In Quest of D.B. Cooper

Like all unsolved mysteries, the case of D.B. Cooper is a combination of unlikely components. My new section on The Quester Files IN QUEST OF D.B. COOPER is a short summary of the events and then the introduction to a likely profile and individual.

The selection of any profile or individual is not dependent merely on finding similarities in appearance and interests, and the ability to pull off the crime. For an unsolved crime as audacious as Cooper’s, in the context in which it happened, there is an unavoidable induction. Cooper knew he was not traceable by sight. He knew he would be well-observed. Yet he knew no investigation would lead to him. He knew he could be identified only by fingerprints. He left none, and he even insisted that the note he handed the stewardess Flo Schaffner be returned to him. It wasn’t to protect his penmanship. It was fingerprints.

No one could be so bold as the man calling himself Dan Cooper unless he knew he was untraceable. History has proven this point. Even under the assumption he splattered, the FBI could find no missing person who matched the swarthy Dan Cooper.

This heavily suggests the reality behind the skyjacker calling himself Dan Cooper was someone who had left the grid long before. Not just the United States. I’m not speaking about a citizen who simply went overseas years before. I mean someone who disappeared years before and assumed a new identity, for whatever reasons.

Please keep this in mind as you explore my new Q Files section on D.B. Cooper.

Sky Jackal: In Quest of D.B. Cooper

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Since 1990 Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester or Q Man. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.

South By Northwest– Foreword to D.B. Cooper

Since I now have Bermuda Triangle II off my back, and I await only one bit to finish HorrorScope, I am beginning my next round of books. I have written the foreword to South by Northwest, my investigation and pursuit of D.B. Cooper. A foreword is the first chapter I write in a book and the last I re-write. So this can most certainly change. But here it is as it stands now. I hope it whets your appetite to finally uncover the true identity of the Jesse James of the Jet Age.

South by Northwest, Foreword by Gian J. Quasar


Not since the romanticized Old West has a villain been so glorified as D.B. Cooper. There are those who would object immediately to him even being called a criminal or villain. Villain perhaps not, but he certainly committed a high stakes crime, high not only in the dollar amount he extorted but in the risk and daring factor. Criminal this makes him. He may have been a gutsy, even brave criminal but he was a criminal nonetheless.

There is no question that his image is a cool one. He was dressed like a middle age James Bond—dark suit, thin black tie, carried a briefcase, and hid his eyes behind fashionable wrap-around shades. This is the man who claimed he had a bomb in said briefcase and made the air carrier Northwest Orient pay out $200,000.00 under threat he’d blow up the plane and the passengers thereon. As the game unfolded and all waited tensely, he drank a Bourbon. He offered to pay for it. He’d rob a corporation but not the stewardess. She declined. This was the sleek villain threatening to blow up the airplane.

For the antiestablishment movement this in itself carried cache. Add the daredevil image to his calm and cool look and there is little wonder that Cooper soon became glorified as the “Jesse James of the Jet Age.” A strange hero was born: a modern Robin Hood who robbed from a rich corporation to keep it himself.

Cooper’s daring exploit, in fact, has never been equaled, not successfully anyway. There are those copycats who tried to get away with skyjacking an airliner for cash. They displayed the same daring and risk, but each one failed. Copycats obviously have no originality.

But D.B. Cooper did. He succeeded. He was the first. He chose a stormy night. He chose to bailout over the rugged wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. Surely these are clues to his character and foreplanning. Put together with every other aspect of his caper and the profile of a careful, premeditative man emerges. It paid off. He remains elusive, not just in terms of never having been brought to justice; his very identity is unknown. This is quite an accomplishment all things considering.

Dan Cooper is just the alias he used to check in at Portland International Airport. He was seen extensively and up close by the stewardesses, of course. His features were unique. A composite was done in detail. Yet no dragnet ever uncovered Dan Cooper’s true identity.

Because skyjacking is a Federal crime, the FBI was in charge. Despite the Bureau’s formidable power of collating and analyzing data, both nationally and internationally, it is a remarkable fact that they never uncovered a missing person who fit his description. There was no missing uncle. No missing brother or brother-in-law. No missing father. No person was reported missing who matched Dan Cooper.

Given their theory this fact is amazing. At the time the FBI wanted to believe that he had “splattered,” that is, after he jumped from the Boeing 727 his chute didn’t open or on that rainy and windswept Thanksgiving Eve night 1971 he was plunged into the jagged, spear-like forests north of Portland and there ended the daredevil skyjacker, clutching his ill-gotten gains. It is a fact that none of the money was ever spent, and the FBI had shrewdly taken down each bill’s serial number. So to them the quest was one to find Dan Cooper’s true identity.

Yet too many clues say he survived. But why hadn’t he spent the filthy lucre?

It is possible to still trace Dan Cooper and uncover his identity. He is not just an alias and a distinctive looking man on a Federal handbill. The clues he left behind make him trackable. He knew the 727. He gave instructions to the captain how to fly it on the getaway trip from Seattle. All these instructions made it possible for him to jump from such a huge airliner in midair. He knew parachutes. He selected one that indicated he had some military experience, though not recent experience. He knew those woods. He could not have been a stranger to Portland. From Portland he had come. No car was found abandoned and traced to a man resembling him. No suitcase had been left in a locker. No motel room guest had failed to show up again. Dan Cooper had left zero trail. Only a man who had returned to his place in society could leave no trail and yet taunt us with all these clues.

Was Cooper an adventurer or was he the desperado the FBI painted him to be? The reader will have to decide after reading this book. One thing is certain: he went to unprecedented lengths to secure his money, and it worked. Something went wrong. The money was not spent. But he got away.

All of these are clues that lead us closer to Dan Cooper.

Various psychological profiles were done on this mysterious man, based on the couple of hours he existed in the limelight and the acts he had committed. The lead FBI agent Ralph Himmelsbach preferred to think that Cooper was a down-and-out loser. He hated the glorified image. Cooper was a desperate, uneducated man. Even years after the case was dormant, Himmelsbach would take his own plane and scour the woods north of Portland. It was his own desperate attempt to finally spot the red parachute and find the remains of Dan Cooper. This would remove the hero image. He was a loser unprepared to commit such a crime, and his fate was death in the woods on that dark night.

But agent Himmelsbach never found a trace of Cooper. No one has, alive or dead.

Now it is time that we pick up that trail again and relive that day, a festive Thanksgiving Eve 1971 and then follow every clue to write the aftermath and finally solve the mysterious fate of D.B. Cooper.

*         *          *

Since 1990 Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester or Q Man. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.

