D.B. Cooper caper: cased closed


It looks like D.B. Cooper got away with it.

The F.B.I. is putting an “inactive” stamp on the files for the country’s only unsolved hijacking.

In a statement, the F.B.I. said it “has redirected resources allocated to the D.B. Cooper case to focus on other investigative priorities.”

It’s not like they didn’t try. Since November 24, 1971, the F.B.I. has been trying to figure out how a man calling himself Dan Cooper parachuted out of a Northwest Orient plane somewhere over southwest Washington State with $200,000 in twenty-dollar bills – and was never seen again.

Here’s the F.B.I.’s version of the story:

On the afternoon of November 24, 1971, a nondescript man calling himself Dan Cooper approached the counter of Northwest Orient Airlines in Portland, Oregon. He used cash to buy a one-way ticket on Flight #305, bound for Seattle,Washington. Thus began one of the great unsolved mysteries in FBI history.

Cooper was a quiet man who appeared to be in his mid-40s, wearing a business suit with a black tie and white shirt. He ordered a drink—bourbon and soda—while the flight was waiting to take off. A short time after 3:00 p.m., he handed the stewardess a note indicating that he had a bomb in his briefcase and wanted her to sit with him.

The stunned stewardess did as she was told. Opening a cheap attaché case, Cooper showed her a glimpse of a mass of wires and red colored sticks and demanded that she write down what he told her. Soon, she was walking a new note to the captain of the plane that demanded four parachutes and $200,000 in twenty-dollar bills.

When the flight landed in Seattle, the hijacker exchanged the flight’s 36 passengers for the money and parachutes. Cooper kept several crew members, and the plane took off again, ordered to set a course for Mexico City.

Somewhere between Seattle and Reno, a little after 8:00 p.m., the hijacker did the incredible: He jumped out of the back of the plane with a parachute and the ransom money. The pilots landed safely, but Cooper disappeared into the night—and his ultimate fate remains a mystery to this day.

Clues – even some of the money – have been found and studied over the years, but the D.C. Cooper caper has never been solved – to the delight of those who gather in Ariel, Washington each year to celebrate the one that got away.  Here’s a link to a story I did about that party for National Public Radio back in 2008.

And, in case you’d like to try to solve the case, here are some of the clues.


D.B. Cooper’s tie. Courtesy FBI


D.B. Cooper money

Some of the money from the D.B. Cooper hijacking. Courtesy FBI


First-time trike flight

For a while up there on Prosser Butte, just outside of Spokane, WA, I was hoping the sun would set before it was my turn to get strapped into the back seat of the two-seated, three-wheeled, motorized, kite-like contraption that Denny Reed insists is a perfectly legal light sport aircraft, or trike.

Spokane Backcountry Aerosports light sport aircraft

But there was plenty of light left after the four writers I’m touring Spokane with each took their turn flying low over nearby hills and wheat fields with Backcountry Aerosports owner Denny Reed as their guide.

So when it was my turn, I had no choice but to climb in, buckle up, and hold on tight.

You know how this turns out.

There was nothing whatsoever to be worried about. The sampler flight – maybe ten or fifteen minutes max –was a bit scary at take-off, but incredibly exhilarating after that.

As Reed promised, the aircraft (I’m still uncomfortable saying I flew in a trike) felt stable and safe. And when we flew down low, it was indeed possible to feel changes in air temperature.

So, I’m now a convert.  I’m not saying I’m ready to sign up for the flight training courses Reed offers and get my own Ultralight  or Light Sport Aircraft anytime soon.  But if I had the opportunity to ride along with someone again, I’m game. I might even seek it out.

And I promise: next time, no whining. In fact, next time, I’d like to fly first.

light sport aircraft trike prosse butte