FBI re-opens D.B. Cooper plane hijacking case

Thirty-six years ago, a man calling himself “Dan Cooper”, hijacked a Northwest Airlines plane, exchanged passengers for $200,000 in cash and four parachutes, then jumped from the rear of the plane into a nighttime rainstorm.

FBI Sketch of D. B. Cooper

An FBI sketch of D. B. Cooper as he appeared to witnesses in 1971

“D. B. Cooper”, as the man came to be known, was never caught and remains on the FBI’s wanted list. The fugitive became somewhat of a cult figure, pursued by amateur detectives and begrudgingly admired by some for the audacity of his crime at a time when no one could even imagine 9/11-scale terrorism.

A Seattle FBI agent, Larry Carr, who normally pursues bank robbers, is providing fresh perspective on the case by treating it the same as the FBI does bank robberies: make all information public and ask for help in capturing the robber.

“The classic way we solve bank robberies is with the public,” Agent Carr told the New York Times. “Everything we know — pictures, descriptions, m.o., everything. We put it all out there.”

Carr was four years old in 1971 when D. B. Cooper jumped from the plane.

The FBI has posted the highlights of what it knows about D. B. Cooper on its website. Here are the major points:

  • Cooper was not an expert parachuter
    Carr has concluded that an experienced jumper, especially an ex-military paratrooper, would never have jumped from a jet into into a 200 mph slipstream, at night and in a rainstorm, wearing no protective gear and only loafers.
  • The reserve parachute was unusable
    Cooper picked one parachute to wear and one as a reserve. The one he picked as a reserve was sewn shut.
  • An accomplice was unlikely
    Cooper told the flight crew to “fly to Mexico” and had no idea of the location of the plane when he jumped, making it unlikely that someone was waiting for him on the ground.
  • The FBI has Cooper’s DNA
    In 2001, the FBI recovered DNA material from a black, clip-on tie Cooper left behind in the plane. It has used it to disprove claims by some men that they are Cooper.
  • Cooper’s description is valid
    The flight crew and passengers interviewed by the FBI immediately after the crime gave nearly identical physical descriptions: Cooper was a 5’10” to 6′ tall, 170 to 180-pound Caucasian with brown eyes.

Agent Carr is hoping that a tip from the public about an oddball uncle who suddenly disappeared in 1971 will break the case and settle the mystery once and for all.

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