The Skyjacking of Northwest Flight 305
Over the states of Washington & Oregon
November 24, 1971
The Holiday Rush...
Northwest Airlines flight 305, a Boeing 727-051,
registered tail number N467US, departed Portland International Airport
in Oregon, carrying 36 passengers, and 6 crew members, en route to
Seattle, Washington, early on the afternoon of November 24th,
1971 - just one day before the Thanksgiving
holiday. The flight had originated in Washington, D.C., and stopped at
Minneapolis, Minnesota: Great Falls. Montana; Missoula, Montana;
Spokane, Washington, and Portland.
The flight's pilot, Captain William Scott, 51, had been
flying for Northwest for 20 years. Also abroad was First Officer Robert
"Bob" Rataczak; Flight Engineer Harold E. Anderson, and three flight
attendants, Alice Hancock, Tina Mucklow, 22, and Florence Schaffner, 23.
Just minutes into the flight, at 2:58 PM, a middle-aged man in seat
18E, wearing a black raincoat and loafers, a dark suit, white shirt,
black necktie with a mother-of-pearl tie pin, and black sunglasses, and
who had registered for the flight under the name, "Dan Cooper", after
couple of whiskeys - for which he paid cash - handed stewardess Tina
Mucklow a note for the captain.
An Innocent Slip of Paper...
The stewardess initially disregarded the passed note. But Cooper
persisted that she read the note. It 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." He opened the case, and revealed to the stewardess
a set of "red sticks", with a large battery and electric wires.
The man in seat 18E handed Mucklow a series of clean, pre-written notes
which detailed his demands: Two hundred thousand dollars, in
twenty-dollar bills, and four parachutes - two military type, and
two sport parachutes. In exchange, he offered to
spare everyone on the plane and two of the flight attendants.
Basically everyone, except for Mucklow and the flight crew.
Northwest Airlines decided to
cooperate with the hijacker, and contacted the FBI for assistance.
The airline handled gathering the parachutes, while the FBI gathered the
All of the ten-thousand $20 bills were
photographed with a high-speed Recordak machine to create a microfilm
later to be used to prepare a list of serial numbers. Two of the
parachutes, both chest-mounted reserve chutes, were from Issaquah
Skyport, which was owned by Linn Emirch, and the two main backpack
parachutes were provided by Earl Cossey, an FAA Master Parachute Rigger
and parachuting instructor, from his home.
In Seattle, at 5:39 that afternoon, the jet landed and taxied to a
remote portion of the airport tarmac, devoid of light and several
hundred yards from the airport terminal. The only persons allowed near
the plane were fuel truck operators and a man who delivered the cash,
from Seattle First National Bank, and parachutes.
After the money and parachutes
were brought aboard, the 35 other passengers, along with 2 of the
stewardesses - Schaffner and Hancock - were released. The man in 18E instructed the plane to
take off again. He directed that the plane's route pass over
Portland and Medford in Oregon, and Red Bluff, California, before
Reno, Nevada, to refuel. Then, on to Yuma, Arizona, to refuel
again, and then head to Mexico. He also instructed the
pilots that the aircraft was to remain below 10,000 feet, maintain
minimal airspeed, and keep flaps and landing gear lowered.
About two hours later, the demands had been met and the 727 retook to
the skies, bound to Reno. Less than a half hour later, he ordered
Mucklow to the cockpit, as he locked himself in the rear compartment.
used the cords from the second
set of parachutes to bind the bag of money to his midsection.
Within minutes, an on-board warning light indicated that the rear cargo
door had been opened, and the cabin temperature dropped to
seven below zero (Fahrenheit).
It is generally assumed that Cooper jumped from the exit ramp of the
Boeing 727 at 8:13 PM.
However, as he jumped into the torrents below, a legend was born...
A pair of Air Force F-106A, assigned to the 318th
Fighter Interceptor Squadron at McChord AFB, Washington, were flying about two miles behind
the 727, keeping it within sight. The pilots never saw anything
drop from the 727.
The crew continued on to Reno, not
knowing if they still carried Cooper or not. On landing, the air-stairs
scraping the runway, sending sparks everywhere. Five minutes after
touchdown, receiving no answer over the intercom, they exited the flight
deck and found the passenger deck empty except for the mangled remains
of the second parachute, his black tie, his mother-of-pearl tie tack, eight Raleigh
cigarette butts, and 66 possible fingerprints.
The Game is Afoot...
FBI Special Agent Harold Campbell said in Las Vegas,
Nevada, that one of two chutes found onboard the Boeing 727 when it
landed without the hijacker in Reno, Nevada, had been opened. But,
the supplier of four parachutes delivered to the hijacker revealed the
following night that one of the reserve chutes was a ground training
model that could not have opened.
