The mysterious “DB Cooper” has caught the attention of many over the last 50 years, with his case becoming one of the biggest unsolved mysteries in the history of the FBI. By hiding his name and using the pseudonym Dan Cooper, the so-called DB Cooper was firmly on the wanted list after hijacking a Northwest Orient Airlines plane in Portland, Oregon on November 24, 1971. After the shocking incidents on board the flight, DB Cooper remarkably managed to escape, never to be seen again.

This blog post takes you through a DB Cooper article, as part of our our 1971 newspaper collection, originally reported by the Daily Mirror the day after the unidentified man escaped the aircraft with ransom. You can see how the press reported on the event at the time it happened, taking you right back to 1971 and showing you how the public would have read the news of the hijacking. You can read a rare, genuine article from the same day by searching our archive.

db cooper newspaper

You can read about the mysterious hijacker D. B. Cooper in an original newspaper from Historic Newspapers.
To order this rare edition of the Daily Mirror, simply search the date in our
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Dan “DB” Cooper

Dan “DB” Cooper was an ordinary, shy man, allegedly in his mid-40s, who bought a ticket on a Northwest Orient Airlines plane that was heading for Seattle, Washington.  While wearing a white shirt, a black tie and business suit, DB Cooper reportedly paid for his plane ticket in cash. Cooper drew little attention from the crew when boarding the plane since he appeared to be just another quiet passenger. 

The man sat comfortably and unsuspectingly as he drank a bourbon and soda, and DB Cooper identified himself with this pseudonym in order to protect his real, and still unknown, identity. The name “DB” supposedly came from the press, using the initials to refer to him in their reports. 


The Hijacking

It was not long after 3:30pm when DB Cooper caught the attention of a stewardess on board the flight, requesting that she take the seat next to him and alerting her that he contained a bomb in his briefcase. Immediately shocked, the stewardess sat next to him while DB Cooper quietly revealed red sticks and an entanglement of wires, indicating that he had the power to set off a bomb mid-flight. 

After requesting that the stewardess do exactly as he told her, she discreetly headed for the cockpit to address Cooper’s demands of $200,000 in twenty-dollar bills and parachutes. As soon as the pilot and other crew members were aware of the note, the police were contacted. Cooper also requested that the note be returned to him, most probably to prevent the note being used as evidence against him. Among those who read the note, it is agreed that it contained the phrase “no funny business.” Since Cooper requested multiple parachutes, the crew assumed he would be taking a passenger with him as a hostage. For this reason, the crew abstained from providing Cooper with fake parachutes in case they endangered the life of an innocent civilian.

Cooper demanded that the plane stay in the air until the ransom could be produced, and the pilot announced that the aircraft would circle a few times before landing as a result of a mechanical issue. This meant that many people on board the plane had no idea a hijacking was taking place. Apparently, Cooper was also particular about the notes he received, demanding twenties as they would be the right weight and would not interfere with his skydive. The FBi insured the serial number on each note began with the letter L. 

When Flight #305 reached its intended destination of Seattle, Washington, Cooper exchanged all thirty-six passengers on board for the parachutes and money. Despite getting his initial demands, Cooper then asked for more. He forced the pilot to head for Mexico City, insisting that a few crew members remain on board. He made sure the crew stayed in the cockpit, and in 1971, the cockpits did not have a peephole which meant they could keep an eye on Cooper. 

Little did the crew know, DB Cooper would miraculously jump off the back of the plane shortly after 8:00pm when the flight was between Seattle and Reno. A warning light went off that a door had opened, so the captain asked if Cooper needed anything. He immediately replied with “No!”, which was the last known word spoken by Cooper before he stepped off the aircraft. 

