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The Mysterious Disappearance of D.B Cooper


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On November 24, 1971, a man calling himself Dan Cooper boarded Northwest Airlines flight 305. He paid for a one-way ticket in only cash. He was traveling from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington, but Washington ended up being something other than the destination. 

D.B. Cooper entered the plane, which contained; three flight attendants, all the plane crew, and thirty-six passengers. Quickly after ordering a drink, D.B. Cooper slipped a note to the stewardess that read, “Miss—I have a bomb in my briefcase and want you to sit by me.” D.B. Cooper then demanded that he get $200,000 dollars in 20 dollar bills and four parachutes once the plane reached Sea-Tac. 

The youngest flight attendant on the plane, Tina Mucklow, found the note that the stewardess dropped and almost didn’t believe it. She went over to where Cooper was sitting. He showed her the bomb and how it worked. He then turned and looked out the window. She would be the last person to see D.B. Cooper. 

Mucklow told, “I was looking at him to the side, and I was thinking to myself, ‘He’s willing to take the lives of all these people.’ I started to pray for him, and there was just a sense of peace. I never really thought about my own mortality from that point on.”

Mucklow then started to help. The crew had to keep D.B. Cooper calm and keep the passengers from catching on. D.B. Cooper said in exchange for the money and the parachutes, he would let the passengers get off the plane in Seattle, but in exchange, he ordered that two pilots, a flight engineer, and Mucklow stay. He requested they fly to Mexico City with a stop for fuel in Reno, Nevada. However, when the plane was flying over southwest Washington, Cooper jumped out of the plane with two parachutes and the ransom money tied around his waist. He disappeared into the night, leaving behind a single tie and two parachutes.

After that, the FBI launched one of the longest investigations ever. The investigation was called NORJAK (Northwest hijacking). The police believed that Cooper had worked on planes or was familiar with planes in the area. During the first 5 years of the investigation, there were 500 suspects that quickly got eliminated, mostly because they didn’t match the DNA on the discarded tie.

One of the prime suspects on the FBI’s list was Richard Floyd McCoy who had been arrested for a similar crime shortly before the hijacking. McCoy was ruled out of the suspect list because he did not match the description the two flight attendants had given of Cooper. McCoy later died in a shootout with law enforcement after making a fake gun and escaping from prison.

Many believe that D.B. Cooper did not survive the ride down from the airplane. FBI Special Agent Larry Carr wrote in a 2007 case update: “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 morning after the hijacking, there was an inch of snow on the ground by the time the sun rose. Snow kept falling so it wasn’t possible to go out and investigate if D.B. Cooper survived the jump, or to locate his body if he hadn’t.

One of the biggest breaks in the case came in February 1980 in Vancouver, Washington. Brian Ingram, who was only 8 years old, found $5,800 dollars of the ransom money while on a picnic with his family. But this lead did not go any further because no more of the cash was ever found. Scientists did discover bits of algae on the $20 dollar bills which led them to think Cooper had landed in a river, leading some to believe he could have survived the fall.  

Another lead in the case came when Tom Kaye, a member of the Citizen Sleuths — a group of amateur detectives working the case after the FBI dropped it — conducted a new analysis on the tie from the plan. Kayea determined that whoever wore it smoked cigarettes regularly and worked somewhere where cerium, strontium sulfide, and pure titanium were used. This new lead suggested that D.B. Cooper either worked in a metal or chemical manufacturing plant, or could have possibly been a manager, consultant, or engineer at Boeing (a local aircraft industry company). Kaye also hypothesized that Cooper could have been an Air Force veteran. This would explain why Cooper knew so much about aircraft.  

One of the biggest suspects in the case is Robert Rackstraw, a military pilot veteran. Rackstraw was known to do things from crashing a truck into a gun store and stealing the merchandise to beating up a union worker who gave him some back talk on a job site. Robert “Pudgy” Hunt, a coworker of this supposed D.B. Cooper told the Oregonian, “He had a criminal mind.” Rackstraw even matched the description of Cooper the people on the plane gave the FBI. But despite strong suspicions, he was ruled out as a suspect after they had no actual evidence to prove him guilty. 

Recently, the case has come back into the spotlight after over a decade. Another member of the Citizen Sleuths, Eric Ulis, sued the FBI to give him access to the tie that was found on the plane. He argued that the FBI had closed the case and therefore should be unable to hold onto old evidence. 

No matter what happened to D.B Cooper, whether he lived or not, his actual identity and the location of the stolen money remains one of the most famous unsolved mysteries of all time.

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  • B

    Baylie BrownOct 27, 2023 at 12:39 pm

    Very well written.

  • W

    wendyOct 16, 2023 at 12:41 pm

    Very interesting and well written!