D.B. or Dan Cooper– the Logistics of Being a Skyjacker

Things are hotting up in the search for D.B. Cooper. My theory, as you know, is that Cooper came from the Portland area already. Here he boarded the Boeing jetliner on Thanksgiving Eve 1971 and headed to Seattle on the “milk run.” To this place he returned after he made his daredevil jump with $200,000 clams. I like my theory. This fits my POI’s residence. Much in my POI’s background fits the profile. For example, he was a Navy AKAN in Korea.

However, attention has been drawn recently to the theory that D.B. Cooper, the alias for the infamous and still-mysterious skyjacker, worked at Boeing in the Seattle area. An examination of the clip-on tie he left behind before jumping into mystery over the forests of Washington reveals particles that indicate he worked at Boeing. These particles are: “cerium, strontium sulfide and pure titanium.” Citizen Sleuths, the organization that examined the tie, asserts this strongly suggests contamination from a Boeing development area.


A Seattle based D.B. Cooper would make sense, but without an accomplice it is hard to imagine success. The scenario would be: he was driven to Portland by an accomplice, caught the plane, committed the skyjacking, then jumped back near Portland into the forests and there somehow met his accomplice. Remember, this was a windswept, stormy night. If doing this on his own, he had left his car somewhere in southern Washington . . . but how did he get to the airport from the rural areas of southern Washington?  In any case, he was driven back to Seattle or drove himself.

Like all theories, it is easy, but logistics is difficult. How to pull something like this off successfully?

At the time (November 1971 and soon thereafter) rumors circulated around the little hamlet of La Center, Washington. These rumors even found place in the 1979 episode of In Search of . . . in which Leonard Nimoy cautioned they were “highly questionable.” These rumors spoke of an unidentified light plane that frequently made landings in a field nearby at night and there awaiting it was a car. The implication was that these were dry runs between Cooper and his accomplice. The implication again was that the car would get Cooper after he landed and bring him to the field and plane and then it would take off with him and the ransom money.  . .or a fraction of it.

La Center’s main street, circa 1979


A bit complex. The other accomplice, presumably, drives away in the car.

It is a fact that no one knows what happened to D.B. Cooper. No trace was ever found of him and it took 9 years to even locate a fraction of the ransom money. It had floated for some time in the Columbia River and been beached in a storm at Tina Bar. There $5,800 bucks worth of the $2oo,000 was found in 1980 by a kid raking sand to make a campfire.

For the Feds, especially for the lead investigator Ralph Himmelsbach, this was proof that Cooper splattered when he had jumped. He hadn’t survived. Himmelsbach had a low opinion of Cooper. He didn’t like the popular treatment of him as some kind of “Jesse James of the Jet Age.” He was a desperado, a goober who never could have survived the jump.

placardBut it is a fact that nothing else was ever found. No red parachute, no clothes, no briefcase, no bones. In 1978 Carroll Hicks while hunting 13 miles from Castle Rock, Washington, discovered the plastic warning placard that had been ripped from the inside door of the Boeing 727 when the aft stairs had been lowered. It was possible to find even such a small, delicate item as this. Following the drift of the Columbia River, it seemed Cooper must have splattered in the Washougal Valley area, but no trace has ever come of the parachute or anything else. Moreover, wind estimates don’t allow for Cooper to have made it that far by drift from the path of the airliner.

The location of a fraction of the ransom money has only added to the mystery of D.B. Cooper. But the greater mystery comes from he dragnet. This was world news. Nationally both in Canada and the US the sketch representing D.B. Cooper was plastered everywhere. Yet no one recognized him. He had a unique, long face with slender nose. He was middle age. No one recognized him? No neighbor, relative, friend. What’s more, no one went on the Doe list. No one was reported missing. No one failed to show at a motel, back at home, no abandoned car was found whose owner matched the FBI sketch.


The only conclusion was not a palatable one– the mysterious man calling himself Dan Cooper had survived and returned to his normal life. There was no one to report missing.

But after 1980 it seemed certain he was dead because the money indicated he splattered and eventually it had drifted into the Columbia River. Yet if he was truly dead, how to explain no one was ever reported missing?

Until the 21st century the FBI held to Himmelsbach’s views that Cooper was a dead deadbeat. One of the Feds in charge of the case then wasn’t so sure. He thought Cooper had survived.

It is indeed impossible to explain all the clues and sew them together into one coherent theory. The material on the tie Cooper left behind is another clue. But had Cooper died in the drop, everybody at Boeing would have noticed a coworker missing, especially if the sketch was remotely accurate. No one at Boeing reported a missing man. So, did Cooper survive and return to work, thus allaying any suspicions?

More and more it seems the only theories that can work are those that accept that “Jesse James of the Jet Age” had survived. Why then the money on Tina Bar? Why was no dime of it ever spent elsewhere?

*         *          *

Since 1990 Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester or Q Man. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.

The Context of D.B. Cooper

On the evening of Thanksgiving 1971 the first, the most daring, and the only successful, skyjacking took place. A man known only by the alias of Dan Cooper boarded a “milk run”– a 727 bound from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle, Washington. As soon as they were airborne he passed a note to the stewardess. It was a demand for ransom from the carrier, Northwest Orient. He demanded 200,000 dollars. He had a bomb in his briefcase. If they didn’t comply he would blow the plane up.

It shouldn’t be long for the flight to arrive at Seattle, but instead the plane was about 2 hours late. The pilots had been circling Seattle, waiting for instructions. The other passengers were kept in the dark. The company acquiesced and accepted to pay. In the meantime the FBI was photographing the bills.

Dan or D.B. Cooper had everything but this figured out. He knew the route from Portland to Seattle. He even recognized McCord AFB below as they circled. He had even figured out how to escape. Along with the money, he had demanded two sets of parachutes. He also knew the 727’s rear door could be lowered in flight, something not even the stewardess knew. He had worked out what to do with the passengers. As the Boeing airliner idled on the tarmac, at a dark and distant corner of the airfield, the few passengers who had been on this short run had to wait in the area nearby, standing in the rain as the airliner basked in the glare of klieg lights. After the money was delivered and the 727 was airborne, he had proved he had more things figured out. He instructed the pilot to fly under 10,000 feet and to keep the flaps down 15 degrees. The plane would be flying only under 200 miles per hour. Impressive knowledge of the huge aircraft. Instructions such as these made it possible for him to make and survive a jump.


After the money was delivered, the passengers were allowed to walk off the tarmac.

