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D.B. Cooper: What Happened to Him? Where Is He Now?

November 24, 2020
5 min read

HBO’s ‘The Mystery of D.B. Cooper,’ directed by Emmy-nominated John Dower, examines the tale of the unidentified man who hijacked a Boeing 727 aircraft on November 24, 1971, and then vanished into thin-air mid-flight, never to be seen again. It’s been almost half a century, but this remains the only unsolved case of a commercial flight seizure in the United States history that continues to baffle the FBI and inspire wild theories about who the mastermind behind it really was. After all, the man became a “legend” before the plane even touched down on land.

Who Is D.B. Cooper?

The FBI’s online record on D.B. Cooper describes him as a “white male, 6’1″ tall, 170-175 pounds, olive complexion, brown eyes, black hair, conventional cut, parted on left.” On the afternoon of November 24, 1971 – Thanksgiving Eve – a man who called himself Dan Cooper, carrying a black attaché case, used cash to buy a one-way ticket on Flight 305, traveling from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle, Washington. Shortly after takeoff, he handed a note to Florence Schaffner, the flight attendant situated nearest him, indicating that he was a hijacker, had a bomb in his briefcase, and that he wanted her to sit next to him.

Image Credit: The FBI

Once that happened, Dan Cooper, who became known as D.B. Cooper because of news miscommunication, opened his briefcase to show Florence that he was serious. After that, he stated his demands: $200,000 in twenty-dollar bills, four parachutes, and a fuel truck standing by in Seattle to refuel the aircraft. When the flight landed, Dan, without argument, released the 35 passengers on board in exchange for the money and parachutes. Then, keeping a few crew members behind, he ordered the plane to take off again, setting course for Mexico City, with one stop in between, Reno, Nevada, for another refueling.

After this takeoff, Dan ordered those who remained to go to the cockpit and stay there. Then, at 8:00 p.m., without a single witness, he opened the aft airstair apparatus. Later, somewhere between Seattle and Reno, he did the unbelievable – Dan jumped out of the back of the plane with a parachute on his back and the ransom money in hand. It was only after approximately 10:15 p.m., though, when the plane had landed safely in Reno, the investigators confirmed that Dan Cooper was not onboard anymore, having disappeared into the night. Any subsequent search for him on the ground proved to be futile as well.

What Is D.B. Cooper’s Real Identity? Where Is He Now?

The FBI agents on this case were fortunate enough to recover 66 unidentified latent fingerprints aboard the aircraft, along with D.B./Dan’s black clip-on tie, tie clip, and two of the four parachutes. They also interviewed everyone who saw the hijacker or came in contact with him to develop a series of composite sketches and spread the word about him. Subsequently, they combined forces with Army soldiers, Air Force personnel, National Guardsmen, and civilian volunteers to conduct an extensive ground search for the perpetrator. But sadly, even with all that, they found no significant evidence that led them to D.B. Cooper.

Over the years, though, the FBI has processed over a thousand “serious suspects” in this case, including those who have either confessed on their deathbeds or for publicity. Some of the most prominent ones are Kenneth Christiansen, who died of cancer in 1994, leaving behind gold coins, a valuable stamp collection, and over $200,000 in bank accounts; Lynn Doyle Cooper, who passed away in 1999, and had an obsession with the Canadian comic book hero named Dan Cooper; along with Barbara Dayton, William Gossett, Robert Rackstraw, and Walter R. Reca – all of whom made self-implicating statements to someone before passing away.

On July 8, 2016, the FBI announced that while local officers would continue to accept and examine any legitimate physical evidence submitted by civilians, especially those which related to the parachutes or the ransom money, the Bureau in itself was suspending the active investigation on the D.B. Cooper case, citing that they needed to focus their resources on more pressing matters. Their 60-volume physical file on the topic is preserved at the FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. Still, they have made all the evidence and information available to the public by compiling everything on their official website.

Is D.B. Cooper Dead or Alive?

Who Dan Cooper or D.B. Cooper really is, no one knows, and no one can even state for sure whether he is alive today or not. No evidence, theory, and conjecture point towards a single person. Therefore, the mastermind behind the only unsolved air piracy case in commercial aviation history remains unpunished to this day, having never been found.

All we know about D.B. Cooper is that he is still being sought out by many for arguably committing the perfect crime. After all, he managed to make $200,000 without physically harming a single soul and then disappeared into the night, literally into thin air, without a single trace of who he was or is left behind.

Read More: Where Is Florence Schaffner Now?

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