We have been in pre-holiday mode around the house this week. Regular readers may remember that pre-holiday mode is not much different than our regular mode, except that we don’t feel guilty about the remunerative labor we should be doing but are not. For example, I spent a whole morning screwing around with this post, because this Thanksgiving marks the 40th anniversary of an odd event that’s fascinated me for years.
On the afternoon of November 24, 1971, the day before Thanksgiving in that year, a guy named Dan Cooper got aboard a Northwest Orient Airlines flight in Portland, Oregon, for a 30-minute flight to Seattle. After takeoff, he told a flight attendant that he had a bomb in his briefcase. He asked for $200,000 and two parachutes. The plane landed in Seattle, Cooper got what he wanted, and the plane took off again. Cooper instructed the pilots to head generally southwest toward Mexico City, but at the minimum air speed and at no more than 10,000 feet, and to leave the rear door open and the exit stairway down. About 30 minutes after takeoff from Seattle, the pilots felt a bump, apparently caused by the weight shift when Cooper jumped out of the plane and into history.
You do not remember when Dan Cooper hijacked the plane and jumped out. The guy you remember is named D. B. Cooper. The process by which Dan Cooper—the name under which the man’s ticket was purchased—became D. B. Cooper is unclear. Walter Cronkite called him “D. A. Cooper” in a broadcast the next night, but by the time the wire services picked up the story on November 26, D. B. is how he was known, and it’s how he’s been remembered ever since. D. B. Cooper is a better name anyhow, more befitting the enigma to which it’s attached.
Cooper became famous as someone who had audaciously outwitted everybody and got away with it. But as much as we’d like to think that he made it to Mexico and spent the rest of his life happily drinking margaritas and banging senoritas, that’s not the way to bet. The FBI has insisted for 40 years that he probably didn’t survive the parachute jump, and about $6,000 of his cash was found along the Columbia River near Vancouver, Washington, in 1980. But nothing like a body has ever been found. Several people have been fingered as, or claimed to be, Cooper, but the FBI’s case file remains open.
Like other folk heroes, D. B. Cooper was honored in song. Within a couple of weeks of the hijacking, a songwriter in Washington state named Judy Sword wrote “D. B. Cooper, Where Are You?” Singer-songwriter Tom Bresh cut a version of it that got a wee bit of airplay without charting early in 1972. In 2000, singer/songwriter Todd Snider put himself into the middle of the story on a song from his album Happy to Be Here. The performance below is from 2008.
There will be a brief post here tomorrow, so stop back.