DB Cooper: Who was the infamous plane hijacker?

FBI probe turned up hundreds of suspects

Clémence Michallon
New York City
Monday 06 December 2021 23:48
<p>A sketch of the suspect on the FBI’s website</p>

A sketch of the suspect on the FBI’s website

DB Cooper, an infamous plane hijacker who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars and disappeared 50 years ago, has never been identified despite decades of efforts.

Cooper bought a plane ticket using cash on 24 November 1971 and boarded a flight from Portland, Oregon, headed to Seattle, Washington.

Once on the aircraft, Cooper – who later turned out to have been using a fake name – demanded $200,000 in cash as well as several parachutes. He received the money after a first landing in Seattle, after which the plane departed again. During this second flight, Cooper jumped out using one of the parachutes. By the time the plane landed in Reno, Nevada, he was nowhere to be seen.

The hijacker was never identified or apprehended despite a 45-year investigation by the FBI that turned up hundreds of suspects.

The probe was dubbed NORJAK for Northwest Hijacking, itself a reference to Northwest Orient Airlines, the airline that operated the flight hijacked by Cooper.

“We interviewed hundreds of people, tracked leads across the nation, and scoured the aircraft for evidence,” the FBI states online. “By the five-year anniversary of the hijacking, we’d considered more than 800 suspects and eliminated all but two dozen from consideration.”

Richard Floyd McCoy, a known hijacker with a similar modus operandi to Cooper’s, was once considered a lead suspect by the FBI. McCoy hijacked a passenger jet in April 1972, less than five months after the flight hijacked by Cooper, obtaining a cash ransom and jumping out of the aircraft with a parachute.

The FBI, however, ruled out McCoy “because he didn’t match the nearly identical physical descriptions of Cooper provided by two flight attendants”, as well as for “other reasons”. McCoy died in 1974 aged 31, during a shootout with authorities.

In an FBI wanted poster, the hijacker is described as being white, male, in his mid-forties, measuring between 5’10’’ and 6’, and weighing between 170 and 180 pounds. He is listed has having had “no particular accent” and being “possibly from [the] midwest section of the US”.

In 2016, the FBI announced it would no longer actively investigate the hijacking, calling its probe “one of the longest and most exhaustive investigations in our history”. Resources allocated to the case were redirected “in order to focus on other investigative priorities”.

Should someone locate Cooper’s money or parachutes, the FBI has asked that they contact their local FBI field office.

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