November 24: Dan Cooper

DB_CooperOn the afternoon of November 24, 1971 (the day before Thanksgiving), a man calling himself “Dan Cooper” walked up to the Northwest Orient Airlines ticket counter at Portland International Airport and bought a one-way ticket for that day on Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305. This flight was supposed to be a standard half-hour trip to Seattle, Washington. Instead, it became the only unsolved air piracy case in American history.

The flight took off as scheduled and while mid-air, Cooper handed a flight attendant a note. The flight attendant assumed the man was trying to give her his phone number, so she just threw the note into her purse. Upon seeing this, Cooper calmly whispered to the flight attendant, “Miss, you’d better look at that note. I have a bomb.” The note read “I have a bomb in my briefcase. I will use it if necessary. I want you to sit next to me. You are being hijacked.” The flight attendant did as ordered, and Cooper opened his attache case, revealing four large cylinders connected to a battery. His demands were simple:  $200,000,  four parachutes (two primary and two reserve); and a fuel truck that would refuel the plane when it arrived in Seattle.

The flight attendant relayed this information to the pilot who then informed Seattle-Tacoma Airport air traffic control about the situation. The crew was ordered by the president of Northwest Orient Airlines to comply with the hijacker. Meanwhile, the other passengers on the flight had no idea what was going on and were simply told that it would be a while before landing due to “minor mechanical difficulty.” The plane circled around Puget Sound for two hours while the FBI and Seattle police prepared Cooper’s money and parachutes. For his part, Cooper remained unusually calm and friendly for a hijacker. He ordered a bourbon and soda (his second of the flight), paid his bill for the drinks, gave his hostage a tip and even offered to request meals for the flight crew for when they landed in Seattle.

Two and a half hours after take off, Flight 305 landed on a brightly lit section of the Seattle-Tacoma Airport tarmac. The passengers and two of the flight attendants were released. A third stepped outside to receive the ransom from a Northwest Orient representative. As the plane was refueled, Cooper informed the cockpit crew that they would be flying him to Mexico City and gave them extremely specific instructions as to what flight path they would take, the altitude they would fly at, how fast the plane would go, how low the wingflaps would be lowered and many more details. His final request was that the plane fly with its rear exit door open and its staircase extended. The airline refused this last point, saying that it wasn’t safe; Cooper didn’t bother to argue and said that he’d open it himself when they were in the air.

Shortly after take off, Cooper ordered the remaining crew to stay in the cockpit. After twenty minutes in the air, a light went off in the cockpit indicating that the rear door in the plane had been opened. The plane landed in Reno, Nevada with Cooper nowhere to be found. The only traces that remained of him were fingerprints, his clip on tie, his mother of pearl tie clip and two of the parachutes.

In the days following the highjacking, the FBI worked tirelessly to figure out what happened to Cooper. There was no definitive theory as to when and where Cooper jumped. In fact neither of the Air Force fighter pilots who were tailing the plane witnessed Cooper jump out of the plane. A few possible suspects, including an Oregon man with a minor police record named D. B. Cooper, were questioned, but no charges were filed. In February of 1980, eight-year-old Brian Ingram was vacationing with his family on the Columbia River near Vancouver, Washington when he discovered three disintegrated packets of bills which the FBI later confirmed were in fact part of the Cooper ransom. However, to this day no trace of Dan Cooper, his parachute or the remaining 9,700 or so bills have been found.

Now, there are two ways you could memorialize Dan Cooper’s flight. You could drink like Cooper and have a bourbon and soda, or you could enjoy a Cooper’s Cocktail. It’s a nice cocktail for the end of the day that balances sharp rye flavors with floral notes.

Cooper’s Cocktail

  • 2 ounce Rye Whiskey
  • 3/4 ounce St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
  • 1/4 ounce Fernet-Branca

Stir in a mixing glass with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

Tomorrow: The end of the American Revolution.

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