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D.B. Cooper Day

On November 24, 1971, the day before Thanksgiving, a man bought a one-way plane ticket from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington, and boarded a Boeing 727 for Northwest Orient Flight 305. He ordered a bourbon and 7 Up, and after the plane took off he gave a note to a flight attendant that said, "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." To show he was serious, he opened his briefcase to display wires and red sticks. He identified himself as Dan Cooper.

Cooper, who would come to be known as D.B. Cooper through news reporting, soon gave the flight attendant another note. This one had instructions that after the plane had landed in Seattle he should be given $200,000 in $20 bills and four parachutes, and that the plane should be refueled and allowed to take off again. When the plane landed in Seattle, Cooper let all 36 passengers as well as two flight attendants off, but made two pilots, a flight engineer, and a flight attendant stay on board and told them to stay in the cockpit. The plane left Seattle at 7:40 p.m. with plans to stop for fuel in Reno, Nevada, before landing in Mexico City. It never reached its destination.

Cooper had told the flight crew to fly below 10,000 feet in altitude at a speed of slower than 200 knots. Shortly after 8 p.m., the crew became aware that the rear stairs had been deployed. Somewhere above the wilderness of southwest Washington State, later believed to have been near the community of Ariel, the man who called himself Dan Cooper parachuted from the plane. He was never seen again.

Never apprehended and never identified, D.B. Cooper has continued to capture the public's imagination. His case is the only unsolved case of air piracy in FBI history. The investigation, named NORJAK, short for Northwest Hijacking, turned up 800 suspects in the first five years, before eliminating most of them. Two of them were Richard Floyd McCoy, Jr. and Robert Rackstraw.

At first, the FBI believed Cooper had served in the military, perhaps as a paratrooper, but they later said that wasn't likely because he jumped even though he was in a dangerous location and one of his parachutes had been sewn shut. Many in the FBI and in the public believed that Cooper hadn't lived. In February 1980, along the Columbia River, near Vancouver, Washington, $5,800 of the ransom money was found. No other clues were ever found. Citing the need for resources to be used elsewhere, the FBI officially closed the investigation in 2016.

The anniversary of the day is informally known as D.B. Cooper Day, but there has long been an official D.B. Cooper Day—or D.B. Cooper Days—in Ariel, Washington, the location where Cooper is believed to have jumped. Specifically, an event has been held at Dona's Ariel Store Pub for many years. (The pub closed after Dona's passing, but as of 2019 it was being remodeled with plans to reopen.) Food, beer, and music have been enjoyed, a costume contest for the best D.B. Cooper lookalike has been held, and toasts have been made to the antihero.

The story of D.B. Cooper has inspired numerous songs, books, and films. He has become a folk hero to some but is remembered as a criminal by others. No matter how Cooper is viewed, his story continues to be recounted, and his identity continues to be debated, many decades after he disappeared into the night sky.

How to Observe D.B. Cooper Day

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