Contributor: Barry Fetzer
I hope you had an enjoyable Thanksgiving recalling and celebrating the many blessings we’ve been granted.
In 1971, I was a senior in high school and, being the self-absorbed young adult focused on getting accepted to college I was, even I recall the interest we had in D.B. Cooper’s brazen sky-jacking, the law’s follow-up investigations to determine whether he survived the parachute jump from the 727, and the unsuccessful attempts to apprehend him. This is, perhaps, the most well-known aviation crime of all time.
According to History.com and in a piece authored by Lesley Kennedy, (a features writer and editor living in Denver). “On November 24, 1971, a man who had assumed the name Dan Cooper commandeered the aircraft shortly after takeoff, showing a flight attendant something that looked like a bomb and informing the crew that he wanted $200,000, four parachutes, and ‘no funny stuff.’ The plane landed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where authorities met Cooper’s demands and evacuated most of the passengers. Cooper then demanded that the plane fly toward Mexico at a low altitude and ordered the remaining crew into the cockpit.
“At 8:13 p.m., as the plane flew over the Lewis River in southwest Washington, the plane’s pressure gauge recorded Cooper’s jump from the aircraft. Wearing only wraparound sunglasses, a thin suit, and a raincoat, Cooper parachuted into a thunderstorm with winds in excess of 100 mph and temperatures well below zero at the 10,000-foot altitude where he began his fall. The storm prevented an immediate capture, and most authorities assumed he was killed during his apparently suicidal jump. No trace of Cooper was found during a massive search.
“In 1980, an eight-year-old boy uncovered a stack of nearly $5,880 of the ransom money in the sands along the north bank of the Columbia River, five miles from Vancouver, Washington. The fate of Cooper remains a mystery.
“After an exhaustive 45-year investigation, the FBI in 2016 finally called off its official search for Cooper, the mysterious man who hijacked a plane headed from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington. In one of the most daring and unforgettable crimes in aviation history, he parachuted from the Boeing 727 with $200,000 in ransom money, eluding capture and enrapturing amateur sleuths worldwide.
FBI ARTIST SKETCHES OF D.B. COOPER
“At least six letters—typed, handwritten and made using ransom-style cut out letters—were sent to several newspapers soon after the hijacking, all claiming to be from Cooper. The FBI considered most to be hoaxes. But intriguingly, they held back the last two letters from the public until the 2000s, which may indicate they took those last two letters far more seriously.
NORTHWEST ORIENT AIRLINES TICKET OF DAN COOPER, PSEUDONYM OF THE UNIDENTIFIED MAN WHO HIJACKED A BOEING 727 AIRCRAFT ON NOVEMBER 24, 1971. THE MAN PURCHASED HIS AIRLINE TICKET USING THE ALIAS DAN COOPER BUT BECAME KNOWN IN POPULAR LORE AS D. B. COOPER. Alamy Photo of Cooper’s ticket.
“The FBI team found codes in the fifth and sixth letters, including the numbers “717171684*,” which they deciphered as ‘I’m LT Robert W. Rackstraw.’ Rackstraw, a Vietnam War vet and former U.S. paratrooper who died in 2019, both denied and refused to discount himself as being the infamous skyjacker, according to the Oregonian. The FBI investigated—and cleared—Rackstraw in the late 1970s.
“A sixth letter, mailed March 28, 1972, from Jacksonville, Florida to the Portland Oregonian and signed ‘A Rich Man,’ read: ‘This letter is too (sic) let you know I am not dead but really alive and just back from the Bahamas, so your silly troopers up there can stop looking for me. That is just how dumb this government is. I like your articles about me but you can stop them now, D.B. Cooper is not real.
“‘I had to do something with the experience Uncle taught me, so here I am, a very rich man. Uncle gave too much of it to world idiots and no work for me. I had to do it to relieve myself of frustration. I want out of the system and saw a way through good ole Unk. Now you know. I am going around the world and they will never find me because I am smarter than the system’s lackey cops and lame-duck leaders. Now it is Uncle’s turn to weep and pay one of its own some cash for a change. (And please tell the lackey cops D.B. Cooper is not my real name).’
“Again, the FBI team found the code in this letter to say, ‘I’m LT Robert W. Rackstraw, D.B. Cooper is not my real name’ and ‘I want out of the system and saw a way by hijacking one jet plane.’
“But the identity of Cooper—and the author or authors of the letters—officially remains a mystery. FBI spokeswoman Ayn Sandalo Dietrich told the Reno Gazette Journal in 2014 that the letters were sent to the FBI laboratory in Washington, D.C. for analysis, but nothing was found: ‘It was never proven if the actual hijacker wrote the letters.’”