Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

DB Cooper: The Legendary Daredevil

The Jump

After takeoff, Cooper ordered Mucklow to the cockpit with the rest of the crew. The cockpit door had no peephole, and the jet was not equipped with the remote cameras and monitors now employed on many commercial planes. The crew was left wondering as Capt. Scott did his best to maintain the mandated elevation and airspeed against a bucking wind.

At 8 p.m., a red light illuminated on the instrument panel to warn of an open door on the aircraft—the aft stairs.

Over the intercom, Scott said, "Is there anything we can do for you?" The response was curt: "No!" It was the last word the crew heard from Dan Cooper.

At 8:24, Scott noticed the slightest dip in the jet's nose, followed by a correcting dip of its tail. He suspected the aft stairs had been lowered, causing the jet to genuflect. Scott marked the spot, near the Lewis River, 25 miles north of Portland. The crew considered the possibility that Cooper had jumped, but it had no choice but to continue to Reno since there was no way to confirm the suspicion short of disobeying his order to stay in the cockpit.

The plane touched down in Reno at 10:15 p.m. The crew waited nervously for five minutes. Capt. Scott spoke over the intercom. Receiving no response, he cautiously opened the cockpit door. The passenger cabin was empty. The hijacker was gone, and he had taken with him most everything he carried on board, including his hat, overcoat and the briefcase bomb. The cash and one set of parachutes were gone, as well.

Pursuit of DB Cooper video highlights the daring leap
Pursuit of DB Cooper video highlights the daring leap

The leap was a remarkable feat.

Cooper had ambled down the aft stairs wearing both backpack and chestpack parachutes. He had a bag of money the size of a chubby toddler lashed to his body with nylon cords cut from the spare parachutes. He was either carrying or wearing a suit jacket, hat and raincoat. On his feet were leather street shoes. He stood at the bottom step, buffeted by a stinging wind and icy rain, and confronted a blind leap into unknowable terrain on a dark, stormy night. The air temperature at 10,000 feet was an estimated 7 degrees below zero. At Cooper's moment of truth, the plane was traveling at slightly faster than his mandated airspeed—170 knots, or about 195 mph. Yet Cooper followed through on his plan. He took a dive into the inky darkness. Waiting to greet him were the spiked tops of 150-foot Douglas firs and the dangerous crags and crevasses of mile-high mountains.

Cooper, of course, was never heard from again. No one has been able to prove that he got away. But no one has proven that he didn't.


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