There was a time — how innocent those days seem — when hijacking an airplane could earn the perpetrator cult status, which is exactly what happened in the hijacking that occurred this week (Nov. 24) in 1971 when, on a Northwest Orient flight from Portland to Seattle, a man named Dan “D.B.” Cooper handed a flight attendant a note saying he possessed a bomb. After allowing the attendant a quick glance into a briefcase, where she saw something resembling a bomb, Cooper demanded $200,000 in cash and four parachutes.
On his orders the plane then landed in Seattle, where authorities met his demands. In return, Cooper allowed the other passengers to exit the plane, and then ordered the plane back into the air, instructing the pilot to fly at a low altitude toward Mexico. Next, Cooper ordered all crew members into the cockpit and moments later — somewhere over the Lewis River in southwest Washington — he jumped out of the plane and into a violent thunderstorm. The plane’s altitude was about 10,000 feet, the outside temperatures were estimated at below zero, and winds swirled at more than 125 miles-per-hour. Cooper was wearing a suit, a raincoat and sunglasses.
He was never seen again. Although most people believe the weather conditions killed him, the terrible storm actually delayed a search for him, and when an extensive manhunt was finally conducted, it turned up nothing.
And a legend was born. The story of D.B. Cooper, an average Joe who got away with one of the most daring crimes in history, was front-page news across America. A movie was even made of his deed, and to this day his is the only unsolved airline hijacking committed in the United States. Some called his robbery and escape “the perfect crime” because he left investigators with absolutely nothing to go on — no suspects, no leads, no accomplices, no conclusive evidence. Although in 1980, while playing near the Columbia River, a young boy discovered $6,000 of the ransom money (serial numbers matched FBI records), no one knows today whether D.B. Cooper died that November day in a remote Washington forest or whether he lived the good life from then on.
Actually, no one even knows who Dan “D.B.” Cooper was. Despite thousands of tips called in and tens of thousands of dollars spent investigating him, all that is known for sure is that Cooper smoked Raleigh cigarettes, knew a bit about aerodynamics and liked whiskey.
Which is fitting because every November 24th residents of the nearby town of Ariel, Washington, gather at a local bar to celebrate “D.B. Cooper Day” and down a whiskey — or two — in homage to the average Joe who just might have committed the perfect crime.