#21 - D.B Cooper and his Legendary Leap

Thanksgiving. The most wonderful time of the year for any red-blooded, God-fearing American. It’s a time where we get together with a bunch of people we go our entire lives pretending to enjoy the company of, and coping by doing what we do best: stuffing our fat fucking faces with food and drinking red wine and beer by the gallon.

Between 1968 and 1972, over 130 planes were hijacked in the skies over America, but in the days long before 9/11, these events were little more than a mild inconvenience, and usually involved some lunatic demanding ransom money and for the plane to be diverted to Cuba, where the hijackers could then escape from the wrath of the US justice system and start a brand new life on a beach somewhere in paradise. Or, this was the idea, anyway. But for the rest of the passengers, it was a vacation-ruiner, or to others, a great alternative and a valid excuse not to make it to somebody’s boring ass wedding or some lame business meeting and instead spend some quality time smoking fine cigars and drinking rum in the Caribbean.

The problem was getting so bad, that the FAA even considered building a complete, full-scale mockup of the Havana airport in a south Florida field, to dupe any potential hijackers into thinking that the plane was landing in Havana when the pilots would really be landing it at this mock-up airport, but the plans were never realized due to the high cost of such a project.

Back in 1971, on the very day before Thanksgiving, Wednesday, November 24 of ’71, the 2nd most famous incident involving a hijacked airliner took place in the skies over the Pacific Northwest of the USA, and as it so happens, is STILL the sole unsolved case of airplane hijacking involving commercial aviation in human history.


In the early afternoon of that day, a mild-mannered, nondescript Caucasian male, thought to be in his mid 40’s, wearing a dark suit and tie, and carrying an attaché bag walked into the Portland International Airport and purchased a one-way ticket to the Seattle-Tacoma Airport (AKA SEATAC) from the Northwest Airlines ticketing counter for $20. He gave the name Dan Cooper to the ticket agent.

His flight, Flight #305, was departing at 2:50PM, and he was assigned to seat 18C on the Boeing 727, which was an aisle seat near the rear of the plane, 4 rows from the very back, on the left side of the plane.

Sunset on this particular day was at 4:43PM in Portland, so keep this in mind as we move forward in the story.

In addition to the man known as Dan Cooper, the flight had 36 other passengers, along with 6 crew members, Captain William Scott, First Officer Bob Rataczak, Flight Engineer H.E. Anderson, flight attendant Alice Hancock, who served the first class passengers, and flight attendants Tina Mucklow and Florence Schaffner, who served the peasants and unwashed masses in coach.

Shortly before the plane took off, the smooth and dapper man known only as Dan Cooper at this point, sat down in his assigned seat and calmly lit a cigarette, and ordered a bourbon and soda from flight attendant Florence Schaffner, and even tried to tip her for the drink. However, she declined the tip, citing airline policy.

Shortly after the plane became airborne, the man handed her a note. Thinking that it was just some creepy old dude trying to spit some game by handing her his phone number, she thought nothing of it and proceeded to put it directly into her purse without even reading it.

However, when Cooper noticed that she didn’t bother reading the paper he handed to her, he leaned in close to her and quietly told her “Miss, you’d better look at that note. I have a bomb.”

Schaffner immediately walked away and opened the note – and was shocked, and horrified, by what she saw. It read:


Paralyzed from fear, and against her better judgment, she sat next to Dan Cooper. He opened up his briefcase enough to show her what appeared to be red sticks of dynamite connected by wires, and told her that all he had to do was connect this wire to that wire and they’d all be dead unless his demands were met – which were $200,000 in 20 dollar bills, four parachutes (two main and two reserve), and a refueling truck on standby in Seattle BEFORE he would allow the plane to land. He added NO FUNNY BUSINESS! And let her know that more instructions were to come, but that was all they needed to know for the time being.

She then showed the note and written instructions to fellow flight attendant Tina Mucklow, who urged her to comply with whatever instructions the man gave.

Unbeknownst to the rest of the passengers on the plane, all hell was silently breaking loose amongst the members of the crew.


