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FBI Abandons DB Cooper Case after 45 years.

Hijacker was last seen parachuting from an airplane over the Columbia river in 1971

 

Drawing based on witness descriptions of the passenger who called himself "D.B. Cooper."

The FBI has closed the book on one of the greatest mysteries in history.

The only agent assigned to find parachuting hijacker D.B. Cooper, was reassigned to other dead end cases of the FBI on Friday, effectively shuttering the 45-year-old case after the Bureau - and troves of tipsters - failed to identity the infamous hijacker, the FBI announced.

"Unfortunately, none of the well-meaning tips or applications of new investigative technology have yielded the necessary proof," FBI spokeswoman Ayn Dietrich-Williams said in a statement late Monday.

The agency has poured over the legendary theft ever since a frigid night on Nov. 24, 1971, when passenger Dan Cooper flashed what appeared to be a bomb, donned a parachute and leaped from the Northwest Orient Airlines plane to Seattle with a bag with $200,000 in stolen cash.

In 1980, a boy found badly decomposed $20 bills found along the Columbia River. They will be stored at FBI Headquarters in Washington D.C. after the FBI closed the Cooper case.

D. B. Cooper is a media epithet popularly used to refer to an unidentified man who hijacked a Boeing 727 aircraft in the airspace between Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, on November 24, 1971, extorted $200,000 in ransom (equivalent to $1,170,000 in 2015), and parachuted to an uncertain fate. Despite an extensive manhunt and protracted FBI investigation, the perpetrator has never been located or positively identified. The case remains the only unsolved air piracy in American aviation history.

The suspect purchased his airline ticket using the alias Dan Cooper, but because of a news media miscommunication he became known in popular lore as "D. B. Cooper". Hundreds of leads have been pursued in the ensuing years, but no conclusive evidence has ever surfaced regarding Cooper's true identity or whereabouts. Numerous theories of widely varying plausibility have been proposed by experts, reporters, and amateur enthusiasts.

The discovery of a small cache of ransom bills in 1980 triggered renewed interest but ultimately only deepened the mystery, and the great majority of the ransom remains unrecovered.

While FBI investigators stated from the beginning that Cooper probably did not survive his risky jump,[5] they nevertheless pursued all credible leads, evidence, and witnesses over a 45-year period following the crime. Active investigation was terminated in July 2016; but the bureau continues to solicit physical evidence, new leads, and creative ideas from the public.

The incident began mid-afternoon at Portland International Airport on Thanksgiving eve, November 24, 1971. 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.

Cooper boarded the aircraft, a Boeing 727-100 (FAA registration N467US), and took a seat in the rear of the passenger cabin. He lit a cigarette and ordered a bourbon and soda. Eyewitnesses on board recalled a man in his mid-forties, between 5 feet 10 inches (1.78 m) and 6 feet 0 inches (1.83 m) tall. He wore a black lightweight raincoat, loafers, a dark suit, a neatly pressed white collared shirt, a black necktie, and a mother of pearl tie pin.

Flight 305, approximately one-third full, took off on schedule at 2:50 pm. Cooper passed a note to Florence Schaffner, the flight attendant situated nearest to him in a jump seat 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."

The note was printed in neat, all-capital letters with a felt pen. Its exact wording is unknown, as Cooper later reclaimed it, but Schaffner recalled that it indicated he had a bomb in his briefcase, and wanted her to sit with him.

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 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; when she returned, he was wearing dark sunglasses.

The pilot, William Scott, contacted Seattle-Tacoma Airport air traffic control, which in turn informed local and federal authorities. The 36 other passengers were informed that their arrival in Seattle would be delayed because of a "minor mechanical difficulty".[23] Northwest Orient's president, Donald Nyrop, authorized payment of the ransom and ordered all employees to cooperate fully with the hijacker.[24] The aircraft circled Puget Sound for approximately two hours to allow Seattle police and the FBI time to assemble Cooper's parachutes and ransom money, and to mobilize emergency personnel.

Schaffner recalled that Cooper appeared familiar with the local terrain; at one point he remarked, "Looks like Tacoma down there," as the aircraft flew above it. He also mentioned, correctly, that McChord Air Force Base was only a 20-minute drive (at that time) from Seattle-Tacoma Airport. Schaffner described him as calm, polite, and well-spoken, not at all consistent with the stereotypes (enraged, hardened criminals or "take-me-to-Cuba" political dissidents) popularly associated with air piracy at the time. Tina Mucklow, another flight attendant, agreed. "He wasn't nervous," she told investigators. "He seemed rather nice. He was never cruel or nasty. He was thoughtful and calm all the time."

He ordered a second bourbon and water, paid his drink tab (and attempted to give Schaffner the change), and offered to request meals for the flight crew during the stop in Seattle.

FBI agents assembled the ransom money from several Seattle-area banks—10,000 unmarked 20-dollar bills, many with serial numbers beginning with the letter "L" indicating issuance by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, most carrying a "Series 1969-C" designation—and made a microfilm photograph of each of them. Cooper rejected the military-issue parachutes offered by McChord AFB personnel, demanding instead civilian parachutes with manually operated ripcords. Seattle police obtained them from a local skydiving school.

Badly decomposed $20 bills found along the Columbia River will be stored at FBI Headquarters in Washington D.C. after the FBI closed the Cooper case. (BETTMANN ARCHIVE)

After landing in Reno, Cooper had the pilot take off again. Where exactly he leapt from the plane is a subject of conjecture and debate, but it seems to have been near Mt. St. Helens. It erupted ten years later, obliterating any remaining evidence.

The Bureau 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, he probably never even got his 'chute open," said Carr. 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, in turn, cooperation from the flight crew. There is no evidence that Cooper had any such help from the crew, nor any clear idea where he was when he jumped into the stormy, overcast darkness.

 

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