Arts & Entertainment

The Legend of DB Cooper: Polite Pacific Northwesterner Hijacks Plane

If you haven’t heard, knowing the story of old D.B. Cooper is a Pacific Northwestern right of passage. Hell, it’s right up there with an acquired taste for grunge music, Rainier beer, and a vitamin D deficiency. Now pay attention, else you’ll have to learn like I did: spending hours listening to a salty old barfly regale the tale whilst you bide your time over beer nuts at Bob’s Java Jive.

It was the Winter of 1971, and while hot napalm burned Vietnam’s night air, flowers were being inserted in gun barrels stateside. Despite this, not much has changed in the Pacific Northwest since 30 years ago concerning the way we protest or beautify gun barrels. In fact, we were going about the usual grocery store visits, procuring of turkeys for Thanksgiving, kayaking, and purchasing of commuter plane tickets. But there was this one time on Thanksgiving Eve in 1971 when a man by the name of Dan Cooper purchased a one-way ticket to Seattle from Portland. When our friend Dan Cooper arrived at his seat, rather quickly I might add as he needn’t have his bomb wielding briefcase scanned by security or anything time consuming like that, he ordered a bourbon and soda and lit a cigarette. The passengers and the flight crew used the words “calm, polite, well spoken, and rather nice” to describe him after this day’s festivities. With his dark suit, matching raincoat and pressed black tie complemented by a mother of pearl pin, it wasn’t a surprise that the dashing Cooper would pass what was thought to be his phone number to the flight attendant. “Miss, you’d better look at the note. I have a bomb.

Here is where things are supposed to get dark, but they don’t. 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.” Blunt indeed, yet strangely human. And so she did, and he revealed the bomb to her and told her of his demands: $200k, four parachutes, and a fuel truck waiting in Seattle. All the while, he continued smoking and drinking his bourbon. After she relayed his demands to the cockpit, she returned to find him now wearing dark shades, smoking, and finished with his drink. What is this, a Wes Anderson film?

Before arriving in Sea-Tac, he said, “Looks like Tacoma down there.” Dan Cooper then paid his tab, tipped well, and even offered to include within his demands first class meals for the flight crew. After the plane was deboarded, with no one the wiser of what had just transpired, the plane just as quickly refueled, demands were met and they were into the air yet again. The plane was in the air for no more than an hour before Dan Cooper asked the crew to join the pilots in the cockpit. In two shakes of a lamb’s tail, the instruments in the cockpit showed a change in the air pressure. The airstar had been opened. Dan Cooper had taken flight, soaring almost as high as the tall tales we now tell of him. Was this ‘the good old days’ our elders spoke of so endearingly? A time when hijacking paid heed to notions of dated gentlemanly conduct?

In the wake of the event, D.B. Cooper, which the media had now called him, became a household name, acquiring quite the cult following. 922 people confessed to being the working class hero in the most “I am Spartacus” of manners, making it impossible to find the elusive Cooper. Mandatory universal luggage searches became a staple practice at airports, cockpit doors were now manufactured to have peepholes, a “Cooper Vane” was implemented, disabling the use of airstairs, and an epidemic of copycat hijackings plagued the following year of 1972. Air travel would never be the same. Atop all of that, conspiracy theorists, which our lovely wooded State has an abundance of, jumped on board when Earl Cossey, the skydiving school owner who provided D.B. with the parachutes, was found mysteriously murdered in his Woodinville home. A festival is held in Ariel, Washington, every Thanksgiving Eve.

So whether old Dan Cooper is an unfortunate bag of bones or sharing an IV drip with Ms. Earhart in some obscure retirement home in the tropics, it was really his anonymity which made him so appealing. D.B. is everyman and everyman is D.B. Vicariously live through the legend that was never caught at the Tacoma History Museum.