If you don’t know the story of D.B. Cooper, the short version goes like this:
On Nov. 24, 1971, a man referred to as D.B. Cooper hijacked a Boeing 727 on a flight between Portland, Ore., and Seattle. He extorted $200,000 in ransom, and parachuted from the plane. No one has ever seen him since.
The long version extends to present day and involves what D.B. Cooper left behind: a few crumbling $20 bills, an airline boarding pass, a pink parachute, a black clip-on a necktie from J.C. Penney – which all fit neatly into a cardboard box at the FBI office in Seattle.
It was early afternoon on Thanksgiving eve, 1971. A man paid $18.52 in cash for an airline ticket to Seattle.
Walter Cronkite described him as “just another passenger who gave his name as D.A. Cooper."
The passenger had actually given his first name as "Dan," but Cronkite called him "D.A." In the beginning, nobody got the name right. The legend hadn't quite stuck. The man, whoever he really was, is best remembered now as the hijacker D.B. Cooper.
As the Boeing 727 headed north toward Seattle, Cooper passed a note to a stewardess. In this clip from the CBS Evening News, Bill Kurtis describes what happened next:
Kurtis: "Thirty-six passengers got off the jetliner in Seattle last night. Left aboard: Four crew members and the hijacker, dressed in a business suit, demanding $200,000 and carrying a plain brief case which he told the crew held explosives."
On the ground at Sea-Tac Airport, Cooper was given the money, along with four parachutes, in exchange for releasing the passengers. The jet was refueled, and around 7:30 p.m., the Sea-Tac tower cleared if for takeoff. It climbed into the November darkness, and headed south toward Mexico.
Kurtis: "The crew, here being debriefed by the FBI, was told to fly low over Oregon's flatlands with the flaps down. The speed dropped to 200 miles per hour."
As they flew south, Cooper ordered the crew to stay in the cockpit. The jet began to run low on fuel and then landed in Reno, Nev. Back in the main cabin, Cooper, the $200,000 and one of the parachutes were nowhere to be found. All that was left was Cooper's clip-on necktie.
Kurtis: "Snow covers the mountains in Northern California and Nevada; a hostile terrain for any parachute drop, especially at night. Police believe he left the 727 in the flatlands of Oregon or Washington, but they are still looking in four states."
Law enforcement ultimately focused the search on southwest Washington, but they failed to turn up any clues. Meanwhile, Cooper has become a folk hero, like a modern-day Robin Hood to some people. A tavern in the search area began throwing an anniversary party each year.
The FBI believes Cooper died while making the jump. It was a cold night, and Cooper was underdressed. None of the bills he was given have made it into circulation.
In 1980, kids playing along the Columbia River found $6,000 of the money buried in a sandbar. Chances are it washed downstream from where Cooper – or his body – hit the ground back in 1971.
Four decades later, the FBI still gets calls from people who claim to be Cooper or claim to know the hijacker's true identity. The bureau has investigated nearly a thousand of these possible D.B. Coopers over the years, but none has quite fit the profile.