The crew, including the stewardesses, huddled in the cockpit on his orders. He prepared himself all alone in the back of the plane. He selected the parachute he wanted, then cut the cords off one of the extras. He stuffed the money in it and tied it around his waist. Snug now in his black suit, he removed his tie, for it could flap wildly in his face, then he opened the aft stairs. A light came on in the cockpit. The crew knew he had opened the door. Then, several minutes thereafter, the aircraft genuflected. He had jumped from the stairs and was gone. 635838907148921501-dbcooper-tie

One of the greatest manhunts in history was initiated after the aircraft landed in Reno, Nevada, its schedule refueling stop. The crew tried to guestimate where he had jumped. The forests north of Portland, Oregon, not so surprisingly, were estimated to be the location. With all the preparations he had done, it seems undeniable that he would have had an escape route preplanned.

The sheriffs and the FBI scouted the woods, cruised the rivers, but never found a trace of D.B. Cooper dead or alive. They never found his distinctive red parachute, nor the briefcase he had jumped out with. The lead Fed, Ralph Himmelsbach, could not believe that Cooper could have survived. The loafers he was wearing would not have even stayed on as he tumbled to earth. If he had survived the jump, he could not have made it out of the woods. To Himmelsbach, Cooper was a desperate, middle aged failure. He saw nothing smart in him, nothing cool.

However, as time had gone by the legend of D.B. Cooper was growing. He was looked upon as a cool and sophisticated daredevil who pulled off the stunt and heist of the century. In appearance D.B. Cooper also had looked like a laconic Bond. He had dressed in a dark suit, neat, narrow tie, dark fedora, and dark wrap around glasses hid his eyes. He ordered a Bourbon from the stewardess as they flew south. She gave it to him. He tried to pay for it. She refused. He sipped it slowly. Despite the briefcase with the supposed bomb in it (the stewardess saw the sticks of what looked like dynamite)  he is the image of a suave, in a rumpled Bond way, heist man. This legend of D.B. Cooper has remained with us.

But because of the foolhardiness of jumping out over a dark, rain swept forest at night, Himmelsbach formed the opinion Cooper was just a desperate fool. On the contrary, every other detail proves to what extent the man known as Dan Cooper had preplanned. He learned the Boeing 727.  He knew the route. He must have timed it more than once. He prepared meticulously how to get the money. He must have prepared his escape just as well. No one goes to all the planning he did just to jump out and take a chance in uncharted territory. But because no sign was ever found of Cooper, the law eventually opted to believe he died in the fall. Moreover, none of the bills were ever passed. He never spent any of his ill gotten gains.

FBI handbill

With time, the attitude would change. Other Feds would come to believe he had survived. In 1979 Carroll Hicks found the torn placard from the back door of the Boeing 727. He was out hunting elk and came across it. It was the warning sticker on the door. It must have been sucked out when Cooper lowered the stairs and the suction of breaking the seal on the aircraft was great enough to rip it off the open door. Yet 40 years have gone by. Those woods are not as isolated as they once were. Yet no discoveries have come of the parachute, parachute pack, clothes, briefcase or the money.


In 1980, $5,800 dollars of the ransom was found on Tina Bar on the Columbia River north of Portland. It was down river of the estimated drop zone, however. Some Feds came to share the popular view that Cooper had survived and the money had been dumped upstream and floated through Portland. The man known as Cooper probably had found the money was worthless. After all his preparations he had not prepared for the Feds to photo every bill and retain the serial numbers before the payoff had been delivered on the tarmac.

D.B. Cooper must have found out. This is a clue. When? I am not sure. But the location of the money indicates he had remained around Portland, the city from which he had boarded the plane 9 years before this paltry amount of money had been found, the city south of the forests he felt confident he could jump into at night and survive.

The circumstances of finding the money confirmed that it had not been dumped there the night of November 24, 1971. The money was found in a sediment layer on top of a dredge layer that was laid down in 1974 when the Columbia was dredged. It had been dumped in the river years after the skyjacking.


This too is a clue. There are many clues in the case of Dan Cooper, but no real evidence. Nobody’s uncle or brother, or father or husband, ever was put on the Doe list or listed as missing.  If D.B. Cooper had died in the fall you would think the man’s true identity would end up on a missing person’s list. If he came from the Portland area, this should happen rather quickly.  But it never did. No one failed to check out of their motel. An abandoned car was never found. The FBI’s handbill with the sketch of Cooper and his distinctive features didn’t register with car rental clerks, motel managers. In short, it seemed Cooper had not stayed around Portland. He must have driven himself or somehow got to the airport, didn’t leave a car behind, took the flight, and vanished into the woods. Yet somehow part of the ransom got back into the river years later. He seemed to still be around.

The case has riveted the nation and even the world thereafter. The heroism, albeit villainous heroism, the looting of corporate funds, the complete mystery of his fate, but the irony that he must have learned it was all for nothing and dumped the ransom, comes together to create a real life movie plot.

Dan Cooper was thought to be close to 40 years old at the time. He is no doubt dead today. But he lived and quietly died, probably around Portland, after having pulled off the most daredevil heist of the 20th century. He has entered legend as the “Jesse James of the Jet Age” and like the fate of the great Old West outlaws, people still want to know what happened to him.

We still question the fate of Billy Bonner, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In like manner, D.B. Cooper’s exact fate intrigues us. Like the outlaws of the Old West he wouldn’t rob a citizen, only a corporation. He has left admiration behind, mystery, and intrigue. But most of all he left many clues. And it is time to start following them.

I have done so for years. They lead to and from Canada, and reveal a complex plan that places the man behind the moniker in another location while he returned to Portland to pull off the heist of the century. He stashed the money in the woods he knew and left again to appear he had always been away. With his French Canadian background, this part was easy. Having been an AKAN in the US Air Force in Korea is probably what led him to select this daredevil  way to extort money for his retirement. But what type of mind truly conceives of something so daring, so complex as a skyjacking?  Dan Cooper’s did, and all the clues say he got away with it.

*         *          *

Since 1990 Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.

Drop Zone and D.B. Cooper!

America’s first and most infamous skyjacker, D.B. Cooper,  is said to have made a fatalistic jump from the aft stairs of the Boeing 727 on that night so long ago, November 24, 1971. From that point forward both the Feds and so many in the press were disposed to believe that “Dan Cooper” could not have survived the jump. This attitude has remained ingrained in us today.  Despite a number of living suspects having been put forward in the popular forum, despite the popular wish that he had made it, most nevertheless think he didn’t have a chance.

However, greed inspires others; and from this we get a clue. Soon there were other skyjackers, all hitting 727s because those were the only aircraft with rear stairs that could be lowered in flight. Richard Floyd McCoy is the most famous example of the successful copycatter, but he eventually got caught. His mistake? He hadn’t jumped in a wilderness area.

