Happy D.B. Cooper Day - 50 years ago this minute

Posted On: Wednesday - November 24th 2021 9:13PM MST
In Topics: 
  General Stupidity  History  Geography  Poetic Stupidity

NOTE: This post was published 50 years to the best-estimated minute that the legendary "Dan Cooper" jumped out of that 727 into the night sky over the foothills of the Cascade Mountains with 200 Grand.

Above is a pretty nice artist's sketch.

It was 50 years ago today.
D.B. Cooper taught the bank to pay.
He was going out the door in style.
The story's guaranteed to raise a smile.
So may I introduce to you
the act you've known for all these years.
It's D.B. Cooper's daring plane heist plan.

(Thank you, Adam Smith, for the additional lyrics. Nobody wants to hear only part of a verse. It's like hearing Uncle Albert without Admiral Halsey. You just don't do that!)

The cool thing about this anniversary is that it was not only the same calendar date as today, November 24th, but in 1971, it was also a Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, as it is today.*

Sketches of Mr. Cooper:

"Whaaa? Nobody's got a phone?! Man, I miss that era!"

A well dressed 40-something-y/o-appearing gentlemen who called himself Dan Cooper** bought a Northwest Orient airline ticket for Flight #305 Boeing 727-100 service from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington for $20.*** En route to Seattle, Mr. Cooper told the nearest stewardess (gonna use the term in use then), one Florence Schaffner and gave her a note mentioning that he had a bomb and was hijacking the aircraft.. He indeed showed her an apparatus in his briefcase that at least looked like a bomb.

Though lots of this was going on during those early 1970s years, this guy was no hot-head Cuban demanding "I want to go to Habana!' or black radical thinking the world was going to treat him better in Algeria. The man we know as D.B. Cooper had his act together. That is, both in his calm and civility and in his fairly well-thought-out plans, he was different from the rest. Some speculation is even that the reason he hijacked the plane at the beginning of a 4-day weekend and he dressed up nicely, is that he planned to get back to society and to even get back to work with no one the wiser after his heist.

Mr. Cooper demanded $200,000, which I would put at AT LEAST $2 million, perhaps double that****, in today's money, just as that $20 fare would be equivalent to a $200-$300 fare, a lot of today - airline prices are much lower now in real dollars. Anyway, flight 305 circled the Puget Sound area for 2 hours as the ransom money - 10,000 twenties - was obtained (and photographed, with serial numbers recorded). Mr. Cooper let the all the passengers and two of the 3 stewardesses leave, though I remember reading in a book I no longer have on me that he did demand cash, jewelry and other valuables from the passengers before that. Only the 3-member flight crew, the remaining stewardess Tina Mucklow, and Mr. Cooper remained on board.

The Captain, either the F/O or F/E, and Miss Mucklow:

Mr. Cooper had the flight out of Seattle planned out. The idea was to take this 727 down to Mexico, but Mr. Cooper's plan wasn't to go all the way down there. His demands had included 4 parachutes*****. With these and the money on board, he worked with the flight crew (Captain William Scott, First Officer William Rataczak , and Flight Engineer Harold Anderson) on the plan for the flight south-southeast. Knowing lots about flying and specifically the 727, Mr. Cooper requested the plane be flown at the lowest safe speed with slats and 15 degrees flaps extended, at 10,000 ft msl, and he worked out the route with the crew too. (No way they would make Mexico City on fuel at that speed and in that configuration, but that wasn't his plan anyway.)

Mr. Cooper got help from Miss Mucklow in the use of the aft stairwell, which could be operated in flight. He asked everyone to remain in the cockpit, and the crew noted the door release indication at 8 PM as the aircraft was north-northeast of Portland. At 8:13, based on a pitch moment from the door's complete opening, D.B. Cooper jumped out of the 727 with the money (and whatever else he had) from 10,000 ft. with one good chute and the non-operable reserve.

Here is the interesting part - thoughts on whether Mr. Cooper could have easily survived this jump. First thing, it was night time. 8 PM in the Pacific Northwest in late November means it has been nighttime for 3 hours already. Reports from the crew****** had the weather at altitude as cloudy and rainy (I'd think frozen precip at 10,000 ft though). Either way, there would be no moonshine on the ground - the moon was a waxing crescent, almost 1st quarter, about 6 days old, meaning it would set at ~ 11P, so it wasn't that high in the sky anyway.

Now, it'd have been one different if D.B. Cooper had jumped about 30 years later, in the age of cheap portable GPS. He needed the money in 1971, however, though, not after 30 years of FED-induced inflation. (Had to get an economic stupidity dig in, sorry!) He could have had a plan to jump at a fairly precise spot and used the GPS to steer******* toward a known area of good landing sites - that means no trees, no power lines, and no water. He could have jumped at a known position and even given the crew vectors via that interphone from the back to get to it. That was not an option in 1971.