Schaffner then delivered the notes to Captain Scott in the cockpit, who radioed into Seattle-Tacoma International to inform them of the situation that was developing onboard their flight. Immediately, the FBI was informed of the skyjacking and were on the case.

With the FBI now on board, they called the president of Northwest Orient Airlines, Donald Nyrop, and asked him how he wanted them to proceed with the situation, to which he asked that all demands of the hijacker be complied with.

So with that, the plane began flying in a holding pattern around SEATAC airport as the authorities on the ground began scrambling to gather up all of the hijacker’s demands. As Schaffner returned from the cockpit, Dan Cooper had moved to the window seat across the aisle from where he had been sitting originally. Acutely aware and perhaps hyper-paranoid of leaving evidence behind, he also asked for his handwritten bomb threat note back from the stewardess.

By 5:30PM, SEATAC told Captain Scott that all of the hijacker’s demands had been met, and just 10 minutes later the plane was able to touch down at the airport, and then taxied to a well-lit area of the tarmac.

He ordered all of the window shades to be closed by the stewardesses – apparently to discourage any police snipers from trying to take him out.

Tanker trucks soon arrived to gas up the parked plane. A sole employee of Northwest Airlines came up to the back of the plane carrying the four parachutes and ransom money, and was met by flight attendant Tina Mucklow at the aft staircase, which was a fold-out staircase on the ass-end of the plane. More on this later.

However, as the hijacker saw the parachutes they provided, he was PISSED, and began screaming that they were all wrong.

So what SEATAC did was reach out to a local skydiving school and bought some parachutes off of the owner. However, in their haste, an employee at the school accidentally included a dummy chute as one of the reserve chutes, which was inoperable, and only used for demonstration purposes.

A flight which should’ve taken only half an hour had taken almost 3 hours, and most of the passengers were blissfully unaware of what had gone on until after they had landed. However, as Cooper’s demands were now met, he agreed to release all 36 of the passengers, and two of the three flight attendants, with Tina Mucklow being the sole flight attendant kept on board.

During this time, Cooper gave his next demands to Tina Mucklow, which were for the plane to fly to Mexico City at an altitude of 10,000 feet, with wing flaps at 15 degrees and landing gear down, all while flying at below 150 knots, but the flight crew had to object, stating that Mexico City was outside of the aircraft’s range of operation at those parameters and would have to be refueled somewhere along the way. Reluctantly, Cooper agreed to have the aircraft head to Reno, Nevada first for refueling before then heading off toward Mexico City.

By 7:30 PM all of his demands had been met, and the plane had been cleared for takeoff, with Cooper and 4 crew members.

At 10,000 feet, the plane leveled off, and Cooper ordered Mucklow to head up to the cockpit and close the curtain behind her, and to not come out. She observed him standing in the aisle tying the money bag around his waist as she was closing the curtain.

By this point, McChord Air Force Base, which we mentioned in Episode 19, dispatched two F-106 fighters to follow the 727, along with a training jet, a T-33. Due to the airspeed on the 727 being so slow, they had to fly using an S-Pattern as to not overtake it. The F-106’s were able to make visual contact with the airliner, but the T-33 crew was unsuccessful.

At 8PM, just 30 minutes after takeoff, the crew felt the air pressure inside of the cabin drop, and Captain Scott noticed a warning light that came on which indicated that the aft staircase had been opened mid-flight. Just several minutes afterward, at about 8:12PM, the crew felt the nose of the plane jolt upward momentarily.

At 10:15PM, the airplane had finally touched down at Reno, shooting sparks all over the runway as the rear staircase of the plane made contact with the runway.

Authorities immediately surrounded the plane, guns drawn. The crew attempted to contact Cooper over the intercom system, but received no reply. After several minutes, the crew mustered up the courage to leave the cockpit to go and check on Cooper, but discovered that he was nowhere to be found. He had assumedly jumped from the plane in midair, with his cash, parachutes, and bomb.

The only evidence left by the hijacker was a black clip-on necktie with a mother of pearl tie-tack attached to it, some cigarette butts that he had smoked, two hairs, one being a body hair and the other being a strand of head hair, and two of the four parachutes that had been requested. Dan Cooper, his “bomb”, and all of the money had vanished somewhere in the skies over the Pacific Northwest, like a fart into a gentle autumn zephyr.



