The mysterious Mr. D.B. Cooper, or How to hijack a plane and not get caughtPictolic
The fate of all hijackers of airliners is predetermined: they either end up behind bars, or die during the release of hostages by security forces. But there is an exception to the rule – one of the air pirates managed to hijack a plane with passengers, get a ransom and escape safely. The crime has remained unsolved, although 50 years have passed since then.
On November 24, 1971, a Northwest Orient Airlines Boeing 727-51 en route from Portland to Seattle safely took off with about a third of the cabin filled. 8 minutes after takeoff, one of the 36 passengers on the flight, who occupied seat 18C, asked a flight attendant named Florence to bring a glass of bourbon.
When the girl brought alcohol, the man put a note in her uniform jacket pocket. Florence did not attach any importance to this, since passengers often flirt with flight attendants in a variety of ways. But this guy was serious and asked to read the note in front of him. The very first lines of the message, written with a felt-tip pen, made the stewardess fall into a stupor:
Then the hijacker wrote that he wanted to get 200 thousand dollars in twenties and two parachutes. The stewardess sat down in the next chair and the man opened his briefcase to dispel all doubts. Inside, Florence saw a tangle of wires, light bulbs and batteries. The passenger with the bomb calmly informed the flight attendant that she should go to the pilots and convey his demands to them. He warned that he would set off an explosive device if an attempt was made to land the plane without his knowledge.
In the early 70s, no one really knew how to deal with aerial terrorists. It was possible to carry anything on board the plane without any problems, because there were no metal detectors at airports yet, and passenger screening was carried out very superficially. The pilots and flight attendants also did not have clear instructions on what to do in the event of an airliner hijacking.
The pilots, having received information from the flight attendant, immediately transferred it to the ground and the FBI immediately joined the work there. Journalists also learned about the incident in the air, from whose light hand the hijacker got the name D. B. Cooper, which has nothing to do with him. The terrorist was named after the first suspect, Dan Cooper, whose involvement in the hijacking of the plane was not confirmed.
The hijacker allowed the plane to land in Seattle only three hours later. He demanded that the bOeing go to the farthest section from the terminal building, the approaches to which were clearly visible. In addition, according to his instructions, the lights were turned off in the cabin of the liner – the terrorist was afraid that he would not be shot by a sniper.
The pilots contacted the authorities by radio and transmitted the hijacker's new demands. The man, in addition to money, demanded to fill up a full tank and hand over not two, but four parachutes. The plane began to be refueled, and the money and parachutes were delivered to the back door of the airliner. After that, the terrorist released all the passengers and most of the crew. Four people remained in the Boeing with him: the crew captain, co-pilot, flight engineer and one of the flight attendants.
The FBI agents were at a loss – they did not understand the logic of the criminal. At first, the number of parachutes indicated that he had accomplices on board, but now this version has collapsed. Checks of passengers on the lists did not reveal the true name of Dan Cooper – the agents had only his description transmitted from the airliner.
The terrorist was a white male, left-handed, with slightly dark skin at the age of about 40 years. His height was 178-180 cm, and his weight was about 80 kg. He was dressed in a strict dark suit, a white, carefully ironed shirt, black loafers and a light black coat. He didn't have any special signs.
It was not clear why Cooper demanded parachutes. Before that, no one had tried to leave a passenger liner in the air – this is not the same as jumping from a military or sports plane. To do this, you need the highest qualifications or ... insane courage and stupidity.
The hijacker, who at first remained completely calm, became noticeably nervous after receiving the money. It seemed to him that the plane was being refueled for too long and he again reminded that he would blow up the liner if something did not go according to his scenario. The work was accelerated and when the full tank was filled, the bOeing took off. Everyone thought that the flight would be long, outside the United States, but it was over in half an hour.
Immediately after departure from Seattle, Cooper demanded that the liner set a course for Mexico City. He also ordered the flight attendant to go to the cockpit to the pilots and close the door behind him. After a while, the sensors on the dashboard showed that the door in the tail opened and the pressure in the cabin began to drop. Two hours after takeoff, the plane landed at the airport in Reno. The back door was open, and two of the four parachutes were missing in the cabin, in addition to the Cooper and the money bag.
By comparing the pilots' readings and sensor information, FBI agents were able to roughly determine the location over which the hijacker left the plane. At that time, the liner was passing in a zone of thunderclouds and the pilots of two fighters accompanying it in the air did not notice how the criminal jumped out.
The area where Cooper supposedly landed with a parachute was thoroughly combed, but it did not bring any results. Neither the things nor even the traces of the criminal could be found. A sketch of D.B. Cooper was compiled, which was shown on television and pasted on the streets. More than a thousand men with similar appearance and experience of skydiving came under suspicion.
At the same time, the investigation did not exclude the fact that the hijacker died. There was a river in the area of his landing and it could be assumed that he fell into the water and drowned. The river was thoroughly examined by divers, but even this did not bring results. The only clue turned out to be damaged 20-dollar bills found in the forest in 1980. The examination found that these several banknotes were part of the amount transferred to the terrorist in Seattle.
The authorities had to accept that the fate of the criminal will remain a mystery. The official version was accepted that D.B. Cooper died during his risky landing, and his body and belongings disappeared in the river. However, years later, one suspect appeared, whom, unfortunately, it was no longer possible to interrogate.
In 2003, a man named Lyle saw a sketch of Cooper in the program "Unsolved Crimes" and reported that he looked like his late brother Kenneth Christiansen. He was ideally suited not only for external data, but also for other qualities. Kenneth participated in the Second World War, knew how to handle explosives and made a lot of parachute jumps.
Christiansen was left-handed, like the hijacker preferred to drink bourbon, and in 1972, unexpectedly, he got rich and bought a house in a mountainous area, paying in cash. In 1994, Kenneth died of cancer, but before he died, he said strange words to his brother:
Considering the circumstances and the condition of his brother, Lyle did not insist and Kenneth took his secret to the grave. Despite a number of coincidences, they were not enough to accuse Christiansen of hijacking the plane. At the time of the crime, he was already 45 years old, he was shorter and lighter than an air pirate, but most importantly – according to everyone who knew him, he was a reasonable and cautious person.
Jumping out of the back door of a Boeing during a thunderstorm, into the unknown, was not in the spirit of the old soldier Kenneth. He had enough skydiving experience to know about the minimal chances of staying alive in this situation. Therefore, Christiansen was excluded from the list of suspects, and the crime is still considered unsolved.
The hijacking of the Boeing 727-51 Northwest Orient Airlines in 1971 affected the security system of air transportation worldwide. The inspection of passengers during boarding began to be carried out more carefully and gradually began to introduce metal detectors. In addition, all airliners began to be equipped with so-called "Cooper blades– - parts that create an aerodynamic wedge in flight and do not allow opening the rear door of the liner.