The area of D.B. Cooper's exit and landing, on a visual (sectional) chart:

Around the 345-360 deg. radial at 5 - 10 miles.

I would guess the crew was using VOR/DME (VHF Omni Range / Distance Measuring Equipment) navigation. One VOR (still there!) is the Battleground VOR. Mr. Cooper's estimated exit position was very close to that station. That means the angle and distance COULD have been very well known, but it sounds like he neither timed the jump precisely nor kept in touch with the crew on known position. Even had he, he'd have been subject to unknown winds on the way down, with no position info.

I'd thought for years that D.B. Cooper jumped over the high Cascade Mountains, in which case he really wouldn't have had a chance in hell of surviving. However, per what I've read he was somewhere near Ariel, Washington, around or just south of Lake Merwin, one of 3 man-made lakes built on the Lewis River. That land is not nice flat farmland by any means, but it's not in THE mountains either. There'd be big tall evergreen trees all over though, a big enemy of the skydiver.

The bing maps image above shows the land cover of recent years of course. There may have been more forest, but their may have been less. From a closer up aerial view of the area, I see that the small roads are curvy, meaning it is not flat there. There is plenty of new growth forest, meaning it could have been pasture at the time. I don't know - 10 miles to the north or northeast of the area speculated would give Mr. Cooper almost no chance in hell of survival. However, what I see in the area south and southeast of Ariel and Lake Merwin, Washington, shows land upon which he may have had a slight chance of getting lucky to land on a moonless night in a field somewhere.

A Continental Airlines pilot that had flown on the same route that night reported that Mr. Cooper's estimated wind direction was way off and that he may have ended up further southeast in the Washougal River watershed. Unless the landing was right at Camas or Washougal (the town) at the confluence with the Columbia River, Cooper would have been screwed, as their's nothing but mountainous terrain along that river.

Where's the rest of it? Where's D.B. Cooper?

After searches during the immediate months and years after this event and the decades of opportunities later, no body has ever been found. A small amount of the bank's cash was found by some kids playing on a sandbar on the banks of the Columbia River in 1980, 9 miles downriver from Vancouver, WA and 20 miles from Ariel, near the roughly estimated landing exit/landing******** area.

The reader may want to look up all kinds of other information about his favorite portion of this saga, the flight, the hijacking itself, the skydiving, and, well, I would say, information on where that big stash of money is. However, regarding the money, two hundred thousand US dollars means nothing like what it used to say, half a century ago. Maybe it's worth an occasional day hike.

D.B. Cooper is an American legend. We, and I speak for all of Peak Stupidity here, would like to think that the man who called himself Dan Cooper got away with this bold act and has been living large but anonymously for the last half a century, something pretty doable in the past. We wouldn't mind at all having a D.B. Cooper holiday every year, to celebrate this unorthodox, but still very American, legend, rather than, I dunno, some black Communist race hustler each January.

So, from a better time in America, even if you did lose your wristwatch to some crazy son-of-a-bitch on that Northwest Orient flight,


PS: Through the late 1990s at least (can't find ANYTHING about it right now), a Boeing 727 would fly skydivers at the World Freefall Convention in Quincy, Illinois - held usually in early August. I talked to someone who did that one - it was apparently not particularly spectacular though you would get blasted away from the plane by those 3 engines. They'd go up to about 13,000 ft or so, meaning no oxygen required, and drop 100 jumpers going one way, turn it around and drop 100 more. The jumpers would exit out what is stupidity still called the D.B. Cooper stairs.

PPS: It's a completely fictional story, as it starts out with D.B. Cooper surviving the jump (we have no idea how he fared from the time he jumped out of that 727), but a fun movie I've seen long ago on TV is one from 1981 called The Pursuit of D. B. Cooper. It's basically a car-chase/action/adventure movie, starring Robert Duvall.

* Nice job, Gregorian Calendar with leap year corrections! See, there have been 13 leap years since 1971. (The year 2000 DID have one, as every 4th century-mark year does, while the other century-mark years don't.) Since the same calendar DATE will be one DAY of the week later each year on normal years, that's 50 days advanced + 13 more - 63, which is evenly divisible by 7.

** The "D.B. Cooper" appellation stuck after a news reporter messed up or miss-heard the name.

*** This was back when 1) you didn't need no steenking ID, 2) You could name your airline "Northwest Orient" without getting a rash of shit, and 3) You could just buy the ticket for your cash and get on the damned airplane ... even with a bomb. It was a different time, you understand ...

**** This hijacking occurred in a year not long before the decade long high period lasting though the early 1980s. Don't believe the BLS numbers. We don't.

