On the afternoon of November 24, 1971, a nondescript man calling himself Dan Cooper approached the counter of Northwest Orient Airlines in Portland, Oregon. He used cash to buy a one-way ticket on Flight #305, bound for Seattle, Washington. 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 3:00 p.m., he handed the stewardess a note indicating that he had a bomb in his briefcase and wanted her to sit with him.
Shortly after takeoff from Portland, he handed a note to a flight attendant in which he claimed to have a bomb in his briefcase. He then proceeded to open the attaché case, which contained numerous wires, red sticks, and a battery. Cooper demanded four parachutes and $200,000 in $20 bills (worth about $1.2 million in the early 21st century).
After the flight landed in Seattle, Cooper released the 36 passengers when authorities provided the money and parachutes. However, he forced two pilots, a flight engineer, and a flight attendant to remain on the plane. After it refueled, he ordered the pilots to fly to Mexico City. Per his instructions, the plane flew under 10,000 feet at a speed slower than 200 knots. Around 8:00 pm, while between Seattle and Reno, Nevada—widely believed to be near Ariel, Washington—Cooper lowered the rear steps and jumped. He then disappeared.
What happens next is where the story gets even more mysterious. It’s not known exactly where, but before the flight reached Reno, Nevada around 8 p.m., Cooper jumped out of the plane with the parachute and money in hand. The plane eventually landed safely in Reno.
Heavy rain hampered the ensuing air-ground search of Southwest Washington, which had its headquarters in Woodland City Hall. Authorities combed the area for 18 days with planes, helicopters and more than 300 soldiers. No trace of Cooper was found.
In 1980, an 8-year-old Vancouver boy uncovered a stack of the ransom money in the sand at Tena Bar on the Columbia River, five miles downriver from downtown Vancouver.
Sheridan Peterson, who passed away on 8 January according to memorial website Legacy.com, was thought to possibly be the “Dan Cooper” who hijacked Northwest Orient Flight 305 on Thanksgiving eve 1971.
The odds of them ever solving the puzzle are even slimmer now: Sheridan Peterson, one of the lead suspects thought to be “Dan ‘DB’ Cooper”, died on January 8, according to memorial website Legacy.com, taking any secrets about the case to his grave.
The 94-year-old California resident once went to far as to claim that “the FBI had good reason to suspect me” in a July 2007 article for the National Smokejumper Association’s (NSA) Smokejumper Magazine.