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.*
"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.
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.
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.
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.