Richard Floyd McCoy — some think he was D.B. Cooper because he carried off a $500,000 smackeral 727 heist in copycat of Cooper. There is some resemblance, but the stewardesses said it was not him. He died in a shootout with the G-Men.

It would seem that D.B. Cooper jumping into the rugged and untamed wilderness north of Portland was his biggest mistake. Even if his chute opened, how could a man in a business suit survive slicing through the pine branches and then finding his way out of the thick underwood?

The question is probably not necessary. Dan Cooper did appear to have thought things out. Dropping into a wilderness wasn’t his big mistake. It was rather the result of inspiration. And, in truth, he really didn’t drop into “rugged wilderness.” He chose a compromise.

The revised drop zone placed Cooper as having jumped around Woodland, Washington, near both the Lewis and Columbia rivers. The wind (as last recorded) was from the west, meaning he would drift easterly.  Placing him at about 180 pounds, his drift would be in a confined track line east/southeast of the Woodland area.

This area between Woodland and La Center is hardly wilderness. Huge fields checkerboard with stands and oases of woods. There is more than enough room to get a small plane in. There’s more than enough country roads to access most of the area.

Rumors of such a get-away plan naturally surfaced early. One such account even found memorial in the late great In Search of in 1979, in which we were told that unsubstantiated rumors said that locals near La Center, Washington, saw such a small aircraft coming and going from a field days in advance, responding to the signaling flashes of the headlights of a parked car.  After the skyjacking it stopped. Were these events rehearsals?

La Center

La Center was then a very small farming town in the forest. In Search of reminded us that most of the town was that Thanksgiving eve in the Free Evangelical Church attending the wedding of the town’s popular music teacher. Could D.B. Cooper have known about this?

La Center is at the southern area of the probable drop zone.

Such a scenario as outlined by the rumors would mean an accomplice. But did D.B. Cooper take that chance? Those who copycatted him did not.

But we must remember that copycats don’t have original inspiration. None could possibly plan as much as Cooper had. Cooper was the first. He set the precedence. The original inspiration was his. It is not surprising that Cooper alone was never caught. He was never caught because he jumped toward a wilderness. Every clue underscores how he had planned meticulously in advance. He told the pilots how to fly that plane, at what altitude, at what degree to have the flaps down, and he even knew the aft stairs could be lowered in flight, which even the stewardess didn’t know.


The most probable drop zone. Huge bottom land fields west of Woodland and interspersed fields all the way to La Center southeast of Woodland.

One thing Cooper didn’t know– he didn’t know that those aft stairs after being lowered would bounce back up when he jumped off, that is, they would come back up and then lower again. Acting like a rudder, it caused the entire plane to dip its nose a bit– to “genuflect.” The crew, huddled in the cabin at Cooper’s orders, figured it was about 8:15 p.m. Since the rear door placard was found  about 13 miles east of Castle Rock, wind drift tells us that  Flight 305 was west of Castle Rock at that moment. Close to 15 minutes later and the flight would be around Woodland when Cooper jumped.


Beetling in a little closer, we see the field network. It is more developed today than back then, but it was hardly wilderness.

D.B. Cooper would have to have things timed perfectly. What is the point in going to all this trouble just to jump into thickets and woods? He must have flown the route before. He must have flown it in a private aircraft to check landmarks from the sky. That night he had ordered the pilots to fly that Boeing 727 under 200 mph– a speed that a small private aircraft can make. He had things timed.

Even if the La Center reports are just rubbish, it is a scenario that must have been considered by Cooper. Whether those were test runs that were later abandoned for another method of picking him up we do not know.


Even closer. . .

What we do know is that the terrain between Woodland and La Center is hardly wilderness.

The original drop zone estimate around Ariel further north, with wind drift, would have placed Cooper in some of the nasty, dense forests, and thus it seemed much more reasonable to assume Cooper didn’t make it. But the revised drop zone seems far more survivable.

There are those that can logically argue that such precision was not possible. There was no way that Cooper could have known exactly what path that Boeing would fly on the way south. Not entirely true. Due to the altitude he dictated, there was really only one way south in order to avoid the large mountains. This was back to Portland.

I don’t think he could have afforded to have a plane standing by near La Center, however, as that presupposed he knew what the wind drift would be like. It could be, however, that he figured La Center would, in fact, be the center of his drop zone no matter what, since the airliner would normally be a little further east in its flight path.

We can second guess it forever. But one thing is fairly certain. Cooper was really not jumping into a wilderness area. Rural yes. Interspersed with swaths of forest definitely.

There was no way possible that Dan Cooper could have drifted to any location near the Columbia River down stream of where only 3 bundles of the ransom money were later found in 1980 at Tina Bar north of Portland. The fact the money was found there suggests it was later dumped.

Latin looking, a bit tanned, thin, cool, smoking his Raleighs and drinking bourbon and soda. This image captured our adventurous imaginations in the antiestablishment era and we still wonder today who this enigma was.

D.B. Cooper pulled off the daredevil crime of the century and in some respects succeeded. Even if he didn’t get a chance to spend his ill gotten gains, he may indeed have survived. He became the “Jesse James of the Jet Age”– smooth, whiskey drinking, smoking his Raleighs, in a black business suit. Success or failure, it remains amazing he has not been identified.  He has left enormous mystery in his wake, and now 44 years later people still want to know what happened to this outlaw of the outer limits.

*         *          *

For 25 years Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.

South by Northwest — Assessing D.B. Cooper

Assessing D.B. Cooper. Indeed. After one investigates the actual sequence of events leading up to and after the skyjacking on November 24, 1971, one must proceed to assess which fork in the road to take. Did D.B. Cooper survive or did he “splatter”?  Before one can investigate and begin the process of elimination to try and identify the most notorious skyjacker in history, one must sort this out.

Ralph Himmelsbach, the lead Fed, preferred to believe that Cooper “splattered.” The wise guys told him the chances of someone in a business suit without a helmet jumping from a jet airliner at 10,000 feet on a stormy night. They didn’t even think his shoes– only loafers– would stay on. How could someone like this survive hitting the ground, slogging through muddy prairies, and then through the dense undergrowth of the forest? How could he even get through the dense pine forests on the way to the ground without being shredded by the trees?

Basically all we officially know of “Dan Cooper.”

Even long after he retired, Himmelsbach searched the wilderness in the area he thought the most probable drop zone. The problem is Feds aren’t very good with street investigation. It’s not their turf. To read an FBI influenced report is to see how detailed, meticulous, analytical they can be at a higher level. They are quite logistic, which is good. But the street is not their turf. Even more so, the forest is no lawman’s turf.

