On November 24, 1971, a man identified only as “Dan Cooper” hijacked a Northwest Airlines flight from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington, claiming he had a bomb and demanding US$ 200,000 in cash and four parachutes. After landing in Seattle, allowing the passengers to leave the plane, and refuelling, he directed the crew to fly southward toward Portland at low altitude and airspeed and, somewhere en route opened the rear “air stairs” of the Boeing 727 and jumped from the plane with the money. Despite a massive search of the area and an FBI investigation which was open over a period of 45 years, neither the hijacker, any evidence of his body, or the parachute was ever found. In February, 1980, three packets of what was identified as US$ 5880 of the ransom money were found washed up on the shore of the Columbia River near Vancouver, Washington. None of the rest of the money has ever been found, nor is there evidence any of the recorded serial numbers of the cash having been spent.
This is one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of aviation, spawning dozens of books, movies and documentaries, hundreds of theories, and even an annual conference of investigators and fans. “D. B. Cooper” (a name the hijacker never used, which resulted from confusion by local law enforcement and news media) has become a fixture of popular culture and a folk hero for some who see him as having “beat the system”.
Now, Dan Gryder, veteran pilot, skydiver, DC-3 operator, and creator of the “Probable Cause” YouTube aviation channel, believes he has gotten to the bottom of the mystery and presents the results of his multi-decade investigation in a video that runs for two hours and forty-eight minutes. This video is tedious, repetitive, self-indulgent, poorly-edited, and difficult to make it through. It could have been edited down to around an hour without losing anything and being more comprehensible and convincing in its argument. But darned if Gryder’s theory and the evidence he presents in support of it (even personally reproducing the “Cooper” parachute jump with a simulated money bag) isn’t persuasive. The narrative hangs together; the motivations make sense, and the recollection of family members are consistent.
At this remove, with the eternally bungling FBI having lost almost all of the physical evidence, we will probably never know what really happened, but this is a story that makes sense and doesn’t require any “then a miracle happens” leaps to explain the events.