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The FBI has just given up on this incredible 45-year-old mystery 'air pirate' case

Was this the perfect crime?

The FBI has just given up on this incredible 45-year-old mystery 'air pirate' case

After 45 years, one of the most extensive and expensive search operations in history, and chasing thousands of leads, the FBI has finally closed the book on one of the greatest unsolved crimes of all time.

FBI spokeswoman Ayn Dietrich-Williams said in a statement that “Unfortunately, none of the well-meaning tips or applications of new investigative technology have yielded the necessary proof,” in order to catch the famous 'air pirate' known as D.B. Cooper. She added that they had found nothing that “resulted in a definitive identification of the hijacker,” and that “The FBI exhaustively reviewed all credible leads.”

The events of 24 November 1971 have gone down in history, being described by many as the perfect crime. So how did events unfold on that fateful night?


A man identifying himself as 'Dan Cooper' and carrying a black attaché case purchased a one-way ticket on Flight 305, a 30-minute trip from Portland to Seattle. The flight, which had on board 42 passengers, took off on time and Cooper lit a cigarette and ordered a bourbon and soda.

Shortly after take-off, he calmly passed a note to a nearby flight attendant, Florence Schaffner, who initially assumed it to be the man's phone number - however, 'Cooper' whispered to her: "Miss, you'd better look at that note. I have a bomb." After looking in his suitcase and seeing eight red cylinders attached to wires and a battery, she took his ransom demands: $200,000 in "negotiable American currency", four parachutes and a fuel truck standing by in Seattle to refuel the plane. This was given to the cockpit, who informed the authorities. Meanwhile, passengers were unaware that anything was amiss.

Landing at Seattle

The plane circled for two hours in order to allow police time to organise the ransom demands, during which time Cooper ordered another bourbon and soda. Another flight attendent, Tina Mucklow later told investigators that he was polite and well-spoken. "He wasn't nervous. He seemed rather nice. He was never cruel or nasty. He was thoughtful and calm all the time." Finally, the plane landed and, after the cash and parachutes were delivered to the plane, Cooper allowed all the passengers to leave, keeping the pilot, co-pilot, Mucklow and a flight engineer aboard. After several attempts to refuel the plane, it was eventually ready to move.

During refueling, Cooper instructed the flight crew how to proceed: a southeast course toward Mexico City at the minimum airspeed possible without stalling the aircraft, at a maximum 10,000 foot altitude. He made specific requests about the angle of the wing flaps which, together with a previous comment about the driving distance to McChord Air Force Base suggested that he had a good knowledge of Seattle, the Air Force and the specific plane he was on. He also requested that the plane should take off with the rear exit door open - a feature of the plane that was not public knowledge - and its staircase extended - this was denied, but he agreed to lower it himself once the plane was airborne.

Back in the air

At 7:40pm, the Boeing 727 took off, while two F-106 fighter aircraft followed behind - one above and one below it - out of Cooper's view. After takeoff, Cooper instructed Mucklow to join the rest of the crew in the cockpit and for them all to stay there behind a closed door. At 8pm, the crew became aware that the staircase apparatus had been activated and that the aft door was open. At 10:15pm, the plane landed at Reno Airport. An armed search confirmed that Cooper had gone, taking the $200,000 with him, and using two parachutes - one primary, and one reserve (although it transpired that this reserve was, accidentally, simply a dummy).

The search

It has never been proved what happened to Cooper after he exited the plane. The speed and course of the plane, together with variables surrounding when Cooper deployed the parachute - if, of course, he ever deployed it at all - meant that even narrowing down the search area was a difficult task.

No evidence of the man himself was ever found in the area. No trace of the parachute has ever been found. The only physical evidence ever found were a placard containing instructions for lowering the aft stairs of a 727 and a discovery in 1980 by an 8-year-old boy of three packets of the ransom cash, still bundled in rubber bands - two packets of 100 twenty-dollar bills, and a third packet of 90. Many elements of the discovery - the way the money had disintengrated and the absence of the ten bills in the third packet - simply raised more questions than answers.

Many believe that Cooper would never have survived the jump - in the dark, in bad weather and with inappropriate clothing and no helmet. However, no body was ever found.

To date, none of the 9,710 remaining bills has turned up anywhere in the world and the identity of Cooper remains a mystery.

(Images: Rex/Wikicommons)