PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — “When he got on a plane in Portland, Oregon last night, he was just another passenger who gave his name as D.A. Cooper. But today, after hijacking a Northwest Airlines jet, ransoming the passengers in Seattle, then making a getaway by parachute somewhere between there and Reno, Nevada, the description on one wire service: ‘Master criminal.'”
That’s how CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite began the first report on the still-unsolved airline hijacking that happened 47 years ago — November 24, 1971.
On the anniversary of the hijacking, aficionados, amateur sleuths, experts and law enforcement officials all gathered at the Columbia Edgewater Country Club in Northeast Portland for DB CooperCon, to listen to and share information about the infamous saga of the man now known as DB Cooper.
Dan Cooper bought a one-way ticket from Portland to Seattle on Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305. Once aboard the Boeing 727, he handed a note to the flight attendant. The note stated he had a bomb and wanted $200,000 and 4 parachutes plus a refueling truck when the plane reached Seattle.
Once there, he exchanged the passengers for the money and ordered the pilots to take off again with a flight plan for Mexico. Somewhere over southwest Washington state, the man lowered the rear stair door of the 727 and jumped out. He was never seen again.
The only verified evidence ever found was a small cache of $20 bills discovered along the Columbia River in 1980. They carried serial numbers that matched some of the money given to Cooper.
Along with the experts and sleuths — who will talk about many of the people posited to be DB Cooper over the years — one of those $20 bills from the ransom money was on display at the conference. There was also a parachute similar to the one DB Cooper used and a tie clip like the one he left behind on the plane.
Skydiving expert Mark Metzler said he does not buy any “conspiracy theories about the DB Cooper case, that it was a government operation and that they are purposely leaving the case unsolved. I think it was an incredibly innovative crime. It was pulled off successfully.”
He also said he doesn’t think any of the people thought to be DB Cooper over the years is the right one.
“Nobody can put any of their candidates, with certainty, into the aircraft,” Metzler told KOIN 6 News. “They can say they had the qualifications, they were in the area, they look like the composite drawing, but that’s not enough to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Whoever it was, Metzler said it’s one of the most clever crimes committed.
“It was not a benevolent crime. He threatened to blow up the airplane and we don’t know if the bomb was real or fake,” he said “I tend to think it was fake, but nevertheless he did threaten harm to the passengers and the plane. The passengers departed and it took off again with just him on the plane but they were quite worried he would exit the plane and blow them up to get rid of all the witnesses.”
One of the speakers, Eric Ulis, recently told KOIN 6 News he believes “the real DB Cooper is probably on the FBI’s radar screen and has probably been there for some time.”
He also believes he knows who really is DB Cooper.
“He’s still alive today,” Ulis said. “92 years old. A gentleman who’s been on the FBI radar from within one week of the hijacking.”
That man is Sheridan Peterson of California, who according to Ulis, checks all the boxes. Skydiving experience, a confidential bank account, DNA comparison and the fact that he’s refused to deny he is DB Cooper.
Regardless whether he is or isn’t DB Cooper, the gathering of fans to Portland for the 47th anniversary ensures this mystery will endure in the same way as the disappearances of Amelia Earhart and Jimmy Hoffa.