Who was (is) D.B. Cooper?

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By James Roberts


I can’t remember when or where I first heard the story of D.B. Cooper. I was just a child, I know that. I likely caught the story on Unsolved Mysteries or some similar show.

From the moment the tale came on my radar, I was captivated. Those unsolved mysteries and conspiracies always demand my attention.

And a recent book I checked out from Taylor County Public Library has rekindled that interest. While I may not have been wowed by the author’s approach, “Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper” did plenty to stoke those old fires of curiosity.

Armed with what he said was a bomb, a man hijacked a Northwest Airlines plane on Nov. 24, 1971. The man, who used the name Dan Cooper, demanded $200,000 and parachutes. After the plan landed to pick up the cash and parachutes and let off the passengers, the pilots and Cooper returned to the air. Shortly after, Cooper jumped out of the plane and into the Washington wilderness below. He was never seen again.

A TV news freelancer bungled the hijacker’s fake name on the initial report, referring to him as D.B. Cooper. The name stuck.

Local, state and federal officials combed the wilderness looking for the man and the money. They never found him, though years later some of the money did turn up.

Many years ago, while I was in college, I was discussing the Cooper case with a few friends. We decided that we’d head to the drop zone in the summer and conduct our own Cooper investigation. It never happened. If it did, we’d likely never be seen again either. Cooper became something of a folk hero to many, a modern day Robin Hood. Only, he never gave his loot to the poor, did he?

What he did do was become part of American folklore. D.B. Cooper is, to many, as mythical as Bigfoot. Is he real or legend?

Well, someone jumped out of that plane with $200,000 and into infamy, if not certain death.

There are two camps when it comes to Cooper: those who believe he didn’t survive the jump, and those who are certain he did.

I believe he survived. I have no evidence to back that up, or course. In recent years, some people have come forward claiming that their family members halfway confessed to being D.B. Cooper on their deathbed. There are compelling arguments to be made for several of those people.

We’ll probably never know who Cooper was, or is. I suspect he’s still camping out in the forest, likely sharing roasted marshmallows with Bigfoot and Elvis Presley.