The Vanishing Skyjacker: The Mysterious Case of Dan Cooper, an Unsolved FBI Enigma

Vanishing skyjacker revised composite sketch b 1972–1973

Vanishing Skyjacker: The Unsolved FBI Enigma of Dan Cooper

The Hijacking and Daring Escape On November 24, 1971, a man using the alias Dan Cooper boarded a plane, carrying a bomb and a simple demand: $200,000 and four parachutes. What followed was a daring vanishing skyjacker that would puzzle the FBI for decades. The vanishing skyjacker Dan Cooper was the famous hijacker who jumped out of the plane!

D. B. Cooper was an unidentified man who hijacked a plane in 1971. He demanded $200,000 and parachutes, then parachuted away, never to be found. Some of the ransom money was discovered years later, but Cooper’s identity remains a mystery.

The FBI worked on the case for 45 years but couldn’t solve it. They believe Cooper may not have survived the jump due to bad weather and lack of proper equipment. In 2016, the FBI stopped actively investigating the case, but many still seek answers.

Cooper’s hijacking led to significant changes in airport security, including metal detectors and mandatory baggage checks. Special modifications were made to planes to prevent similar incidents. These measures helped reduce hijacking incidents in the following years.

Northwest Airlines Boeing 727-51 N467US
Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305. The N467US, the aircraft involved in the hijacking. Clint Groves (GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2), via Wikimedia Commons

How was the hijacking and the vanishing act?

On Thanksgiving Eve in 1971, a man named Dan Cooper hijacked a plane. He threatened the flight attendant with a bomb and demanded $200,000 in cash and four parachutes. After landing in Seattle, he released the passengers in exchange for the money and parachutes. Then, he ordered the plane to fly to Reno. Somewhere between Seattle and Reno, Cooper opened the back door of the plane, jumped into the night, and disappeared. Despite many suspects over the years, he was never found.

During the flight, Cooper asked the flight attendant to sit with him and showed her what he claimed was a bomb in his briefcase. He wrote his demands in a note and gave it to her. The pilot followed Cooper’s instructions and informed the authorities.

The president of the airline authorized the payment, and for about two hours, the plane circled to give time for the ransom and parachutes to be prepared. During this time, Cooper chatted with a flight attendant. He seemed calm and even offered her a cigarette.

The FBI received the $200,000 ransom in unmarked $20 bills. The parachutes were also provided. Afterward, Cooper ordered the plane to fly toward Mexico, but somewhere over Washington state, he opened the plane’s back door and disappeared into the night. He was never seen again.

Despite investigations and suspects, the case remains unsolved. Cooper’s daring hijacking led to significant changes in airport security measures.

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Passengers released

Cooper got the parachutes and money. He agreed to let the passengers leave. Then, only Cooper and the crew were left. They got the parachutes. There was a problem with getting more fuel. Cooper was getting impatient.

He gave instructions for the flight: go toward Mexico City, fly slow and low, keep the plane unpressurized, and keep the gear and flaps down. They planned to stop in Reno for more fuel. Cooper wanted the back door open during takeoff, but the airline said it was unsafe. He agreed to lower it after they were in the air. He wanted Mucklow to stay and help.

An animation of Dan Cooper’s possible escape from the 727 in flight, while the plane was still in the air. I, Anynobody, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Back in the air again, a second flight to Mexico City, with a refueling stop in Reno, Nevada

Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305 took off around 7:40 pm with only Cooper, Mucklow, Captain Scott, First Officer Rataczak, and Flight Engineer Anderson. Two fighter jets and a trainer plane followed them from a distance.

After takeoff, Cooper told Mucklow to lower the staircase, but she was scared of being pulled out. She suggested getting a safety rope, but Cooper didn’t want her near the cockpit. He said he’d do it himself. Before she left, Mucklow asked him to take the bomb. He said he’d handle it.

Around 8:00 pm, a warning light showed the staircase was down. The pilots asked if Cooper needed help, but he said no. The plane suddenly tilted up at 8:13 p.m., but they got it level again.

With the door open and the staircase down, they didn’t know if Cooper was still there. Mucklow told him they were landing in Reno and asked him to lift the stairs. There was no reply.

At 11:02 pm, Flight 305 landed at Reno–Tahoe International Airport. They checked the plane, and Cooper was gone. After a search, they declared it safe.

The Vanishing Act After the plane landed in Seattle

Cooper exchanged passengers for the ransom and parachutes. Then, he directed the pilot to fly to Reno, Nevada. During this flight, he instructed the crew to lock themselves in the cockpit. When they arrived in Reno and emerged from the cockpit, Cooper and the bomb had disappeared, leaving the extended stairway as the only trace.

Subtitle 3: The Endless Search for Answers Despite years of investigation and numerous suspects, none of them turned out to be the elusive Cooper. This enduring mystery has left investigators and amateur sleuths alike asking: what truly happened to Dan Cooper?

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Money stolen by D. B. Cooper
Recovered ransom money. Portion of Brian Ingram’s 1980 discovery. FBI, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


On the plane, investigators found four things related to Cooper: a black tie, a tie clip, a hair, and cigarette butts. In 2007, the FBI partially reconstructed Cooper’s DNA from his tie.

Despite searching for 18 days, they never found any trace of the man or his parachute. We don’t even know if he survived.

In 1978, a sign about the rear stairway was found about 13 miles east of Castle Rock, Washington, on the route taken by the hijacked plane.

In 1980, $5,800 of the ransom was found by a family picnicking 5 miles northwest of Vancouver, Washington. This discovery sparked many theories and rumors.

In 2012, a woman claimed to be D. B. Cooper’s niece.

On July 12, 2016, the FBI announced the end of its investigation after 44 years.

FBI Sketch of Aging by D. B. Cooper. Gouvernement Fédéral des États-Unis, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


The FBI questioned a man named Daniel B. Cooper but never considered him a significant suspect. However, due to confusion with the media, the initials “D. B.” remained associated with the skyjacker.

Richard McCoy, Jr.

In 1972, a man named Richard McCoy, Jr. hijacked a plane. Four months after D. B. Cooper’s hijacking, McCoy did the same on United Flight 855. He used a Boeing 727 with a rear stairway, similar to the one used by Cooper. McCoy was arrested two days after the hijacking and convicted for another hijacking. He escaped from prison but was found and killed in a confrontation with the FBI.

“D. B. Cooper: The Real McCoy,” published in 1991, argues that Cooper and McCoy were the same person.

Duane Weber

In 2000, Duane Weber’s widow claimed he confessed to being Dan Cooper before his death in 1995. Weber had military background and once mentioned a plane jump in a nightmare. He also had an old airline ticket in the name of Northwest Airlines. Several elements raised suspicions, but the physical resemblance is not conclusive.

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John List

In 1971, John List, known as the “mass murderer,” was suspected because Cooper’s hijacking occurred shortly after he killed his family. The physical and financial similarities were intriguing, but List always denied being Cooper, and the FBI no longer considers him a suspect.

Sources: BritannicaPinterPandai, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), CNN

Photo credit: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo description: revised composite sketch B – winter 1972–1973.

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