Perhaps the most notorious hijacker in the world is a man who went by the name of D.B. Cooper. He hijacked a Northwest Airlines Boeing 727 on 24 November 1971, and despite an extensive investigation was never found.

The way he managed to escape has become a bit of a legend. It also resulted in Boeing having to change the design of their Boeing 727 aircraft to prevent it happening again.

The Hijack

Northwest Airlines flight 305 was a short sector from Portland to Seattle. D.B. Cooper handed a note to a flight attendant and showed her a bomb that he had. Once this was communicated to the flight deck, they radioed ahead and the ransom demand of $200,000 in cash, four parachutes and refueling of the aircraft was agreed to.

Once the passengers disembarked, five people remained on board, comprising of the three pilots, one flight attendant and the hijacker. Next, the plane was refueled and headed for Mexico, with a planned fuel stop in Reno, Nevada.

The Hijacker Escapes!

Mr. Cooper asked the pilots to fly the aircraft at 10,000 feet with flaps and landing gear deployed. He also asked that they fly at the minimum airspeed required to stay in the air, with the cabin unpressurised.

During the flight to Reno, with all the crew locked in the cockpit, the hijacker deployed the rear airstairs and jumped from the aircraft around 8:13pm. Despite being shadowed by military jets, no-one saw him jump. The man was never seen again.

Boeing Change The Boeing 727 Design

In 1972, the Federal Aviation Administration mandated that aircraft with rear airstairs be fitted with a device to prevent the stairs being opened inflight. This came to be known as a Cooper Vane.

During flight, the airflow moves the vane so that its plate moves under the stairway, stopping it from being able to be lowered. On the ground, without the air moving over it, it moves back out of the way. Both the Boeing 727 and Douglas DC-9 had these devices fitted.

D.B. Cooper Pops Up In Breaking Bad

One of the funniest characters in Breaking Bad is Saul Goodman. In one episode, Walter White enters Saul’s office and wittily the lawyer proclaims, “Should I call the FBI and tell them I’ve found D.B. Cooper?”

As someone who knows the story about the elusive hijacker and how he is supposed to look, I found this to be terribly funny. The reference is so out of left field that it really tickled my funny bone!

Overall Thoughts

Some of the ransom money was discovered by a boy at the Columbia River in 1980, but no trace of the rest of the money or the hijacker was ever found. The FBI never found the man or uncovered his real identity, as he purchased the flight ticket at the airport with cash before boarding.

Whether he landed successfully or not, nobody knows. None of the cash went into circulation, so speculation remains to this day. It is one of those mysteries that may never be solved.

Did you know that Boeing had to change the design of the 727 due to a hijacker? Do you remember the story? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

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Featured image via Yesterday’s Airlines.
DB Cooper sketches via The New York Times.
Boeing 727 Airstairs image via Flickr.
Cooper Vane by Tank67 via Wikimedia Commons.
Breaking Bad still via Yarn.