Ralph Himmelsbach nor any lawman was at an advantage here.

Ralph Himmelsbach warns that the Bureau has a long memory– In Search of 1979.

What the FBI had done in the initial phase of the search in 1971-1972 was to alert the banks about the serial numbers. How often tellers checked, we do not know. The Bureau did sweeps of missing persons and felons who had skydiving skills.  They checked into missing persons. Who had not come home? What neighbors are missing? Abandoned cars? No one fit.

But the wilderness has no cross reference and no one is there to assist. This was the last known location of D.B. Cooper.

Because agent Himmelsbach preferred to believe Cooper died in the jump, he eventually limited himself to a personal pursuit of looking for a needle in a haystack. Somewhere that red parachute or pieces thereof should be found. A body. A chewed suit. Even a loafer. How about the briefcase that contained the “bomb”?  Neither he nor anybody ever found anything to indicate what happened to Dan Cooper.

As the years went by, it seemed something should turn up if he lived or died. One of those $20 dollar bills if he lived, some relic of his passing in the wilderness if he died. Nothing.

A relic was not improbable in the wilderness. The survival of some bit of clothing or parachute or even the money was confirmed in 1978 when hunter Carroll Hicks while stalking elk came across  the remnant of the warning placard that had been sucked out of the Boeing 727 when Cooper lowered the aft stairs in flight and the suction yanked it out.

Some 15 minutes after this Dan Cooper jumped with the $200,000 wrapped around his waist in the remnant of one of the parachute sacks he didn’t need. Yet not a trace of any of the clothes, parachute, briefcase has been found. Even if he survived a remnant of the briefcase should have been found. He could not have held on to that all the way down. Nada.

The search at Tina Bar.

Then in 1980 3 bundles of the ransom money were found on Tina Bar, north of Portland. One bundle was shy 200 bucks worth of 20s, making the total amount recovered 5,800 dollars instead of $6,000.00.

This changed everybody’s mind as to just where the 727 was when Dan Cooper jumped.

The calculations had undergone several adjustments even during the search in 1971. Now 9 years later it was time to reconsider. The first calculation proposed that the 727 was near Merwin Dam by Ariel, Washington, when Cooper jumped. Then it seemed the flight had to be further west, and Captain Scott, the pilot, later came to that view as well. It seemed somewhere by Woodland, Washington, was more likely.

By the time 1980 rolled around and the location of the money on Tina Bar, these were 9 year old calculations that had inspired searches that had found nothing. Now it seemed the Woodland one had to be wrong. Woodland is north of where the money was found. Nothing drifts upriver.  Could it be the original was truly the most accurate? Himmelsbach began to think so. The only answer is that Cooper drifted from near Ariel southeast to the Washougal Valley. There he splattered. Over time floods or whatever moved some of the money down to the Washougal River. There it floated in the Columbia, through Portland, past Caterpillar Island and a few bundles beached on Tina Bar.

The first arrow at top of map indicates Woodland where it was later thought probable that Cooper jumped. Star marks Caterpillar Island. Second arrow marks the Washougal. Lake Merwin and Merwin Dam are at the top of the map.

This alone seemed to explain the location of the money and the evidence it had been in the water for a while before it had washed up onto the sand bar within a 3 foot layer of sediment. Clearly flood had moved the money and enough sediment to deposit 3 feet of it, with the money scattered in it, upon Tina Bar.


However, nothing has been found in the Washougal Valley to suggest that D.B. Cooper’s remains are there. Moreover, Himmelsbach used as supporting evidence for his theory the report of a pilot, Bohan by name, who was flying his airliner behind the 727 but at a higher altitude. Bohan said the wind was 180 on the nose. Why did Himmselbach not notice that this would be a headwind from the location of Flight 305 to the Washougal? How could Cooper drift southeast into a southeast headwind? It is impossible. And Woodland is too far. If the wind at Cooper’s altitude here was favorable and drifting toward the southeast he was too far away to drift over 25 miles to the Washougal from Woodland. If Cooper jumped in either location he could not have drifted into a headwind.

How then did the money get where it was found?

Neither wind, adjusted location for the flight route, nor anything natural can explain how the money got to Tina Bar.

Because of this the location of the money did not settle the question on what happened to D.B. Cooper. It only raised questions. Did he survive? Did he find out the Feds had taken down the serial numbers and the extorted gains were no good? Did he pitch it afterward? On some dark night did he go out in a boat and dump the money in the river? If he did, when? The sediment band in which was located the money was on top of a band of sediment cast up when the Columbia was dredged in 1974, 3 years after the skyjacking.

Ralph Himmelsbach’s theory could explain it if it hadn’t been for the wind making the Washougal impossible and therewith any subsequent drift of the money in the Columbia River.

Did Dan Cooper survive and get rid of the incriminating money? With the Washougal seemingly out of the picture, and with this a defined landing location to scour removed from the equation it seemed easier to follow through on the probability that “Dan Cooper,” the “Jesse James of the Jet Age,” survived.

It is this fork that I elected to take, and this is the path that led me to my POI.

I preferred that D.B. Cooper splattered. It would be more enticing to think one can traipse across beautiful forests and suddenly find his remains or those of the rest of the money and get a whopping reward! But those chances are slim, and in 44 years no one has done so despite the example of Carroll Hicks finding a needle in a haystack in 1978.

In taking this fork, we must accept that Cooper buried his red parachute and made it out of the forest; that nobody has come across his briefcase out there with the “bomb” or didn’t know what it was; that he did not spend any significant amount of the money (though 200 bucks was missing from one bundle recovered); that he was a local Portlander or that he returned to dump the money.

The last step on the aft stairs of Flight 305 is the last sure step we know of “Dan Cooper.”

More than this we must accept the obvious clues and evidence that Cooper was qualified to make the jump.  That he took time to learn the 727 and the route. Equally, we must accept that he took the time to plan out a drop zone. He knew where to have those flaps set on the plane, what altitude to order it to fly– everything. He must have taken equal care about his escape.

Let us pursue this further in our next D.B. Cooper post.


*         *          *

For 25 years Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.

Finding More than D.B. Cooper

It is the most frustrating thing and I think on today’s anniversary it is good to elaborate on it. Finding motive. After 40 to 50 years that is a hard thing to do in a villain’s crime.

It is especially difficult in the case of D.B. Cooper or just Dan Cooper. On the night of November 24, 1971, he pulled off the most daring crime in the 20th century. He skyjacked a Northwest Orient airliner in flight, let the other passengers go after it landed in Seattle, held it and the crew under threat of a bomb in his briefcase, then after the ransom money was paid by the executives, he let the plane take off from Seattle and soon thereafter he jumped out with a parachute and the ransom money.

