America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation has announced that after 45 years, “Following one of the longest and most exhaustive investigations in our history”, they’ve given up the ghost on catching DB Cooper.
On November 24, 1971 – long before the spectre of terrorism loomed over aviation – DB Cooper hijacked a plane and became a folk legend.
A middle-aged white man wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase, there was nothing remotely remarkable about Dan Cooper as he sat on Flight #305, bound for Seattle, Washington, from Portland, Oregon.
But not long after the plane had taken off, Cooper handed a note to a stewardess, then opened his briefcase to confirm what the note said: his case had a bomb inside.
Cooper had the stewardess head to the cockpit with a note containing his demands: $200,000 in cash and four parachutes.
When the flight landed in Seattle, Cooper allowed the plane’s passengers to go free in exchange for the cash and ‘chutes, while keeping the flight’s staff as hostages.
The plane again set off, destined for Mexico City, but somewhere between Seattle and Reno, Cooper jumped out of the back of the plane, cash in hand, never to be seen again.
While it would have surely been a scary few hours for the passengers and crew, the fact Cooper managed to net himself 200 grand and get away without hurting anyone – coupled with the testicular fortitude required to make such a batshit escape – meant the mysterious man the press called ‘DB’ (for reasons still not entirely understood) became something of a hero.
Yet hero or no, the FBI began an enormous manhunt to find the hijacker – because, you know, you can’t just hijack a plane and steal $200,000 and get away with it.
Except Cooper totally did.
The NORJAK investigation
According to the FBI, during its 45-year existence, the NORJAK (Northwest hijacking) investigation “interviewed hundreds of people, tracked leads across the nation, and scoured the aircraft for evidence”.
“By the five-year anniversary of the hijacking, we’d considered more than 800 suspects and eliminated all but two dozen from consideration.”
Yet, despite making a number of arrests, no suspect was ever found to be the culprit, which led to the suspicion that perhaps Cooper didn’t survive his evening sky-diving excursion:
After all, the parachute he used couldn’t be steered, his clothing and footwear were unsuitable for a rough landing, and he had jumped into a wooded area at night — a dangerous proposition for a seasoned pro, which evidence suggests Cooper was not.
In February 1980, eight-year-old Brian Ingram found $5800 in rotting 20-dollar bills on the shore of the Columbia river. The cash was analysed and the serial numbers found to match those of the notes Cooper received.
The cash ultimately led to more questions than answers, but gave credence to the idea that Cooper perished way back in November, 1971.
For the record, Ingram was allowed to keep a portion of the money he found (some was kept for investigative purposes and some went to the insurance company that had ultimately paid the initial ransom), and he sold 15 of the $20 notes – face value of $300 – at auction in 2008 for more than $37,000!
What happens now?
It’s important to note that the case is not technically closed, rather the FBI have “redirected resources allocated to the DB Cooper case in order to focus on other investigative priorities”.
Obviously, a case with so much public interest meant that the FBI were fed thousands of tips over the years, but none were strong enough to “prove culpability beyond a reasonable doubt”.
Every time the FBI assesses additional tips for the NORJAK case, investigative resources and manpower are diverted from programs that more urgently need attention.
Although the FBI will no longer actively investigate this case, should specific physical evidence emerge — related specifically to the parachutes or the money taken by the hijacker — individuals with those materials are asked to contact their local FBI field office.
So the case remains open, but it would take serious, hard evidence for them to pursue it any further – reporting your elderly neighbour for suddenly throwing lavish, Diddy-style parties with the theme “45 years later, I finally got away with it” probably isn’t enough to get the FBI involved.