Public pandemonium quickly ensued. The entire country was enthralled with the case, and most normal people saw ‘DB Cooper’ as somewhat of a sympathetic character. Merchants cashed in on the craze by selling T-Shirts and other DB Cooper branded merchandise, and Cooper quickly became the most famous unidentified individual in the country.

Regarding the name of “DB Cooper”, instead of “Dan Cooper”, the moniker “DB” came from a journalist who misheard the alleged name of the hijacker, and the name “DB” spread like wildfire. The hijacker never went by the name of DB, but for whatever reason the wrong name is the one that stuck.

No witnesses on the ground came forward with a sighting report of Cooper – nor did the crew of the Air Force aircraft see Cooper jump.

The authorities quickly began searching for potential suspects with the name “Dan Cooper”, but of course turned up no promising leads, as someone with this level of sophistication would not be dumb enough to give his real name to the ticket agent at the airport.

Through eyewitness cooperation, particularly flight attendants Tina Mucklow and Florence Schaffner, several composite sketches of the suspect were done. The first initial sketch is now considered to be an inaccurate description of Cooper, but two more versions were done in 1972, until one was finally settled on as being more or less accurate, which is the picture we’re using for this episode on the app.

Over the course of the following months, thorough and exhaustive searches were conducted all over the area underneath the flight path of the 727, with no success. However, the FBI did have enough foresight to set one last trap; an ace card up its sleeve: they photocopied the serial numbers of every bank note that had been delivered to the skyjacker, and laid in wait for the money to start coming into circulation.

Just a month after the hijacking, the FBI provided lists of all serial numbers for the ransom money to financial institutions all over the country, and by early 1972, the serial numbers of the ransom money was released to the general public.

However, none of the money ever turned up in circulation, leading some to conclude that the man either didn’t survive the jump, or that he lost the money during the jump.

The FBI even got the Air Force involved in the search, and received help from an SR-71 Blackbird in retracing and photographing the ground below the 727’s flightpath, but several attempts made by the Blackbird were unsuccessful due to poor weather.

Initially, the FBI believed that Cooper had made his jump between Ariel Dam and Battle Ground, Washington, but revised their estimate the following year in 1972, and concluded that he had most likely jumped out near to the town of La Center, Washington, which is all contained in an area just north of the Columbia river, right near the border with Portland, Oregon.

In 1978, a deer hunter found an instructional placard for lowering the aft staircase of a 727 near a logging road 13 miles east of Castle Rock, Washington, which would be in line with the FBI’s estimation of the 727’s flight path, as this area would be just north of where they believed he bailed out.

9 years after the hijacking, in 1980, an 8-year old boy who had been camping on the banks of the Columbia river with his family happened to find some of the money buried in the sand, which accounted for 3% of the total. It was badly deteriorated after being exposed to the elements for so long, but was conclusively determined to be part of the ransom money.

Regarding the ransom money, we’d like to read a portion of an article from king5.com written by Chris Ingalls and published in 2020, which is listed in the source notes for this episode.

SEATTLE — Armed with an electron microscope and a new theory, amateur scientist Tom Kaye has uncovered a new clue in the 49-year-old case of skyjacker DB Cooper.

Kaye used his microscope to identify “diatoms,” tiny deposits of algae, on Cooper’s ransom money that was found mysteriously buried just beneath the sand on the bank of Columbia River near Vancouver in 1980, nine years after he hijacked a plane and ransomed 36 passengers for $200,000 and four parachutes when it landed in Seattle.

Kaye examined the ransom bills 12 years ago at the request of the Seattle FBI, but only recently turned his attention to algae that could have been present on the water-soaked money.

“So, suddenly, the light bulb came on and we wondered if we could use these different species of diatoms that we found on the Cooper bills a long time ago to determine when the money got wet and when the money landed on [the bank of the Columbia],” said Kaye.

The result of Kaye’s research was published Monday in the journal Scientific Reports, marking the first time that Cooper evidence has been peer-reviewed and published.

