The Liberty Gazette
June 6, 2017Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: How much above the ticket price would you pay if airlines offered to pack a parachute under the seat? One evening in November of 1971 a Northwest Orient Airlines passenger paid $20 cash for a one-way ticket and the airline actually provided him with not one, but four parachutes and rebated him $200,000.
I say that tongue-in-cheek because it’s the one act of air piracy the FBI has not been able to solve. A passenger, who called himself Dan Cooper, mistakenly identified by the press as D.B. Cooper, bought a last-minute ticket and boarded a Boeing 727 bound from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington.
He took a seat in the rear of the cabin. Once airborne, he handed a note stating he had a bomb to one of the two flight attendants who was seated nearby. She dropped the note in her purse thinking it was his phone number, something that must have happened quite often. Moving closer he whispered for her to read it and gave her a glimpse of the explosive device inside his brief case. He didn’t look or behave like the typical hijacker of the day. Dressed neatly in a shirt, tie and black overcoat, he was polite and relaxed. He took his time and his plan appears to be mostly well thought out.
The flight attendant took his demands to the captain and they were forwarded by radio to the airline’s Seattle office. Then the plane circled for two hours as the sun set and the authorities gathered the dough from several local banks and parachutes from a local skydiving operation. When the airplane landed the hijacker ordered the crew to taxi to a remote and well lighted area of the airport. He commanded the pilot to turn off the cabin lights. This was to keep sharpshooters from being able to target him. The airline’s operations manager approached the airplane from the rear and the hijacker lowered the rear boarding ramp, a feature unique to the Boeing 727. One of the flight attendants collected the parachutes and the money.
Once the airplane was refueled and the parachutes and ransom money in negotiable American currency were on board, the hijacker let the passengers and one flight attendant leave. He instructed the crew to fly toward Mexico City, allowing for a fuel stop in Reno. He also wanted them to remain at ten thousand feet and keep the cabin unpressurized. Airborne, he directed the remaining flight attendant to join the three pilots in the cockpit. Following her obedience, he lowered the rear ramp, walked to the end and jumped off into the darkness.
Two Air Force fighter jets were following but because he wore dark clothing on a dark night, they didn’t see him exit the airplane. It is thought that he jumped someplace near Mount St. Helens.
There have been theories as to what became of him, but no answers. It isn’t known if he even survived the jump. The FBI closed their investigation after 45 years and 60 volumes of data and notes, yet the case has not been solved.
Who was Dan Cooper? No one knows, or no one’s telling, but he got a smokin’ deal on that airfare.