SEATTLE — More than three decades ago, a man calling himself Dan Cooper jumped out of a 727 jet and vanished forever.
Cooper, sometimes known as D.B. Cooper, boarded the Seattle-bound airplane in Portland, Ore. Shortly after takeoff, Cooper handed the stewardess a note, saying: “I have a bomb in my briefcase. I will use it if necessary. I want you to sit next to me. You are being hijacked.”
Later, Cooper, parachuted out of the airplane. He took with him a bag filled with $200,000 in stolen cash and no one has seen him since, though $5,800 of the ransom money was found in 1980 to where Cooper is believed to have landed.
Now, 36 years later, the FBI is asking for the public’s help.
“Who was Cooper? Did he survive the jump? And what happened to the loot, only a small part of which has ever surfaced?” the FBI said in a statement.
“It’s a mystery, frankly. We’ve run down thousands of leads and considered all sorts of scenarios. And amateur sleuths have put forward plenty of their own theories. Yet the case remains unsolved,” the FBI said. “Would we still like to get our man? Absolutely. And we have reignited the case — thanks to a Seattle case agent named Larry Carr and new technologies like DNA testing.”
According to the FBI, some key facts about the Cooper mystery include:
Cooper was no expert skydiver. “We originally thought Cooper was an experienced jumper, perhaps even a paratrooper,” Special Agent Larry Carr said in the FBI’s statement. “We concluded after a few years this was simply not true. No experienced parachutist would have jumped in the pitch-black night, in the rain, with a 200-mile-an-hour wind in his face, wearing loafers and a trench coat. It was simply too risky. He also missed that his reserve chute was only for training and had been sewn shut—something a skilled skydiver would have checked.”
The hijacker had no help on the ground, because Cooper did not coordinate closely with the flight crew to jump at any particular moment. Instead, Cooper said, “Fly to Mexico,” and he had no idea where he was when he jumped, the FBI said. There was also no visibility of the ground due to cloud cover at 5,000 feet.
We have a solid physical description of Cooper. “The two flight attendants who spent the most time with him on the plane were interviewed separately the same night in separate cities and gave nearly identical descriptions,” says Carr. “They both said he was about 5’10” to 6′, 170 to 180 pounds, in his mid-40s, with brown eyes. People on the ground who came into contact with him also gave very similar descriptions.”
Over the years, several people have been investigated as suspects, but the FBI has decided none are Cooper.
Some one-time potential suspects over the years include:
Duane Weber, who claimed to be Cooper on his deathbed, was ruled out by DNA testing (we lifted a DNA sample from Cooper’s tie in 2001).
Kenneth Christiansen, named in a recent magazine article, didn’t match the physical description and was a skilled paratrooper.
Richard McCoy, who died in 1974, also didn’t match the description and was at home the day after the hijacking having Thanksgiving dinner with his family in Utah, an unlikely scenario unless he had help.
In the FBI statement, Carr said he doesn’t think Cooper survived the jump from the airplane.
“Diving into the wilderness without a plan, without the right equipment, in such terrible conditions, he probably never even got his chute open,” Carr said.