Outwitting FBI, How This Mysterious Man At 10,000 Feet ‘Vanished Into Thin Air’ & Left The US Fuming

Over five decades ago, an unidentified man daringly hijacked an airplane and absconded with US$200,000, nonchalantly parachuting away in a great escape. The enigmatic figure behind the infamous DB Cooper case continues to baffle authorities, marking one of the most enduring mysteries in FBI history.

On November 24, 1971, an individual identifying himself as DB Cooper boarded a Boeing 727 flight from Portland to Seattle, purchasing a one-way ticket with cash.

Described by the FBI as a reserved man in his mid-40s, clad in a business suit, black tie, and white shirt, Cooper initiated the heist mid-flight. 

Presenting a note to a stewardess claiming a bomb in his briefcase, he coerced her to sit beside him. Displaying a glimpse of ominous wires and red sticks, Cooper handed her a note for the captain, demanding four parachutes and US$200,000 upon arrival. 

Following landing in Seattle, Cooper exchanged the 36 passengers for the demanded money and parachutes but retained several crew members, steering the plane towards Mexico City. 

FBI artist rendering of so-called D.B. Cooper, who hijacked Northwest Orient Flight 305 out of Portland (Oregon), demanded and received ransom money upon landing in Seattle, then parachuted into the woods and was never found again.
FBI artist rendering of so-called D.B. Cooper, who hijacked Northwest Orient Flight 305 out of Portland (Oregon), demanded and received ransom money upon landing in Seattle, then parachuted into the woods and was never found again. FBI

In a remarkable turn of events, around 8 pm, while flying between Seattle and Reno, Cooper executed an audacious escape, parachuting from the plane’s rear with his ransom.

Though the pilots safely landed the plane, Cooper vanished into the night. Wearing minimal attire and equipped only with wraparound sunglasses, a thin suit, and a raincoat, he descended into a thunderstorm with extreme winds and subzero temperatures. 

The storm thwarted the immediate search operation, leading authorities to assume his demise during the seemingly suicidal jump. 

FBI explained, “Perhaps Cooper didn’t survive his jump from the plane. After all, the parachute he used couldn’t be steered, his clothing and footwear were unsuitable for a rough landing, and he had jumped into a wooded area at night—a dangerous proposition for a seasoned pro, which evidence suggests Cooper was not.”

This theory gained additional credence when a young boy discovered a decaying package containing twenty-dollar bills totaling US$5,800 with matching serial numbers to the ransom money nine years later in 1980.

Cooper’s daredevil feat transformed him into a folk hero, triggering an FBI investigation, catalyzing heightened airport security, and inspiring numerous books and documentaries. It stands as the lone unsolved hijacking in US aviation history.

The FBI, relentlessly pursuing the fugitive using what is believed to be a fake name, sifted through over 800 suspects within five years of the hijacking, ultimately narrowing it down to two dozen. 

Despite numerous theories proposed by the FBI and amateur sleuths, the case officially closed in 2016. The DB Cooper saga remains an enduring mystery in the chronicles of criminal history. 

Who Was The Prime Suspect? 

The FBI has asserted that it conducted exhaustive investigations, interviewing hundreds of individuals, pursuing leads nationwide, and meticulously examining the aircraft for evidence in the D.B. Cooper case. 

By the fifth anniversary of the hijacking, the agency had scrutinized 800 suspects. The case file, as reported by The New York Times in 2011, spans 40 feet and documents about 1,000 suspects, sourced from psychics, tips from the public, and even deathbed confessions.

Among the interviewed suspects was Richard Floyd McCoy, who executed a similar hijacking and parachute escape less than five months after the Cooper incident. 

However, according to the FBI, McCoy was ruled out due to discrepancies with flight attendant descriptions and other undisclosed reasons.

The agency was uncertain about his survival even by 1972. Nevertheless, the agency eventually shelved the case, citing a redirection of resources.

Some of the stolen $20 bills found by a young boy in 1980.
Money recovered in 1980 that matched the ransom money serial numbers. FBI

The FBI explained that every assessment of additional tips for the Norjak case (as it named the D.B. Cooper probe) diverted investigative resources and manpower from more pressing programs.

The agency stated that the numerous items examined over the years would be preserved for historical purposes at its headquarters. Despite shelving the case, the FBI mentioned that individuals could still contact the bureau with specific leads.

Meanwhile, Cooper’s legacy also endures in the realm of aircraft design. A lasting testament to his audacious act is the Cooper Vane, an aerodynamic device implemented on all Boeing 727 aircraft. 

Its purpose is to prevent airstairs from deploying mid-air. This safety mechanism was adopted industry-wide after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking on June 20, 1972, underscoring the lasting impact of Cooper’s airborne escapade on aviation safety standards.