“The diatoms that we found [on the Cooper money] are a spring species," said Kaye. "They bloom in the spring. They do not bloom in November when Cooper jumped."

Kaye said that’s key because it shows the money ended up in the river months after Cooper jumped on November 24, 1971.

Because the bills only had one season of diatoms on them, and did not have diatoms that bloom in the winter, Kaye theorizes that the money came out of the water and landed on the bank of Tena Bar – a sand bar on the Columbia River – after only a few weeks or months.

“The money was not floating in the water for a year, otherwise we would have seen diatoms from the full range of the year.  We only saw them from the spring … the springtime bloom. So, this puts a very narrow range on when the money got wet and was subsequently buried on Tena bar,” Kaye said.

The scientist said the new information scuttles the FBI’s original theory in the 1980’s that the money somehow flowed down rivers from Cooper’s believed drop zone, near Lake Merwin in southwest Washington, into the Washougal River and out into the Columbia – the so-called “Washougal wash down theory.”

“We are now able for the first time to use this piece of evidence and eliminate a bunch of theories,” Kaye said.

However, the new finding also raises more questions than it answers.  How did the money enter the water months after Cooper’s daring jump?  Why did it end up some 18 miles, as the crow flies, from Cooper’s suspected drop zone? How did the money get out of Columbia River and end up mostly intact, with rubber bands holding three stacks of $20 bills together?

“Cooper is still messing with us,” Kaye said with a grin.


Cooper was incredibly meticulous when it came to not leaving evidence behind, but he did make a few mistakes, as nearly anyone in this sort of high stress, high complexity operation would. He left behind the following clues:

  1. His Necktie with Mother of Pearl Tie-Tack. It was slim and black in color. In 2007, the FBI was able to lift two partial DNA profiles off of it, but without a full profile or a suspect to compare the DNA to, this evidence is not enough to shed any light on who he was.
  2. Two hairs found at the scene. One being a body hair, and the other being a brown, Caucasian head hair. However, both samples of these hairs have been either lost or destroyed by law enforcement incompetence.
  3. (8) Eight Cigarette Butts in the Ashtray of seat 18-E, which is the window seat that he had moved to following his demands to flight attendant Florence Schaffner. In probably the most infuriating instance of law enforcement incompetence in the entire case, when the FBI sought to test these for DNA in 1998, they discovered that they had been destroyed years earlier by the Las Vegas field office.
  4. As previously stated, nearly 9 years later in 1980, some of the ransom money was found buried in the sand on the shore of the Columbia River near a place called Tina Bar. Analysis done by the amateur scientist suggested that the bills did not enter the area at the time of the hijacking, but rather, the diatoms found on the bills suggested that they were placed there in the springtime.
  5. 6 letters were sent in to different newspapers following the hijacking.

The first letter writer used letters cut from An old newspaper, and wrote “Attention! Thanks for the hospitality. Was in a rut.” And was signed “DB Cooper”.

The 2nd was handwritten and was signed as DB Cooper, postmarked on November 30, 1971, and sent to Vancouver Province in British Columbia with the following message: “The composite drawing on page 3 as suspected by the FBI does not represent the truth. I enjoyed the Grey Cup game. Am leaving Vancouver. Thanks for the hospitality.”

The 3rd letter was mailed in northern Oregon on December 1, 1971, which was written with cut out letters from a Playboy magazine, which read “am alive and doing well in hometown. P.O The system that beats the system.”

The 4th letter was sent to the Reno Evening Gazette, mailed from Sacramento CA, and written with cut and paste letters that read “Plan ahead for retirement income” (signed DB Cooper)

#5 was sent on December 11 of that year, sent to the New York Times, Seattle times, Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post, and read: "Sirs, I knew from the start that I wouldn't be caught,” the letter read. “I didn't rob Northwest Orient because I thought it would be romantic, heroic or any of the other euphemisms that seem to attach to situations of high risks. I'm no modern day Robin Hood. Unfortunately I do have only 14 months to live.

