DB Cooper: The Legendary Daredevil
Hijackings: The Cooper hijacking and his copycats finally helped drive home the vulnerability of jets to acts of air piracy. In 1973, a device known as a Cooper Vane was added to Boeing's 727-100s to disable the use of the aft stairs during flight. Also that year, the FAA mandated screening of passengers and carry-on luggage. Hijackings declined, but violent political acts against innocent air travelers grew more deadly. A September 1974 bombing of a jet from Tel Aviv to New York killed 88 people. Other notable incidents included 1988's Libya-sponsored bombing of Pan American Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in which 270 perished. Security enhancements during the 1990s led to an unprecedented decade without a hijacking in America, beginning in 1991. That ended on September 11, 2001, with the most deadly series of hijackings ever.
The Jet: The "Cooper" 727-100, registered with the FAA as aircraft No. N467US, was manufactured in 1964-65 and delivered to Northwest Orient on April 9, 1965. It was the 137th jet of that model manufactured by Boeing. Northwest sold the jet to Key Airlines in 1984. It was retired in the early 1990s and disassembled for spare parts at an airplane graveyard at Greenwood-Leflore Airport in Mississippi. The plane was declared defunct in 1996, although pieces of the Cooper plane continue to fly today as replacement parts in the Federal Express 727 fleet.
The Crew: Capt. William Scott, pilot of the Cooper jet, died of prostate cancer in March 2001. Scott never talked much about the case, said his widow, Frances, but he had a theory. "He felt he jumped into Lake Merwin and got tangled up in dead trees and died," she told a reporter. William Rataczak, first officer on the Cooper flight, retired in 1999 after 34 years with Northwest.
The Enduring Mystery:
The mystery of D.B. Cooper's whereabouts has a marathoner's legs. The case continues to bubble up frequently in crime, air travel and skydiving circles. The November 2003 issue of Parachutist, the official magazine of the United States Parachute Association, carries a long feature article about the hijacking. And dozens weighed in on a recent chat thread at dropzone.com, a Web site for skydiving enthusiasts, which asked the familiar question, "Is Cooper dead or alive?" As a parachuting wag with the handle "skydiventom" put it: "I think he's gotta be either dead or the luckiest human in history."
Were he so lucky, Dan Cooper is in his late 70s now. If not, he splattered 32 years ago, and counting.