***** This is another reason I see this guy as one smart cookie. He demanded 4 chutes to that the airline, cops, crew, etc. would think he might take a hostage with him. In this case, giving him a defective rig would not be done to thwart his plans. (One of the chutes WAS a demo with a sewed-closed bag, but that was not intentional - it was all they could get from the skydiving school.)

****** There were also 2 (at one point 3) trailing military aircraft behind and out of sight of Mr. Cooper and crew (at least till he jumped), which were F-106 "Delta Dart" interceptors. Man, this was a long time ago!!

******* Mr. Cooper opted for the older not-as-steerable military chute anyway.

******** There could be a 5 mile or even more difference if the wind was really up and if Mr. Cooper pulled his chute up high.

Adam Smith
Friday - November 26th 2021 11:10AM MST
PS: Greetings Mr. Moderator...

I have thought about going to see the Guidestones but have not yet done so.
It would make for a nice day trip as they're about 2 hours from here.

Friday - November 26th 2021 10:48AM MST
PS: Mr. Anon, I am sure I will be entertained by the pages that you linked to. Thanks. "Perhaps that's why anybody smart enough to contemplate such a thing is smart enough to not attempt it." That could very well be what it comes down to. I've thought about different scenarios myself, and it almost always come down to "where do you first exit some vehicle that may or may not be able to be traced, wearing a ball cap, bandaids and 'accidental' magic marker smudges on the face, with a machine screw in your shoe to change your gait, when you're NOT on camera somehow?"

Mr. Smith, thanks for the additional lyrics. Post corrected. BTW, the Georgia Guidestones are not that far from you - have you ever been?
Adam Smith
Friday - November 26th 2021 9:19AM MST
PS: Happy thanksgiving everyone...

It was 50 years ago today.
D.B. Cooper taught the bank to pay.
He was going out the door in style.
The story's guaranteed to raise a smile.
So may I introduce to you.
The act you've known for all these years.
It's D.B. Cooper's daring plane heist plan.

Mr. Anon
Friday - November 26th 2021 2:57AM MST

Back in those days criminals seemed to be much more clever and enterprising. Like these guys:


Or this French bank-robber:


Even these guys thought big, although they were ultimately just a bunch of f**k-ups:


With the advances in surveillance and forensic technology, it's hard to get away with an ambitious crime nowadays. Perhaps that's why anybody smart enough to contemplate such a thing is smart enough to not attempt it.

Thursday - November 25th 2021 7:06PM MST
PS: Mr. Hail, I indeed read that comment, as you see my "Thanks" there, put mostly out of politeness. I do understand that Steve Sailer has been pretty prescient in seeing that this "World War T" business would go on. However, to me it could be anything, as the Establishment is just rubbing traditional American's faces figuratively into the dirt with all of this.

It's one thing for people to be a little bit more tolerant of plain old weirdness with some encouragement. But no, we must be completely accepting and even CELEBRATE it all.

Back to Mr. Cooper, or is it Miss Dayton, I don't know any of the details. That's sure a new take on it. If those details are true, they fit the reports of the incident well, with one exception at least. The one I see first is the height estimate. Mr. (or Mrs. if you insist) Cooper HAD TO have been seen standing and walking. He went to the ticket counter, he walked onto the plane, and I would think he went up front to discuss the route and details with the pilots (that way he could see what avionics they had, etc.) That explanation as to why the height estimate didn't match the height of Bobby Dayton seems contrived.

I suppose this story is just as cool as any other, and even more romantic for those into that gender-bender stuff.

Anyway, why not at least get yourself over one of those damn dry lake beds in Nevada before jumping? Think McCooper, think! [/Back to the Future]
Thursday - November 25th 2021 5:04PM MST

Mr Moderator, do you place much credence in Steve Sailer commenter prosa123's theory on the identity of D. B. Cooper?

It's easy enough to find the comment at Unz.com. But I might as well reproduce it here for reference:


(quote from prosa123)

There’s a good chance that Dan Cooper (the actual name on the ticket, the D.B. was a reporter’s error) was actually a man-turned-woman. Barbara Dayton (1926-2002), born Bobby Dayton and a former Merchant Marine, had undergone a sex-change procedure in 1969. There had been serious complications, with follow-up surgeries required, and being unable to work Dayton was depressed and reliant on welfare benefits.

After the hijacking, however, everyone who knew Dayton noted that she was in a much improved frame of mind and seemed to have plenty of money. She eventually returned to work and became a librarian for the University of Washington. Sometime around the late 1980’s, Dayton told some people that she had briefly reverted to her former male identity and perpetrated the hijacking as Cooper, knowing that as a woman she’d never be a suspect. She quickly shut up when told that she could still be prosecuted, and never spoke of the issue again.