What is going to make a man go to the lengths he went to get $200,000.00 smackerls? It’s more than just the need for money. The chances of surviving his escapade are slim, even for an experienced parachutist. His chances of not being identified would seem even slimmer.

Dan Cooper sat in a seat in the airliner, in a nice business suit, and was observed quite well by the stewardesses. He smoked his cigs, drank his whiskey, and appeared the most sophisticated criminal. Even if he got away with this, he knew his face had clearly been seen. What’s the point of pulling this off if you can be quickly identified? This certainly didn’t allow him to spend any significant amount of the money soon after the crime.

No mystery as to what “Dan Cooper” looked like. Thin, thin face, thin nose, close to 40 years old. He smoked Raleigh cigarettes.

Well, clearly the man using the alias Dan Cooper did it and pulled it off . . . halfway. He didn’t spend the money or most of it. While he was never found, some of the money was found years later in 1980 on Tina Bar on the Columbia River, an odd if not impossible place for it to have gotten unless it was intentionally dumped.

It’s not as hard to explain what must have happened after he jumped than to explain what his motive might have been for something so daredevil as the first skyjacking and parachuting from a jet airliner in history.

But let’s assume he fully intended to survive and spend his ill-gotten gains. From Portland he came, for this is where he boarded the Boeing 727 on the way north to Seattle, and before Portland he jumped on the return flight. That is the last ever seen of Dan Cooper. No body was found, no parachute, no chewed clothes, shoes, briefcase with the supposed “bomb” in it, no bag of money. Ironically, years later the placard from the back of the jetliner is found in the forest. It was ripped off the backdoor when the aft stairs were lowered and the suction pulled it out. But nothing of Dan Cooper despite a massive search in what was felt to be the most probable drop zone north of Portland.


The crew of the airliner discusses what happened.

Let’s think of logistics. Even if the theory is true that Dan Cooper had an accomplice on the ground waiting to pick him up, what are the logistics that he, on a stormy night, is going to hit his drop zone correctly from a jet airliner at 10,000 feet? Odds are slim. The alternative? Dan Cooper must have been prepared to spend some time in the forest working his way out, to a cabin or someplace where he had a change of clothes.

It would seem phenomenal that a local Portlander would take this risk. After all, his face had clearly been seen. To remain around Portland would be to invite disclosure and capture. Everybody knew this is where he boarded the plane north to Seattle. One might like to think he came from afar and simply boarded the plane here to skyjack it. However, since he jumped in the forests north of Portland, he must have felt he was fairly familiar with the location.  As unbelievable as it sounds, he seems to have been a local Portlander.

It must have taken him quite a while to get out of the forests and back to civilization. Perhaps as much as a couple of weeks. By the time he returns, he has a beard, a change of clothes, and a shock. He discovers through the press announcements of the FBI’s continuing investigation that the $20 bills that made up the ransom were photographed. The Feds know every serial number. The heist has been worthless. What to do? Dump it.

Sounds easy, but there is a problem. Remnants of the ransom were found where they really could not have been deposited if Dan Cooper had merely “splattered.” One of the easiest theories is that the wind drift would take him to east to the Washougal Valley. Here he died on impact. Over time the money was dislodged, drifted down the Washougal River to the Columbia, drifted through Portland and then some was deposited on Tina Bar during a flood. This explains why it was found in a sediment band that was deposited after the dredging that occurred in 1974. It must have been dislodged after this time during a flood, years after the skyjacking, years after the dredging in 1974. Yet it was later discovered that the winds were not favorable and the airliner had been further west than at first thought.  A parachutist could not have drifted that far.

The other explanation is that he himself dumped it in the Willamette River and it drifted to the confluence of the Columbia.

Manning search

Investigating and searching at the time; trying to figure the drop zone.

But you ask, why dump it so late? Why not in December when he finds out? Well, good question. He might have been afraid it could be found and he overestimated what the FBI would deduce. Yet he might, in fact, have dumped it quickly and a few of the bundles didn’t wash out to the Pacific. In a major flooding time after 1974 the 3 remaining bundles may have been washed out and then deposited on Tina Bar. They showed signs of having been in the water quite sometime before being embedded in the sand.


It remains a mystery, and that’s why we like it. There is so much that is unexplainable. It was daredevil and risky. Awfully elaborate. D.B. Cooper captured our anti-establishment attitudes of the time. He dressed in a  dark suit like Bond, smoked his Raleighs, drank his whiskey, and held up a corporation. He wouldn’t rob a citizen. He even offered to pay for his cocktail as he waited for the airline to get his ransom money. If D.B. Cooper survived, and so far I believe he did, his greed failed but his stunt succeeded.  The hunt for D.B. Cooper, the “Jesse James of the Jet Age,” continues.


*         *          *

For 25 years Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.

Finding D.B. Cooper Part 2 — The First Clues

As we approach the 44th anniversary of the most famous skyjacking, November 24, 1971, let’s begin to take more in depth looks at the audacious case of D.B. Cooper.

“Dan Cooper” with and without his wrap around sunglasses. It was the nation’s first skyjacking purely for greed. The FBI wanted “Cooper” bad, but couldn’t find a clue as to his identity.

During the Korea War Operation Jilli gave us much data on how leaflets fall to earth, their drift in the wind and their spread on the ground, based on paper weight, the cut and the size. Dropping leaflets was quite common, and many of the psyops had to drop them from a distance and use wind drift to hit their targets. It became quite a science.

In 1978 a thin plastic paper placard was found in the woods about 13 miles east of the small Washington town of Castle Rock. The hunter, Carroll Hicks, realized it was a warning placard from the inside of a door to an airliner. He turned it in. Amazingly, it could be traced. It had, in fact, been the placard on inside of the rear door of the 727 that D.B. Cooper had skyjacked in 1971. When he lowered the aft stairs, the suction must have sucked it out and ripped the placard from the opened door.

When this thin bit of plastic paper was found it should have revamped everything the FBI had thought about D.B. Cooper and his escape from that Boeing 727.

The placard.
The placard.

When Cooper opened up the back emergency door a light came on in the jetliner’s cockpit (About 8 p.m.). The crew, huddled in there on their skyjacker’s order, knew he had opened the back emergency exit door. Fifteen minutes or so later the aircraft’s nose dropped. This told them that the rear staircase— unique to the Boeing 727— was lowered. (Further tests by the FBI suggested that the airplane actually made a curtsy because the stairs, already lowered, sprang back up.)

