It looks as if the man known as D.B. Cooper — the legendary criminal who hijacked a U.S. passenger plane, extorted $200,000 in ransom and parachuted to an uncertain fate — may have gotten away with it.
The FBI announced in a statement Tuesday that it had halted the investigation into one of the most intractable cases in its history, saying that after 45 years of probing credible leads as well as dead ends, it was focusing resources elsewhere.
“Every time the FBI assesses additional tips for the … case, investigative resources and manpower are diverted from programs that more urgently need attention,” the statement said.
Cooper leaped to fame in November 1971 after hijacking a Northwest Orient airlines Boeing 727 flying from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle. Handing a stewardess a note saying he had a bomb and flashing a suitcase full of wires, he demanded $200,000 in ransom money and parachutes. The plane landed safely in Seattle, where the passengers were freed.
Upon being handed the cash and parachutes, the hijacker known in the flight manifest as “Dan Cooper” departed with a few crew members for Mexico City, as he had demanded.
But at some point during the flight, Cooper, wearing a business suit, tie and a parachute, jumped out of the back of the plane into freezing rain somewhere between Seattle and Reno, Nevada, carrying 10,000 unmarked 20-dollar bills.
Although the FBI received many tips, not a trace of the man was ever found.
“The mystery surrounding the hijacking of a Northwest Orient Airlines flight in November 1971 by a still-unknown individual resulted in significant international attention and a decades-long manhunt,” the FBI statement said. “Although the FBI appreciated the immense number of tips provided by members of the public, none to date have resulted in a definitive identification of the hijacker.”
The FBI has previously suggested that Cooper did not survive the jump.
“After all, the parachute he used couldn’t be steered, his clothing and footwear were unsuitable for a rough landing, and he had jumped into a wooded area at night — a dangerous proposition for a seasoned pro, which evidence suggests Cooper was not,” the FBI’s famous cases and criminals page on its websites notes.
This theory was given further credence when in February 1980 three packets of the ransom cash were uncovered by an 8-year-old boy near the Columbia River about 14 km from Vancouver, Washington.
The case captured the public’s attention, generating numerous theories, descriptive information about individuals potentially matching the hijacker, and anecdotes — including accounts of sudden, unexplained wealth, the FBI said.
It later saw a series of copycat hijackers and became a pop-culture phenomenon, prompting myriad books, films and TV shows based or focusing on the legendary criminal.
With the investigation on ice, the FBI said all evidence obtained during the course of the probe would be preserved for historical purposes at its headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Still, should physical evidence related specifically to the parachutes or the money taken by the hijacker emerge, the FBI urged individuals with those materials to contact their local field office.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.