On Nov. 25, 1972, a man who bought a plane ticket under the name Dan Cooper activated the rear air stairs on a Boeing 727 jetliner somewhere over Southwest Washington and disappeared into history.
Today the saga of D.B. Cooper — a wire service reporter bungled the purported name, but it stuck — is one of our region’s enduring legends and claims to fame.
Oh, how we love our legends! Our forests are patrolled by Sasquatch, some say, and Native Americans have a rich tradition of legends explaining our part of the world and how it came to be.
We’re an area full of quirks, too. If a volcano erupted in the Lower 48, it had to be Mount St. Helens. If a former Olympic figure skater makes her home in Clark County, it has to be Tonya Harding. Before she was a Clinton White House intern, Monica Lewinsky was involved in a similar scandal with a Vancouver School of Arts and Academics production manager. We could keep going, but you get the idea.
Although no one knows exactly where Cooper jumped, it probably was somewhere over Southwest Washington. In 1980, a child discovered $6,000 of Cooper’s loot decomposing on a sandbar north of Vancouver Lake.
Here’s what the FBI, which investigated the case for 44 years before giving up in 2016, has to say on its website:
“On the afternoon of Nov. 24, 1971, a nondescript man calling himself Dan Cooper approached the counter of Northwest Orient Airlines in Portland. He used cash to buy a one-way ticket on Flight 305, bound for Seattle. Thus began one of the great unsolved mysteries in FBI history.
“Cooper was a quiet man who appeared to be in his mid-40s, wearing a business suit with a black tie and white shirt. He ordered a drink — bourbon and soda — while the flight was waiting to take off. A short time after 3 p.m., he handed the stewardess a note indicating that he had a bomb in his briefcase and wanted her to sit with him.
“The stunned stewardess did as she was told. Opening a cheap attache case, Cooper showed her a glimpse of a mass of wires and red-colored sticks and demanded that she write down what he told her. Soon, she was walking a new note to the captain of the plane that demanded four parachutes and $200,000 in $20 bills.
“When the flight landed in Seattle, the hijacker exchanged the flight’s 36 passengers for the money and parachutes. Cooper kept several crew members, and the plane took off again, ordered to set a course for Mexico City.
“Somewhere between Seattle and Reno, a little after 8 p.m., the hijacker did the incredible: He jumped out of the back of the plane with a parachute and the ransom money. The pilots landed safely, but Cooper had disappeared into the night and his ultimate fate remains a mystery to this day.”
Over the 50 years since, there have been many theories as to Cooper’s identity and fate. He was a disgruntled aerospace worker. Or maybe he was a military veteran and parachute expert. He perished during the jump. Or did he survive?
Perhaps the Cooper mystery will be solved this weekend, as sleuths and buffs take over Vancouver’s Kiggins Theatre for CooperCon 2021, two days of presentations, mysteries and after-hours craft beer at Victor 23, possibly the only brew pub in the world devoted to the Cooper legend.
Probably, though, the mystery and the myths of D.B. Cooper will live on. That seems fitting in a place like Southwest Washington, where legends abound.