The deduction was made that their rogue skyjacker and his 200K ransom money jumped from the airliner. Nevertheless, per D.B. Cooper’s orders the crew remained cringed in the cockpit even after they were sure he was gone. They flew all the way to Reno, Nevada, like that, where they landed according to their earlier agreement with their abductor in order to refuel. There, of course, they discovered what they had suspected. He was gone. Had it not been for the airliner genuflecting, no one would know where to begin to calculate D.B. Cooper’s drop zone.

The crew.
The crew.

Using this, law enforcement and the FBI searched where Captain Scott, the pilot, thought they had been flying. He estimated near Ariel, Washington, by the Merwin Dam of Lake Merwin. Logical enough on Cooper’s part to pick this area. The lights of the dam would make a perfect geographic marker for his drop zone. He clearly knew the route, so it is safe to assume he knew of the dam’s lights and that they would make a perfect landmark at night.

The crew’s deduction that Cooper had jumped when the plane genuflected became central to every search for the adventurous “Jesse James of the Jet Age.” But no trace was ever found in the woods. No red parachute, no body, no parachute pack. No money. No shredded clothes. Nothing. Nothing to indicate D.B. Cooper died or survived . . . Not even the briefcase. Copper could hardly have held on to that on the way down. Why was that too not found? Whether he lived or splattered, that briefcase should still be out there.

The case has remained on the books, and D.B. Cooper is a popular culture icon of daring and mystery. Who was he? What happened? The public has preferred to believe that Cooper survived. If so, why was none of the money ever spent? (The FBI had photographed the bills first and had the serial numbers of each.) “Splattered” was the FBI’s theory. This means that Cooper never got his parachute open. He hit like a rock. This would explain seeing no red parachute or anything else. It was a dark, stormy night, and the rains may have covered what remained of the body. Yet this placard, of all things, was still findable years later.

Because of all the contradictions, the case of D.B. Cooper remains quite open. His daredevil skyjacking is probably the most famous cold case outside of a serial murder spree.pursuit_of_d_b_cooper

The searchers weren’t being negligent in their search, but were they looking in the right place?

Let’s look at this:

Critical Factor—    Astoria, west of Castle Rock, was clocking the winds as gusting up to 45 mph. A storm was clearly unleashing itself over Washington State. The Boeing 727 was at 10,000 feet.

Rewind— When D.B. Cooper lowered those aft stairs the seal on that aircraft was broken. That placard, affixed to the rear emergency door, was ripped from its place by the initial suction and pulled out. It then drifted down.

Relevant Fact— The placard was found about 13 miles east of Castle Rock. This is  commensurate with the strong winds from the west. Its rate of fall would usually be around 2.5 feet per second. Put all the calculations together and it would drop about 9000 feet in an hour. Add the heavier weather, barometric pressure, and the intermittent downpour, and the rate of decent is doubled. Thus the placard could have been found as much as 22 miles or more east of where it dropped from the Boeing 727.

Deduction— Because Castle Rock was only 13 miles west from where the placard was found, the jetliner had to have been flying west of Castle Rock on its Victor 23 route to Portland, Oregon, to the south.

Thus those aft stairs were lowered about 30 miles northwest of the Ariel, Washington, area— much further north and west of where Captain Scott, the pilot of the airliner, had first thought. Indeed, Scott later came to this conclusion himself. He later said he believed they were further west than originally estimated. Obviously, this was correct.

If the interpretation of the genuflecting is correct, then it is also obvious that “Dan Cooper” waited about 15 minutes to jump. At the airliner’s speed it should have gone about 50 miles south. But if it was further west than it was estimated, where did Dan Cooper end up? Was he on the west side of the Columbia River around Deer Park or on the eastern side near Woodland? After searching failed around Ariel, the Feds thought more in terms of Woodland.

In attempting to bolster the theory that Cooper jumped near Aerial, it has been said that the lights of Merwin Dam would have been used as his guide.
In attempting to bolster the theory that Cooper jumped near Ariel, it has been said that the lights of Merwin Dam would have been used as his guide.

But nothing has ever been found around Woodland either. The very fact that the paper exit warning placard could still be found, even 7 years later, indicates by now (44 years later) that D.B. Cooper’s remains, or more likely those of his red parachute, should have been found by some hunter by now. But they haven’t.

Despite how impenetrable the forests are around here, the valleys and river areas are not. Now, in light of this a later discovery can be interpreted more than one way. Some of the money was found. In 1980, $5,800 dollars of the ill-gotten ransom money was found, having been washed ashore on a bank of the Columbia River known as Tina Bar. This is just north of Caterpillar Island. Caterpillar Island in turn is just north of Portland, Oregon, from whence Dan Cooper had taken off to begin his daring crime.

The search at Tina Bar.
The search at Tina Bar.

The first interpretation: The Feds, particularly the lead investigator, Ralph Himmelsbach, speculated that the villainous Cooper had drifted with the strong wind, and Himmelsbach in particular believed that Cooper splattered in the Washougal Valley and that with time some of the money was dislodged and drifted down the Washougal River and into the Columbia River, drifted through Portland and eventually was deposited on Tina Bar just north of the metropolis.

Himmelsbach’s theory is radical in light of the belated theory undersigned by Captain Scott, the pilot, when he expressed his belief that they had actually been flying much further west of Ariel around Woodland when D.B. Cooper jumped. This struck everybody at the time as probable since nothing was found around Lake Merwin. However, the location of the money obviously dashes to pieces Scott’s theory. The money could not have flowed up river. Caterpillar Island is south of Woodland. Yet does the money’s location really support Himmelsbach’s radically opposite view?  It would if it was not for the winds.

Ralph Himmelsbach had a cripplingly negative view of Cooper's abilities. He also made terrible mistakes in computing wind drift.
Ralph Himmelsbach had a cripplingly negative view of Cooper’s abilities. He also made terrible mistakes in computing wind drift.

The problem and the solution is the placard. The wind drift and rate of descent confirmed Captain Scott’s suspicion they were further west than estimated. D.B. Cooper could not have drifted from an area northwest of Portland (around Woodland, Washington) to the Washougal over 25 miles to the southeast. The estimated drift and descent of a man Cooper’s estimated weight (180 pounds) is known and it is not even 9 miles from 10,000 feet. And with the winds prevailing the drift of a parachutist from where they estimated he jumped should have been east not southeast.

The first arrow at top of map indicates Wopodland where it ws later thought probable that Cooper jumped. Star marks Caterpillar Island. Second arrow marks the Washougal.
The first arrow at top of map indicates Woodland where it was later thought probable that Cooper jumped. Star marks Caterpillar Island. Second arrow marks the Washougal.

