50 years ago: DB Cooper left Portland, jumped into history

KOIN 6 Unsolved

On November 24, 1971, DB Cooper bought a PDX-to-Seattle plane ticket

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — On November 24, 1971 — exactly 50 years ago — a man who called himself Dan Cooper walked into the Portland International Airport on the day before Thanksgiving. He used cash to buy at $20 ticket for a one-way trip to Seattle.

He soon became the most infamous skyjacker in US history.

A reporter got a tip right after the skyjacking but misheard the name and wrote a story naming DB Cooper as the suspect. The story went around the world and the wrong name stuck to the man responsible for the country’s only unsolved skyjacking.

On the CBS Evening News, Walter Cronkite reported that “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 a number of years ago, FBI agent Larry Carr pointed out where you can see the name “Dan Cooper” on the actual ticket he purchased at the counter of Northwest Orient Airlines at PDX.

Once on the 727, Cooper slipped a flight attendant a note and claimed to have a bomb in a brief case.

“He made me feel very sure that we had a very real and horrifying” threat, flight attendant Tina Mucklow said.

Once the jet landed in Seattle, Cooper exchanged the passengers for $200,000 and 4 parachutes, then demanded to be flown to Mexico.

The plane took off again. Once over Southwest Washington he parachuted — and vanished into history with the money.

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FBI agents scour the sand of a beach of the Columbia River, searching for additional money or clues in 9-year-old D.B. Cooper skyjacking case in Vancouver, Wash. (AP Photo/Reid Blackburn, file)

An extensive search was concentrated around the town of Ariel and Lake Merwin, with the command post in Woodland. Soldiers from Fort Lewis scoured the remote terrain but nothing was found.

Now, it’s believed they were probably looking in the wrong place. The search was based on wind direction data that was hours old and recorded far away. The pilot also later said he didn’t stay on course.

Nearly everything the FBI has on DB Cooper fits into a cardboard box, including the tie where the FBI found his DNA. The evidence is mostly what Cooper left on the plane.

“D.B. Cooper came from someone. It came from somewhere, you know, he just didn’t miracle himself here,” Carr said in 2008. “Someone has information.”

In 1980, on the banks of the Columbia River west of downtown Vancouver, an 8-year-old boy named Brian Ingram on a family outing found some of DB Cooper’s cash.

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Some of the DB Cooper ransom money found in 1980 (KOIN, file)

“My son ran up and said, ‘Wait a minute, daddy!’ So he raked a place out in the sand and there it was,” Ingram’s father, Dwayne, said at the time.

“It was neat, finding all that money,” Brian said.

There were $20 bills with serial numbers traced to Cooper’s ransom, a total of $5800.

Then in 2008, Brian Ingram auctioned half the money. “It was wet and they were stuck together, almost like a petrified piece of wood,” he said then.

But no more money was ever found. And no trace of DB Cooper has ever turned up — no parachute, briefcase, clothing or body.

The FBI now believes Cooper’s jump killed him — whoever he really was.

“I’m no different than anyone else. I love a good mystery and I want to get to the last page,” FBI agent Larry Carr said.

The DNA profile they have is only partial. The FBI can’t definitively say someone is DB Cooper but they can use the DNA to rule someone out. Many suspects have been ruled out.

If they had Cooper’s cigarettes and whiskey glass they could get a better DNA profile. But those are gone.

In 2016 the FBI declared it was no longer actively investigating the skyjacking. Several times through the years people thought they found Cooper’s parachute. The FBI would check with the man who provided the parachutes, Earl Cossey.

But they can’t talk with him anymore. Earl Cossey was murdered in 2013 near Seattle.

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