. Cooper simply told her she thought wrong.
Dan Cooper knew a thing or two about airplanes. He understood that the cabin could be depressurized at less than 10,000 feet without a risk to the crew. He knew that traveling at 150 knots would be an acceptable speed for a sky dive. He knew the range of a Boeing 727. He knew that 52,000 gallons of fuel wouldn’t get him to Mexico City like he requested. A stop in Reno, Nevada for fuel was negotiated.
Shortly after takeoff, Cooper ordered the crew to get in the cockpit and stay there. A red light came on in the cockpit: The door was opened and the aft stairs were down. The captain called over the intercom to ask if Cooper needed anything. He received a loud “NO”. This, was the last time anyone spoke to Dan Cooper.
After arriving in Reno, the crew emerged from the cockpit. Dan Cooper was gone, along with the money and his personal belongings, including his briefcase. The only thing left behind, was the extra parachute. The FBI was stumped. Over the coming weeks, the areas on the flight path were search, searched again, and searched some more. Authorities began searching criminal records for a “Dan Cooper”. During the search, they ran across a similar name. A reporter was the leaked the information about this suspect living in Portland.
Though he was quickly cleared, his name would go on to be used for all investigations until present-day: D.B. Cooper.
So what happened? Did Dan Cooper float off into the sunset with his $200,000? Did he mistime the jump and end up hitting the ground? Is there a well-dressed skeleton in the woods of the Pacific Northwest? There have been few clues. Most leads only end up creating dead ends.
1980: Bundles of 20’s with serial numbers matching that of Cooper’s ransom are found in Washington. A search was undertaken, but the eruption of Mt. St. Helens just a few months later destroyed any further leads.
2011: Marla Cooper claims her uncle L.D. Cooper was the hijacker. She claimed that she overheard her uncle telling family members that their worries were over, because he hijacked a plane. Later, she would tell authorities that L.D. Lost all the of the money during the fall from the plane. One of the flight attendants stated that L.D. Cooper did bear a resemblance to the hijacker. The FBI have investigated, and declared it a dead lead.
2016: The FBI announces that no more resources will go into actively investigating the D.B. Cooper case. Most FBI agents who have worked the case will tell you the same thing. D.B. Cooper didn’t survive his jump.
2021 is the 50th anniversary of Dan Cooper’s audacious act of air piracy. In all this time, no one is any closer to catching Dan Cooper. So what do you think? Did Cooper get away with it? Or is there a treasure waiting to be found in the Pacific Northwest?
You can tell me your theories in the comments, on Twitter and Instagram @TheUnsolved or on Facebook at Dread The Unsolved. You can email your Dan Cooper sightings and tips to TheUnsolved@DreadCentral.com
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