Cossey said he had packed the other three chutes and
was sure they were functional - the chest pack used as the reserve could not have
been fastened on the main parachute harness because it lacked D-rings, and had been delivered to
the hijacker at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport only by mistake.
Julius Mattson, agent in charge of the Portland
office, said the search by Army Reserve helicopters and light
planes would proceed south from the Amboy area. "It's not
a bad spot to land if the guy knows what he's doing,"
The search for Cooper started with a Lewis County
sheriff deputy patrolling a 25 mile section of the Randle-Trout Lake
road, and expanded into the northern section of Clark County,
concentrated between Woodland and north of the Oregon border in
Southwest Washington. From there, the entirety of southwest Washington state, north of the Columbia
River, was scoured by ground searchers, boat, and air for nearly 3
"Either he's hung up in the branches of a tree
somewhere and we won't find him until next deer season," said
Woodland Police Chief Joe May, "or he's home watching us on
television, laughing his fool bead off."
Other were less optimistic: "We're either
looking for a parachute or a hole in the ground," said Clark
County Undersheriff Tom McDowell.
Hundreds of soldiers from nearby Fort Lewis tore through foliage,
looking for any sign of the skyjacker. But no trace of "Dan Cooper" was
found. Authorities were quick to surmise that the lone skyjacker was
dead, and the search was called off.
On Thanksgiving, the FBI mounted a search of its
national crime records for known felons named Dan Cooper, just in case
the hijacker had been foolish enough to use his real name. The agency
sent an agent in Portland to the police headquarters there to
investigate the rap sheet of a local man, D.B. Cooper. Clyde Jabin, a
UPI news wire service reporter, heard that the FBI was nosing around,
and inquired to a records clerk as to why. The clerk told Jabin
that the agents were checking on D.B. Cooper regarding the hijacking,
and so Jabin reported that to his bureau chief. . The man was cleared,
but the appellation "D.B. Cooper" was now synonymous with the hijacker.
Out of the
Having seemed to devise the
perfect crime, copycats tried their hands at replicating Cooper's feat.
None succeeded without getting caught.
The most notable attempt took
place on April 7th, 1972, four months after D. B. Cooper's hijacking,
when a passenger, registered as "James Johnson" boarded United Airlines flight 855 during a stopover in
Denver, Colorado. The aircraft was a Boeing 727 equipped with air
stairs, the same type used in the Cooper skyjacking, which Johnson used to
escape after giving the crew similar instructions (Johnson did ask for
more money - $500,000) as Cooper had.
Johnson was carrying a novelty
grenade and an empty pistol. He also left his handwritten message,
and his fingerprints on a magazine he read on the plane, which the FBI
later used to make his real name - 29-year-old Richard McCoy, a
decorated veteran of the Vietnam War and a college student at Brigham
Young University,. Two days after the
hijacking, McCoy was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to 45 years
In prison at the Federal
penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and with access to the prison's
dental office, McCoy fashioned a fake handgun out of dental paste, which
he, and a crew of convicts, used to escape on August 10th, 1974, by
stealing a garbage truck and crashing it through the prison's main gate.
On the run, McCoy's crew robbed at least one bank in North Carolina.
Three months later, the FBI
located McCoy in Virginia Beach, Virginia. On the night of
November 9th, agents attempted to apprehend him, but McCoy pulled out a
revolver, and fired. FBI agent Nicholas O'Hara reportedly fired
back with a shotgun, killing McCoy.
Out of the Muck...
In November 1976, federal
authorities realized no one had ever charged Cooper with a crime, so
they quickly sought an indictment in Portland just before the statute of
limitations expired. So a "John Doe", a.k.a. D.B. Cooper,
indictment was issued by assistant U.S. attorney in Portland, Jack Gore
Collins against the hijacker of Northwest flight #305.
On July 11,
1980, a Cooper copycat - right down to the mirrored
aviator sunglasses - attempted to hijack a Boeing 727,
Northwest Flight 608 abound for Portland, at the Seattle
Airport as it was taxiing. He claimed to have a
bomb and demanded a ransom of $100,000 and two
A quick-thinking stewardess
slipped three Valiums into Tripp's drink, and the plane
never left the ground. During the ten hour
lowered his demands, and released all 52 of the
passengers, settling for three cheeseburgers and a
demand to be driven from the airport in a rental car by
the two pilots left with him.
