History Stories


Who was D.B. Cooper?

The man who approached the Northwest Orient Airlines counter on the afternoon of November 24, 1971, said his name was Dan Cooper (“D.B.” was a distortion that later appeared in the press). He asked for a one-way ticket from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington—and used cash to pay for it. Wearing a dark suit, he sat in the rear of the plane, lit a cigarette and ordered a bourbon and soda. Shortly after Flight 305 took off, Cooper gave a flight attendant a note saying he had a bomb, then showed her something inside a cheap attaché case that did, indeed, resemble a bomb.

Cooper’s demands were simple: $200,000 and four parachutes. When the flight landed in Seattle, Cooper allowed the authorities to evacuate the other 36 passengers and some of the crew in exchange for the money and parachutes. According to Cooper’s instructions, the plane then took off again, heading toward Mexico City at a low altitude. Somewhere between Seattle and Reno, Nevada, Cooper jumped out of the plane into a driving thunderstorm and sub-zero air temperatures, wearing only a thin suit, a raincoat and wraparound sunglasses. The pilots landed the plane safely, but Cooper was never seen again.

According to eyewitness accounts, Cooper was a white man in his forties, between 5 feet, 10 inches and 6 feet tall and weighing 170 to 180 pounds, with brown eyes. The FBI followed thousands of leads to find Cooper, considering more than 800 suspects in the five years following the incident. Over the years, several suspects have been seriously considered—including Kenneth Christiansen, who worked for the airline and was an experienced paratrooper—and eliminated for various reasons. To this day, it is the only unsolved skyjacking case in American aviation history.

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