Dayton’s claims could of course be dismissed as mere boasting. Then again, there are some good reasons to believe she was truthful. Cooper the hijacker almost certainly had had parachuting experience, was familiar with aviation, and was knowledgeable about the geography of the Puget Sound area. Alone among the most prominent suspects Dayton met all three of these requirements. She was an experienced private pilot who had done a good amount of recreational skydiving and was a lifelong resident of the Seattle area.

People who knew Dayton also said that she had a bold, risk-taking personality and harbored a deep grudge against the airline industry stemming from her nonstop rejections when applying to airline jobs. Finally, there’s reason to believe that in a man’s clothing and haircut Dayton would have resembled the witness drawings of Cooper. To be sure, one way in which Dayton did not resemble witness descriptions was that she was about two inches shorter than Cooper’s lowest height estimate. All of the witnesses based the height estimated of Cooper while seated, however, and estimates of that nature can be quite inaccurate.

One issue with Dayton and many other candidates is the way the ransom noted asked for “American currency.” That’s an odd phrasing for an American to use, and may buttress the occasional claim that Cooper was Canadian. Indeed, Dan Cooper (the hijacker’s name of choice, remember) was the hero of a long-running Belgian comic book series about a daredevil pilot. The comics were in French, and never translated in English or sold in the United States, however they were relatively popular at the time in the French-speaking parts of Canada.

Nonetheless, after having read quite a bit about the hijacking I still believe Dayton is the top suspect.

• Thanks: Achmed E. Newman
• LOL: Vinnyvette
• Replies: @Art Deco

Thursday - November 25th 2021 4:31PM MST
PS: Mr. Hail, if you like this kind of story, there's a great movie called "Point Break" with Keanu(?) Reeves, and Patrick Swazey. Sorry for misspellings, but I just don't care about the Hollywood details. It's a fun movie with bank robber and skydiving, but the skydive scenes are not so awful realistic.

Mr. Blanc, thank you, I made that typo error twice, but I did know what plane it was - have ridden on those things many times. I AM wondering how many aboard really believed that a guy like that would blow up (or even have) a real bomb, but I guess you never knew. Yes, as I wrote, $200,000 was serious loot in 1971 - I don't mean yacht- and island-buying loot, but, if you're not one of those guys that just has to live flamboyantly to show it off, you could have lived a very comfortable life.

Mr. Kief, you are much more a man of letters than I am. I know the basic 26, and don't even use all of them much of the time!
Dieter Kief
Thursday - November 25th 2021 1:20PM MST
PS Uhh Mod - so you're a romantic?
German romantics might have a historical / mental advantage over US-romantics, because in Germany there was a writer namend Heinrich von Kleist. He made a journal with short/sharp little posts in Berlin once (at 1810 Berliner Abendblätter), and he killed himself together with a (women) friend of his shortly after that, also in Berlin - she wanted it that way, it was ok for her that he killed the two of them.
Before he - fo reasons that are still fairly obscoured (he said, he was not of this world...) - did this, he wrote a few true genius showcases, which rank high in the history of Germnan prose. - In the top five, if you ask me.
Ok and one of those prose pieces was the now canonical outlaw novella Michael Kohlhaas about a man, who felt (rightfully so) betrayed by the state and decided to fight back - in the end with a little army of desperados and / or outsiders.
Kleist tells this story in a way, that makes it almost impossible to resist the outrage of Kohlhaas.

You have to read very carefully to see, where Michael Kohlhaas' outlaw-logic brakes. Only in doing so, can you detect, that Kohlhaas' reasoning does have a flaw here - and one there too - not that many. And that he pays dearly for those is almost hidden in the way Kleist is telling this 90 p. or so story.

I've read that text at school, when I was fifteen or so years old and since then I'm a Kleistian in these matters. - Or a Lao Tse - man.
(PS - Camille Paglia digs Kleist (see her Sexual Personae masterpiece), which is quite something.)
Thursday - November 25th 2021 12:11PM MST
PS Well, it was, I believe, a 727, and that is what the illustration shows. He’s a hero to us, because he “stuck it to the Man”. But he only got $200,000. Granted, that bought a lot more in 1971 than it would by today, but, still, he was holding an airliner and its passengers and crew hostage. You ask for the Sun, the Moon, and the stars in that situation. And, as much as we’d like to think that he survived to enjoy his loot, it certainly looks as if he didn’t make it.
Thursday - November 25th 2021 3:47AM MST

"A well dressed 40-something-y/o-appearing gentlemen who called himself Dan Cooper"

There used to be people who talked about this case on late-night talk radio, Art Bell and his successors, which proves it entered into legend, something of the Old West to the story but with a mid-20th-century twist (airplanes, skydiving).
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