On November 24, 1971, a man who identified himself only as Dan Cooper got on a plane heading from Portland to Seattle. He bought his ticket with cash, and he didn’t talk a lot. Cooper was in his mid-40s, well-dressed and well-mannered. The plane ride was to be a short one: the trip from Portland to Seattle by air only take about half an hour.
While the plane was waiting to take off, Cooper ordered a bourbon and soda. After takeoff, he quietly slipped a note to a flight attendant. The woman assumed it was just his phone number and that he was a lonely businessman. She didn’t look at it and dropped it into her purse. Cooper then leaned in and told her, “Miss, you’d better read that note. I have a bomb.”
The attendant, Florence Schaffner, saw the bomb in Cooper’s briefcase before being told his main demand: $200,000 in “negotiable American currency.” Schaffner went to the cockpit to explain the situation to the pilots, who then contacted air control to tell them what was happening.
The other passengers were told their flight would be delayed due to a technical difficulty so as not to cause panic. “He wasn’t nervous,” Flight Attendant Tina Mucklow later told investigators. “He seemed rather nice. He was never cruel or nasty. He was thoughtful and calm all the time.”
During the flight, Cooper ordered another bourbon and soda. He offered to negotiate for meals for the flight crew when they landed in Seattle. Cooper’s demands included that he be provided two parachutes, so the plane circled Seattle for roughly two hours while the FBI gathered the money and parachutes. Authorities on the ground instructed the plane’s crew to comply with all of Cooper’s demands.
When the plane landed, Cooper let the passengers leave. He was seemingly uninterested in much beyond the money. Unlike other contemporary plane hijackers, Cooper didn’t directly threaten attempt to hurt any of the passenger or crew. He then ordered the plane to make for Mexico, but to leave the stairway that passengers exited from down.
He ordered the crew into the cockpit, and, at some point during the flight, put on his parachute, took the money and leapt from the plane. What happened to him after that remains a mystery, The money he was paid in by the FBI was diligently marked, with the serial numbers being recorded to identify him when he resurfaced.
To this day, it is unclear what happened to “Cooper,” which turned out to be a fake name. There are theories abounding about what may have happened after he leapt from the plane. He may have simply died from the jump, unable to use the parachute properly. He may have become lost in the wilderness and died of exposure. Or, just maybe, he managed to slip away to safety and has spent the intervening 50 years living as a legend: a man who committed a seemingly perfect crime and got away with the money.