D.B. Cooper: The Man Who Inadvertently Made Aviation History

The New West
Oregon forestPhoto byDale NibbeonUnsplash

D.B. Cooper. For many, the name itself is all that is necessary to conjure images of lost money, hijacked planes and the thick forests in the State of Oregon that rescuers had to search in their efforts to find the man who had made off with $200,000 in ransom money.

The year was 1971, and a man who purchased a plane ticket under the name Dan Cooper was planning the biggest heist in aviation history. He hijacked a plane that had left Portland, Oregon, bound for nearby Seattle, Washington.

His appearance was as bland as his alias: business suit and black attache case. Once they were in the air, Cooper alerted flight attendant Florence Shaffner of his plan. His claim that he had a bomb in the suitcase was enough to get Shaffner and the rest of the crew into full alert.

The note given to the flight attendant demanded four parachutes and a safe evacuation route in addition to the cash he intended to use to build his new life. These items were provided to him in Seattle, and he allowed most people on the plane to leave.

After Flight 305 reentered the air, Cooper talked to the crew, who noticed that he had a clear understanding of the city and terrain below them. He had placed the money in one of the parachute bags before secretly exiting the plane via the aft staircase.

Oregon was the epicenter of the investigation. First, the flight originated in Portland. Then, Cooper’s unusual disembarkment took place over the dense forests in the northwestern segment of the state. At least, that is what they originally thought.

Subsequent calculations placed the exit location as around Ariel, Washington. Every year, the small town hosts a festival celebrating the mystery of D.B. Cooper. The annual event has boosted the local economy, which celebrated the half-century anniversary back in 2021.

Although the case has never been solved, it continues to be part of the fabric of the Oregon and Washington stories. The legend is part of our history, and people often come here to explore their own theories regarding this mysterious man and his complete disappearance.

Bonus: The change from Dan Cooper to D.B. Cooper was due to an error by an early reporter. It has stuck throughout time.

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Fun stories and interesting facts from the Pacific NW and around the country. With a focus on Oregon, I will also talk about various environmental happenings in the western US.

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