The only unsolved hijacking case in US history remains shrouded in mystery 50 years later
An ordinary man, without any remarkable distinguishing features, approached the Northwest Orient Airline counter at the Portland airport on November 24, 1971 to buy a ticket on Flight 305, a Boeing 727 bound for Seattle . He paid cash. What happened from that moment on would become one of the great unsolved mysteries in the history of the FBI . Today, 50 years later, the figure of DB Cooper (name with which the media baptized him) continues to generate debate and controversy. Do you live on a desert island? Was Sheridan Peterson, who died last February, and who was in the sights of investigators for years? Did he die after jumping from the plane?
Boeing 727 flying from Portland to Seattle hijacked by DB Cooper PHOTO: fbi.gov
The only thing certain is that Cooper was described as a quiet man , in his 40s, dressed like a businessman, in a suit , black tie and white shirt. Before taking off, he required the attention of the flight attendant to order a bourbon and soda. Around 3:00 p.m., he called the flight personnel again. This time, his plan was already in motion. He showed her a note stating that he had a bomb in his briefcase and that he wanted her to sit next to him.
The assistant, stunned, had no choice but to accept their requests. DB Cooper opened the briefcase and the interior was full of red cables and tubes and demanded that she write a message for the captain, in which she demanded four parachutes and $200,000 in 20 bills.
Tie worn by DB Cooper on the day of the kidnapping PHOTO: fbi.gov
The request was accepted. When they landed in Seattle, the hijacker traded the passengers for money and parachutes, though he held the crew back to resume flight. DB Cooper ordered them to take off for Mexico City and to fly low. Shortly after 8:00 p.m. , something unforeseeable happened. When they were flying over an area between Seattle and Reno, he opened the rear door of the aircraft and jumped out with a parachute and the ransom money attached to his chest. The pilots managed to land without any problem, but the hijacker took advantage of the night to escape.
Map of the flight made by DB Cooper, of the place of the jump and of the area in which he was able to land PHOTO: fbi.gov
The crew immediately notified the FBI, which moved to the area and opened an investigation that lasted more than 40 years and could not be resolved. They interviewed hundreds of people, tracked down clues across the country, searched the plane from top to bottom, but nothing. By the fifth anniversary of the event, investigators had ruled out more than 800 suspects.
One of the people on the list, Richard Floyd McCoy , was arrested five months after carrying out a kidnapping of similar characteristics and despite the fact that many were convinced that he was related to the hijacking of the Seattle flight, he was ruled out because his physical characteristics did not they coincided with those provided by two of the plane’s crew.
DB Cooper Parachute Duffel Bag PHOTO: fbi.gov
One of the hypotheses considered was that he did not survive the jump. The parachute he used was not maneuverable and the clothing and footwear he was wearing were not suitable for a forced landing. Also, he jumped over a forest, a risky move even for a seasoned pro and DB Cooper was not. Besides, it was the middle of winter and he had neither warm clothing nor food to survive for a long time.
This theory seemed ruled out, when in 1980 a child found a rotten package full of 20 euro bills -5,800 dollars- sunken in the Columbia River., whose serial numbers matched those on the ransom. But if that version is true, remains of his body should have appeared, on the ground, in the trees…. but it was not like that. The FBI focused on the river, they ran experiments on the river and its tributaries to see if the body might have been buried but they ruled it out. They used techniques that were not even available in 1971, such as satellite maps or GPS, to try to determine more exact coordinates of Cooper’s landing zone. But they concluded that the money was a decoy to try to mislead them and the investigators recognized this: “we have taken the bait.”
With the passage of time the theories were fired and the myth was increasing. Many people claimed to be DB Cooper in the last moments of her life… but they could never prove it. Some of the most intriguing profiles were that of Barbara Dayton, a transgender woman who loves piloting who confessed to her friends that she was responsible for the kidnapping; or that of Lynn Doyle Cooper , whose niece was convinced because on Thanksgiving that year he came home bloodied and wounded.
Image of one of DB Cooper’s parachutes PHOTO: fbi.gov
The most recent and on which all the lights were possible was Sheridan Peterson, a veteran of the Second War and Boeing employee in Seattle, who was never arrested. Patterson was questioned in 2004 , when he was 77 years old but at the time of the abduction he was 44, a similar age to DB Cooper’s appearance. In addition to interviewing him, they took a DNA sample, the results of which were never made public.
Also, private investigators and historians began to do their own research. One of them, Eric Ulis, defined DC Cooper in a History Channel documentary as a man who presented himself as a James Bond and whose figure has been considered by many to be a cult hero. Ulis, author of ” DB Cooper: The Definitive Investigation of Sheridan Peterson ,” was convinced that Peterson and Cooper were the same person.
Even Peterson understood that everyone believed in that possibility and so he wrote in a magazine published by the National Parachuting Association in 2007: “The FBI had good reason to suspect me. My friends and colleagues were convinced that I was DB Cooper. There were too many similar circumstances for it to be a coincidence.” Also, the resemblance of her to the composite portrait released by the FBI was uncanny.
FBI poster with the sketch and description of DB Cooper PHOTO: fbi.gov
But no one could prove it. In 2016, the FBI decided to close the case “to focus on other priorities.” Peterson died in California on January 8, at the age of 94.
FBI Special Agent Larry Carr was on the case for many years and believes it is highly unlikely that DB Cooper survived the jump. But his job was to try to find out who DB Cooper really was and after years of work he came to the conclusion that he served in the Air Force and was at some point stationed in Europe , where he may have been interested in the Dan comics. Cooper. “He worked as a cargo loader on airplanes, which gave him knowledge and experience in the aviation industry, which was in its infancy in 1971, ″ he clarifies.
Additionally, “because his job required him to drop cargo from planes, Cooper would have used an emergency parachute in the event of a fall. This would have provided him with a working knowledge of parachutes, but not necessarily the functional knowledge to survive the jump that he made.” He speculates that he “may have come from the East Coast, but he took an aviation job in Seattle when he got out of the Army . It is possible that he lost his job during an economic downturn in the aviation industry in 1970-71″. In addition, he considers that he was a “lonely person with little or no family” and that “no one would have missed him after he left.”
For all of the above, it seems that the general consensus of all researchers is that DB Cooper died on the day of the jump, despite the fact that his remains were never found. Others prefer to think that she is a hero, that she managed to escape and that after having lived at full speed during these years he hides on a desert island waiting for her time to come.