Apologies in advance as It’s a long story today, but I think an interesting one – It’s about a man called Dan Cooper (photo 1), who hijacked a Boeing 727 aircraft between Portland and Seattle on the 24th November 1971, he obtained $200,00 in ransom, and parachuted from the aircraft to an uncertain fate. Despite an extensive manhunt and an ongoing FBI investigation, the perpetrator, to this day, has never been located or positively identified. The case remains the only unsolved air piracy in American aviation history. The event began mid-afternoon on Thanksgiving Eve, November 24, 1971, at Portland Internatonal Airport in Oregon. A man carrying a black attaché case approached the flight counter of Northwest Orient Airlines. He identified himself as “Dan Cooper” and purchased a one-way ticket on Flight 305, a 30-minute trip to Seattle, Washington. Flight 305, was only a third full, and took off on schedule at 2:50 pm, local time. Cooper passed a note to Florence Schaffner, the flight attendant situated nearest to him in a jumpsteat attached to the aft stair door. Schaffner, assuming the note contained a lonely businessman’s phone number, dropped it unopened into her purse. Cooper leaned toward her and whispered, “Miss, you’d better look at that note. I have a bomb”. And so the hijacking began. The note was printed in neat, capital letters with a felt pen. It read, “I have a bomb in my briefcase. I will use it if necessary. I want you to sit next to me. You are being hijacked.” Schaffner did as requested, then, quietly asked to see the bomb. Cooper cracked open his briefcase long enough for her to glimpse eight red cylinders (“four on top of four”) attached to wires coated with red insulation, and a large cylindrical battery. After closing the briefcase, he dictated his demands: $200,000 in “negotiable American currency” four parachutes (two primary and two reserve); and a fuel truck standing by in Seattle to refuel the aircraft upon arrival. Schaffner conveyed Cooper’s instructions to the cockpit; The pilot, William Scott, contacted Seattle Air Traffic Control, which in turn informed local and federal authorities.
FBI agents assembled the ransom money from several Seattle-area banks—10,000 unmarked 20-dollar bills, and made a microfilm photograph of each of them. Cooper rejected the military-issue parachutes initially offered by authorities, demanding instead civilian parachutes with manually operated ripcords. Seattle police obtained them from a local skydiving school. At 5:24 pm Cooper was informed that his demands had been met, and at 5:39 pm the aircraft landed at Seattle-Tacoma Airport. Cooper instructed Captain Scott to taxi the jet to an isolated, brightly lit section of the tarmacand extinguish lights in the cabin to deter police snipers. Northwest Orient’s Seattle operations manager approached the aircraft in street clothes (to avoid the possibility that Cooper might mistake his airline uniform for that of a police officer) and delivered the cash-filled knapsack and parachutes to Cooper via the aft stairs. (Photo 2 shows the aft stairs on the Boeing 727 aircraft). Once the delivery was completed Cooper permitted all passengers, Schaffner, and senior flight attendant Alice Hancock to leave the plane. During refueling Cooper outlined his flight plan to the cockpit crew: a southeast course toward Mexico City at the minimum airspeed possible without stalling the aircraft (approximately 100 knots (190 km/h; 120 mph)) at a maximum 10,000 foot (3,000 m) altitude. He further specified that the wheels remain down in the takeoff/landing position, the wing flaps be lowered 15 degrees, and the cabin remain unpressurized. He also advised them that after take-off he would be lowering the aft stairs. After takeoff Cooper told Mucklow to join the rest of the crew in the cockpit and remain there with the door locked. As she complied, Mucklow observed Cooper tying something around his waist. At approximately 8:00 pm a warning light flashed in the cockpit, indicating that the aft air stair apparatus had been activated. The crew’s offer of assistance via the aircraft’s intercom system was curtly refused. The crew soon noticed a subjective change of air pressure, indicating that the aft door was open. At approximately 8:13 pm the aircraft’s tail section sustained a sudden upward movement, significant enough to require trimming to bring the plane back to level flight. At approximately 10:15 pm Captain Scott landed the 727, with the aft air stair still deployed, at Reno Airport. FBI agents, state troopers, sheriff’s deputies, and Reno police surrounded the jet, as it had not yet been determined with certainty that Cooper was no longer aboard; but an armed search quickly confirmed that he was gone.
In 1972/3 and 4, extensive searches were made all along the aircrafts flight path, but nothing was found. In 1978 a placard containing instructions for lowering the aft stairs of a 727, later verified to be from the hijacked airliner, was found by a deer hunter near a logging road about 13 miles (21 km) east of Castle Rock, Washington, within the basic path of Flight 305. Then in February 1980 an eight-year-old boy named Brian Ingram, vacationing with his family on the Columvia River about 9 miles (15 km) downstream from Vancouver, Washington, uncovered three packets of the ransom cash, significantly disintegrated but still bundled in rubber bands, as he raked the sandy riverbank to build a campfire. FBI technicians confirmed that the money was indeed a portion of the ransom. But no trace of Cooper was ever found. The FBI has argued from the beginning that Cooper did not survive his jump. “Diving into the wilderness without a plan, without the right equipment, in such terrible conditions, as there was low cloud, heavy rain and near freezing temperatures, he probably never even got his ‘chute open.” Even if he did land safely, agents contend, survival in the mountainous terrain would have been all but impossible without an accomplice at a predetermined landing point, which would have required a precisely timed jump, necessitating, cooperation from the flight crew, which was never requested. And so the hijacking remains unsolved to this day. Oh by the way, in 1986 the FBI released the money that Brian Ingram had found 6 years earlier (well it was split between Brian and the Northwest Airlines insurance company).