On November 24, 1971, 36 passengers and 6 crew members of an airliner found their afternoon flight interrupted by an inconvenient but exceedingly polite passenger who identified himself as Dan Cooper.
Cooper, after enjoying a cigarette and bourbon, passed a note to one of the attractive young flight attendants. When she took it, she looked at him, deduced that he was a lonely businessman looking for some company, and dropped it into her purse without looking at it.
|Kind of like this, but a little more sordid|
Cooper spoke up and told her she might want to consider how she was handling the message. So she took it out and read it, and to her surprise it was not a charming message, nor was it a phone number. It was a friendly notification that the man in the seat had a bomb and was hijacking the plane, and would she please sit down next to him and act natural. She complied, and he laid out his demands. The plane was to land, and he was to be given $200,000 and a ride to Mexico City, stopping for fuel in Reno.
|Deftly setting me up for the line, "I fueled a plane in Reno just to watch it fly."|
The strange part about this is that, outside of his original threat, Dan Cooper never showed even the slightest inclination toward violence. He was thoughtful, polite, and apparently concerned for the well-being of all the people he was threatening to blow up. He allowed all the passengers and most of the crew (including the one he initially told about the bomb) to leave the plane when it landed.
Then he got his money and a parachute. When the plane took off again, he opened the back door and, apparently, jumped out. When the plane landed in Reno, he was long gone. To this day, nobody knows whether his insane get rich quick scheme succeeded. Conditions were dark and rainy, far from ideal for a safe jump.
The investigation that followed the incident started with a suspect named D. B. Cooper - a long shot, as police were pretty damn sure he wouldn't have used his real name. He was quickly ruled out, but that didn't stop the media from calling the hijacker by the name D. B. Cooper for the rest of eternity.
In 1980, a breakthrough (almost) occurred. An eight-year-old kid, in the process of helping his vacationing family to build a fire near the Columbia River, found three deteriorating wads of cash. The family turned in the fat stacks to the proper authorities, who positively identified them as money paid in ransom to Dan Cooper. One of the stacks was missing a few bills, and the nature of their deterioration indicated that they had been deposited by one of the river's tributaries, making it nearly impossible to determine where they had actually fallen into the water.
Since 1980, there have been no major developments. If you happen upon any old currency from around 1971, you can actually find out in an online database whether you're holding a piece of airline history. It hasn't happened yet, so don't get too excited. On the other hand, do. Because despite being what we would invariably refer to today as a terrorist, Dan Cooper was so mysterious and well-mannered that small towns in Washington hold festivals in his honor.
It just goes to show you that a little politeness is all you really need to forgive things like air piracy and threatening to blow up a plane full of people.