Moreover, the Washougal, like all river valleys, is hardly impenetrable. If Cooper splattered near this area, near enough that some of the money was eventually washed into the Washougal River, then his remains or those of his clothes or parachute should have been found by now.

The money and the placard are our only tangible clues. They give us the second interpretation. Put together they tell us that Cooper survived. But there are other clues. Of the 3 bundles found, still secured in their rubber bands, one bundle was shy ten 20 dollar bills— 200 bucks. How could that be? But even these clues lead to more clues that give us some insight about how long D.B. Cooper was actually in the woods.

We will pursue this in the next D.B. Cooper post.

Finding D.B. Cooper

It has been my experience that even an average mind that obsesses on one thing is going to do fairly well at it. The most successful criminals (i.e. those whose crime sprees were daring and complex but they were never caught) have left enough clues to reveal to what extent they had planned, pre-planned, and worked out their crime. They need not be geniuses. Some have great ingenuity, but “ingenuity is a poor substitute for intelligence,” as Demetrios told Mr. Van Leyden.

D.B. Cooper fits into this mold perfectly. The “Jesse James of the Jet Age,” as he has been romanticized, planned and pre-planned his daredevil skyjacking and escape. Those who follow true crime and cold cases know of whom I speak. What is his real name? No one knows, but his alias of Dan Cooper or D.B. Cooper is good enough.

He gave the name Dan Cooper to the ticket agent.
He gave the name Dan Cooper to the ticket agent.

This mysterious middle-aged, slender man, in dark suit, overcoat, and carrying a brief case, bought a ticket on Thanksgiving Eve (November 24) 1971 in Portland, Oregon, for a short trip to Seattle, Washington. With lots of details omitted right now because there is no need to be redundant to all that has been published, let’s just say that he ended up pulling off the extortion crime of the century. Nearing Seattle he told the waitress he had a bomb in the briefcase and used that threat to make the airliner’s owners fork out 200K. After they landed at Seattle, he demanded that they bring 2 pairs of parachutes and also refuel the jetliner. He finally released the passengers but kept the crew aboard. He told the pilots they were going to take him to Mexico, so he could escape.

After all this was done, the jetliner took off, with only a slim crew and D.B. Cooper smoking his Raleigh cigarettes.

The parachutes were a dead giveaway, of course, that he had always intended to jump and not head to Mexico. Everything he ordered them to do underscored this– and they obeyed his orders precisely. They flew at 10,000 feet altitude. They kept the flaps lowered by 15 degrees and kept the airspeed under 200 mph. D.B. Cooper clearly  knew the aircraft, the Boeing 727. This was evident in that no one can parachute out of a jetliner’s side door. He needed an aircraft with a rear exit door. The Boeing 727 was the one airliner that had a rear door and a staircase that lowered.

News photo of the airliner at Seattle's airport.
News photo of the airliner at Seattle’s airport.

In addition, D.B. Cooper also knew the route. He had even recognized Tacoma from the air before they had landed in Seattle. They also now headed back the same way to Portland, though Copper had made it sound as if the route wasn’t important. At that altitude, however, it was the only route they could take, and Cooper no doubt knew this.

But “Dan Cooper” made a curious mistake before they took off. He had insisted that the 727 takeoff with the rear door open and the staircase deployed. The airline objected. The airliner angles up on takeoff and that staircase is going to be crunched up. He relented and said he would open it in the air himself. He did indeed know that type of aircraft. Not even the stewardess knew the stairs could be lowered in-flight.

Why was Dan Cooper insistent on taking off like this? The only explanation is that he didn’t want his drop zone to be known with any precision. He knew what would happen when the door was opened. And so it did. Around 8 p.m. a light came on in the cockpit telling the crew the rear door was opened. About 15 minutes later the aircraft genuflected, that is, the nose dipped and the tail rose and then compensated, both indications the staircase had sprung up and lowered again, indicating someone had jumped from the stairs. The crew, huddled in the cockpit on his orders, deduced that Dan Cooper, their villainous skyjacker, had jumped.

The 727 with its rear stairway lowered upon arrival at Portland.
The 727 with its rear stairway lowered upon arrival at Portland.

The pilot estimated they were near Ariel, Washington, by the Merwin Dam, when D.B. Cooper bailed. Yet a huge search found no trace of “Dan Cooper,” his bright red parachute, or the briefcase. And until 1980 none of the money. A few bundles were discovered at Tina Bar on the Columbia River by Caterpillar Island. How did they get there? It’s nowhere near the estimated jump zone. Nor could winds have caused Dan Cooper to drift toward this area.

Much mystery surrounds this, the greatest and most romanticized skyjacking in history. Of all that I investigate, only a couple of topics do not have tragedy. This always puts them at the top of my favorite’s list, even if they aren’t some of the most famous cases. D.B. Cooper’s daredevil hold-up has no tragedy with it. He committed a seemingly outlandish, complex and dangerous crime to get money. It was greed. But he had style. He wasn’t a desperado in appearance. Rather he was a bit of a James Bond, smooth, easy, smoking his Raleighs, dressed well. He even offered to pay for his drink when the stewardess brought one at his request. Apparently, he’d rob a corporation but not a citizen.

Finding D.B. Cooper or at least his ultimate fate is a mystery hunter’s dream. They’re forests to be covered and a cunning mind to second-guess. Clues are everywhere, but where is Dan Cooper?

The FBI preferred to believe he had died in the jump. Yet the money could not have gotten to where it was found if he had. Later, much later, the lead Fed on the case believed he had survived.

The FBI wanted D.B. Cooper no matter what.
The FBI wanted D.B. Cooper no matter what.

I, too, believe that “Dan Cooper” survived. Thus the location of the money is a valuable clue. So is the meticulousness with which he planned his skyjacking. From Portland he came. Back to Portland he was obviously going. No one plans as much as he did and then expects to simply bail out of a jet on a stormy night, land in a muddy field or dangerous, scraggly forest, and then thumb a ride back to Portland with 200K wrapped around his waist. He had escape and pick-up planned, and he didn’t want anybody to know the drop zone.

But there’s that interesting mistake on D.B. Cooper’s part. He must not have known that the stairs would act like a rudder and that they would make the plane genuflect. He seemed worried about the light going on. He apparently did wait a while after he lowered the stairs. Perhaps up to 15 minutes. The reason? Probably to hide his drop zone. But the stairs give us a clue. When he jumped they sprang back up.

Examining the drop zone must be the first clue that we pursue in the next D.B. Cooper post. A couple of discoveries and one of D.B. Cooper’s own mistakes will tell us more in the next blog.