The pilots landed the plane safe and sound, but what happened to DB Cooper after he jumped from the plane remains a mystery to this day. 

db cooper newspaper

The mystery of DB Cooper has been the subject of many documentaries and films, such as The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper, released in 1981.
Image: Flickr


The FBI Get Involved

The FBI were made aware of the incident almost immediately, first getting word of the hijacking when the plane was still in-flight. The hijacking became known as NORJAK, standing for Northwest Hijacking and the FBI were quick to gather evidence and suspects. The crew on-board the plane gave the best descriptions they could of his appearance. 

By 1976, 5 years after the hijacking, the FBI had explored over 800 suspects and managed to cross off just 24 people as innocent. To this day, the FBI have yet to discover a strong suspect, yet Richard Floyd McCoy was largely considered to be the criminal among many. Just under 5 months after the DB Cooper incident, McCoy was arrested for a hijacking similar to that of Cooper’s, but his physical features were too far from the descriptions given by those on-board the plane. The mystery of his identity is yet to be solved. 


Could DB Cooper Have Survived?

After the FBI investigated the case, it seemed quite likely that DB Cooper might not have survived his parachute jump. The plane was above a woodland area during the night, making it a dangerous landing for those who are experienced trekkers, let alone a seemingly ordinary man like DB Cooper. He was also not dressed for the wilderness in his business suit and his footwear was particularly unsuitable for a rough landing. Also, the direction of his parachute could not be controlled, meaning he could have landed anywhere. 

While this theory is not confirmed, it was given significant support when a boy in 1980 discovered some twenty-dollar bills in a rotting package, which linked to the serial numbers of the notes DB Cooper stole. However, it could be the case that Cooper simply dropped those notes, which made up $5,800 in total, and took off with the rest. 


Hijacker Parachutes To The Desert With £83,000 – Newspaper Analysis

The Daily Mirror reported on the DB Cooper mystery two days after the man took his steps off the plane. Exploring a DB Cooper newspaper is a fascinating way to see how the public would have read about the hijacking at the time, and which information the press believed was key to report to newspaper readers. 

On November 26, 1971, the Daily Mirror reported with the headline “Hijacker Parachutes To The Desert With £83,000.” Since the Daily Mirror is a British publication, they reported the figure of the stolen money in pounds as opposed to dollars to give the public a better understanding of how much Cooper managed to get away with. 

db cooper newspaper

Daily Mirror headline, Friday, November 26, 1971

Ralph Champion reports on the hijacking from New York, explaining that: 

“A daring middle-aged hijacker parachuted into the Nevada Desert from a Boeing 727 yesterday with a ransom of £83,000 tucked safely into his pockets.”

He goes on to write that none of the crew on board saw Cooper jump off the plane first-hand, but when checking the parachutes he had demanded, they noticed one of them was missing. Despite no one seeing him:

“FBI agents were adamant that he could not have slipped through a police cordon put around the plane at Reno.”

This assertion by the FBI makes the mystery even more intriguing, since it appeared impossible that Cooper would have been able to escape the police. Even more so, the fact he demanded parachutes would have been a clear sign to police and those on board that he intended to jump. This is even more apparent when Champion reports:

“The pilot last saw the hijacker sitting near the open tail door with a parachute strapped to his back.”

Discussing the blackmail and the bomb, Champion writes:

“After the plane left Portland, Oregon, the man produced what appeared to be a home-made bomb.”

“He threatened to blow up the aircraft unless the airline – North-West Airlines – paid up the ransom.”

With his demands met, Cooper kept the people on board the plane safe from harm when:

“…the thirty-six passengers and two stewardesses were allowed to leave.”

Champion claims that:

The hijacker was believed to have been a one-time “smoke-jumper” – a forest firefighter who is parachuted in inaccessible regions.”

On the 25th, the day after the DB Cooper jumped off the plane, Champion explains that the large regions beneath the plane at the time were being searched:

“Last night, the vast wilderness of the Nevada desert was being searched.”

Despite extensive searching and a relatively clear picture of DB Cooper, no man was ever found and no body was ever recovered. The story is the only unsolved airplane hijacking incident in the history of the United States, making it the focus of the media and the FBI.