“My life has been one of hate, turmoil, hunger and more hate; this seemed to be the fastest and most profitable way to gain a few fast grains of peace of mind. I don't blame people for hating me for what I've done nor do I blame anybody for wanting me to be caught and punished, though this can never happen. Here are some (not all) of the things working against the authorities:

I'm not a boasting man

I left no fingerprints

I wore a toupee

I wore putty make-up

“They could add or subtract from the composite a hundred times and not come up with an accurate description; and we both know it. I've come and gone on several airline flights already and am not holed up in some obscure backwoods town. Neither am I a psychopathic (sic) killer. As a matter of fact I've never even received a speeding ticket.

Thank you for your attention."

Signed, DB Cooper.

The last letter was mailed on March 28 of 1972, from Jacksonville Florida, to the Portland Oregonian and read “This letter is too let you know I am not dead but really alive and just back from the Bahamas, so your silly troopers up there can stop looking for me. That is just how dumb this government is. I like your articles about me but you can stop them now, D.B Cooper is not real.

I had to do something with the experience Uncle taught me, so here I am, a very rich man. Uncle gave too much of it to world idiots and now work for me. I had to do it to relieve myself of frustration. I want out of the system and saw a way through good ole Unk. Now you know. I am smarter than the system’s lackey cops and lame-duck leaders. Now it is Uncle’s turn to weep and pay one of it’s own some cash for a change. (And please tell the lackey cops D.B Cooper is not my real name).

Signed, “A Rich Man”


The Dan Cooper Hypothesis: Was DB Cooper CANADIAN?

Belgian comic book artist Albert Weinberg created the comic book series titled Les Aventures de Dan Cooper in the 1950’s, which was popular well into the 1960’s. It surrounded a character named Dan Cooper, a Royal Canadian Air Force test pilot who would find himself in dangerous and heroic situations. In one edition of the comic book, which coincidentally was published not too long before the actual hijacking, the hero Dan Cooper was featured parachuting out of the back of plane.

Those who believe there is a link to the Dan Cooper of French-Canadian comic book fame tend to point to the fact that during the time leading up to the hijacking, the Royal Canadian Air Force began downsizing, laying off around 500 pilots without warning or financial safety net. The hopes and dreams of these men would’ve been shattered, and some may have been financially ruined due to this.

Some believe that the Dan Cooper who hijacked Flight 305 may have been a Canadian aviator who was let go from his job as a pilot, and took on the name Dan Cooper as a silent nod toward the fictional Canadian aviation hero Dan Cooper, and also point to the fact that he allegedly told one of the flight attendants that he had a grudge, but not against their airline.

The comic book series was obscure, only in French (never having been translated into English), and a potential link between the two Dan Coopers was only considered as recently as 2009.



Finally, let’s go over the Physical Description of Cooper based on the flight attendants’ accounts:

-White Male

-Mid 40’s

-5’10 to 6’

-170-180 pounds

-Average to well-built

-Olive, Latin appearance, medium smooth complexion

-Dark brown or black hair, normal style, parted on left and combed back. Sideburns were at low ear level.

-Eyes are possibly brown, but this is not definitive as he put on wrap-around sunglasses in the middle of the flight

-He spoke intelligently with a low voice, no particular accent, possibly from the Midwest

-He was a heavy smoker of Raleigh filter tip cigarettes

-He was wearing a black or brown suit, white shirt, narrow black tie, black dress suit, black rain-type overcoat or dark top coat, and brown shoes.

-Described as having a sort of disinterested, “let’s get this overwith” type of look on his face



The incident helped introduce permanent changes to the aviation industry, in particular a device on 727’s known as the “Cooper vane”, which is a latch installed on the exterior of the plane which prevents the aft staircase from being opened while airborne.

In less than a year, 13 copycat hijacking attempts were made in the skies over the US, with 5 of these attempts resulting in a successful midair egress from the airliner, but all suspects were either captured or killed by the police during their escape attempts. The tale of DB Cooper remains the sole case of unsolved aerial hijacking in US history.

Who was he? Why did he do it? Did he survive the jump, or did he make a looney-tunes style, human-shaped hole in the ground somewhere in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest?

Alright man, through our powers combined, let’s list off some points that could point toward him either making it or making a fatal attempt. First up, let’s go over some points that are in favor of him making it. What’ve you got?