When the on-scene FBI negotiator, Ron
Beiner, said the cheeseburgers would take awhile, Tripp
responded, "Forget the cheeseburgers. You said before
you'd get the plane and you didn't, so you'd better get
the car — this is your last chance."
The car arrived, and moments later Tripp
came down the steps. In seconds he was jumped by
three FBI agents hiding under the plane. The briefcase
was shoved up against his chest and snatched away.
Later, it was revealed that the suitcase had no bomb -
only a jacket.
If At First You Don't
However, on January 21, 1983,
while on probation for his 1980 skyjacking attempt,
Tripp tried again - hijacking the same flight, Northwest
Flight 608, as it
approached Portland International Airport from Seattle.
This time, he was armed with a shoebox, and he was only
demanding to be flown to Afghanistan.
He had agreed to unload half of
the 35 passengers, who were exiting the plane via the
exit ramp, as two FBI agents, standing on shoulders of
others, climbed through the cockpit windows.
Surprised, Tripp made a sudden motion with the box as if
to throw it at the agent, and the agent fired a single
shot from his .38 caliber revolver, killing Tripp
instantly, and ending the three hour standoff.
The trail for Cooper went cold until February 10th, 1980, when an 8-
year-old Vancouver, Washington, boy, named Brian Ingram, found a decomposing pack of
U.S. twenties on the shore of the Columbia River. The FBI confirmed by
serial numbers that the bills were from Cooper's ransom.
But the location of the discovered loot
gave investigators pause. A hydrologist figured that this
money had been deposited on the river bank in August of 1974,
nearly three years after Cooper's jump, and speculated that it
probably was carried along by the river current and deposited
where it was found.
Click Here to Search the
Serial Numbers of D B
The town of Ariel, Washington, which is
near the area where Cooper is believed to have jumped, has a
yearly "D.B. Cooper" festival during Thanksgiving week - a
tradition which dates all the way back to 1976.
The May 18, 1980
eruption of Mt. Saint Helens covered much of the area with ash,
making the search for Cooper's trail, and his loot, much more
But not impossible..
Scientific advances in the field of forensics have yielded
genetic material, or DNA, from the thin, black, clip-on tie that
Cooper wore, and removed before he jumped. According to
the current FBI Special Agent in charge of the investigation,
Larry Carr, "Unfortunately, the DNA
right now is such that we can only exclude individuals, not
really include them. But, it's still a very powerful tool
because it can eliminate suspects." In February of 2007,
the DNA evidence was used to eliminate suspect Duane Weber, who
was a favorite amongst amateur Cooper sleuths, from
Dubbed the "Cooper
vane", it is a very simple device consisting of a spring-loaded
paddle connected to a plate. When the aircraft is on the ground,
the spring keeps the paddle perpendicular to the fuselage, and
the attached plate does not block the stairway. But as the aircraft
takes off, the flow of air pushes the paddle parallel to the
fuselage, and the plate is moved underneath the stairway,
preventing it from being lowered. Once the airflow decreases on
landing, the spring-loaded paddle returns to its initial
position, thus allowing the stairs to be lowered again.
Although this device was intended to
prevent hijackings aboard the 727 and other aircraft equipped with an air-stair, many airlines sealed the air-stair entirely, never to
use it again.
The Boeing 727-051 used by
Northwest (and Cooper) was sold to Piedmont Air in 1978, and
re-registered as N383N. and borne the name "Mt. Mitchell
Pacemaker". It was later acquired by Key Airlines in 1984, and
re-registered as N29KA. It was then acquired by WorldCorp
Leasing after Key went under in 1993, was flown to Mississippi,
and was scrapped by "The Memphis Group". A commemorative
plaque had been installed aboard the plane, denoting it
connection to Cooper's jump.
Clyde Jabin, who's mistake
applied "D.B." to Cooper's name, spent more than three decades
with UPI, but died in a 2001 car accident at age 73.
Today, the FAA has numerous safety precautions and security procedures in place D.B and Tripp's attempts would not have gotten very far.
Airports and airplanes are now equipped with
security cameras, and standards, policies, and procedures to maintain transportation safety are under continuous review.
Numerous books have been
written on the caper, including one, written by the lead FBI
agent on the case, Ralph Himmelsbach,
and entitled Norjak
- the Investigation of D B Cooper. Himmelsbach
retired from the FBI in 1980.
In 1981, a film named
"The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper", starring Treat Williams as
Cooper and Robert Duvall as Cooper's fictional former military
commander, offered a heavily fictionalized account of Cooper's
jump and pursuit.. The hunt of Cooper's loot was
also the driving force in the 2004 movie,
Without A Paddle.
Cooper's likeness now
adorns numerous items -
click here to