This November marks the 40th anniversary of the hijacking of Northwest Flight #305 by a man calling himself "Dan Cooper." The hijacker, later erroneously referred to in the media as "D.B.," jumped out of the plane at an altitude of 10,000 feet somewhere between Portland, Oregon, and Seattle with $200,000 in ransom money and disappeared. And so a legend was born.
Now the FBI -- which obviously has nothing better to do -- is ramping up its investigation. Again.
Spurring a revival of interest in the mystery figure, the FBI says it is pursuing an "interesting" lead that, if it pans out, suggests he may well have survived and lived another three decades after that 1971 leap.
FBI spokesman Frederick Gutt said the lead came to the bureau about a year ago in the form of a name of a person, now dead, who had never before surfaced in the investigation. [...] In the latest tip, which the FBI is regarding as serious, Gutt said, a name was passed to a former police officer by an associate of the possible suspect. The former officer then gave the name to the FBI.
He declined to elaborate on the tipster or say where the suspect lived before dying 10 years ago.
Pursuing a literal dead end in this case is clearly a wise and efficient use of taxpayer-funded law enforcement resources. No really, for the love of Dennis Quaid, can't we just let this one go? Are there no bigger fish for the Feds to fry (or annoying alliterative allusions to air)? Have we, at long last, finally morphed into a nation of joyless cretins?
Maybe it's a little of both.
For a while there, the D.B. Cooper case saw pretty regular updates. In 1980, a 14-year-old boy found almost $6,000 in decomposing $20 bills by the Columbia River which were later confirmed to be part of the Cooper ransom, while one woman claimed in a 1985 book to have nursed a wounded Cooper back to health after his jump.
And the Feds have never lacked for suspects. For instance, a 2007 New Yorker article made the case that Cooper was actually a former Army paratrooper and Northwest Airlines purser named Kenneth Christiansen, but the FBI refuses to consider him a prime suspect. Anyway, there's no way to confirm the theory, as Christiansen died in 1994.
For whatever reason, possibly because Inspector Javert is currently head of the FBI, manpower and materiel continue to be thrown at the investigation. As recently as 2009, the FBI described how it was using new technology such as GPS and electron microscopes to chase down leads.
This reminds me of a story: I went to Lollapalooza in 1992, when Pearl Jam was the second act. During their set, a dude hopped up on stage, dodged security and ran through the band to dive off the opposite side. When the cops inevitably descended upon the kid, Eddie Vedder stopped the show and said, "No, you don't get it: If he makes it from there, across the stage, to there, without you catching him...he wins."
If Cooper survived the jump -- and that's a mighty big if, I grant you -- it means he's been eluding capture for four decades. In other words, he wins.
It's time to let go of this obsession with Cooper, which predates even our delusional, post-Patriot Act existence where kids who point their fingers like a gun or bring a spork to school are suspended for months. The FBI, FAA and GIO have had a hard-on for the guy for 40 unconsummated years, as have a good number of regular Americans, many of whom still want him brought to justice.
But why? Is it simply because he's a criminal? You don't believe that. Cooper got away, if in fact he did, with 200 grand. How many of your favorite wife-beating football or baseball players make that much in a week? Meanwhile the people you send to Washington D.C. every couple years will rake in twice that amount from corporate donors during an average fundraising dinner. I'll leave it for you to decide how their crimes stack up.
You're on better ground arguing that his action was the last straw in ushering in stricter airline security measures, including mandatory bag checks and the fact planes no longer have airstairs or doors that can be opened in flight. Though I'm pretty sure that last one isn't a bad thing.
This isn't a guy who murdered his girlfriend and fled to France, or raped a 13-year-old and...fled to France. The statute of limitations on Cooper's crime would normally have run out in 1976 but for an indictment handed down which invoked the Hobbs Act and essentially made criminal charges enforceable in perpetuity. He hurt no one during the commission of his crime, and has now been on the lam for probably all of his adult life.
Admittedly, I have a personal stake here. I've been fascinated with D.B. Cooper -- and the idea that with a little creativity and a lot of balls, one could do the impossible -- since I was a kid. He was a real-life example of beating the Kobayashi Maru test, and I think a lot of people are still intrigued by The Guy Who Got Away With It, and did so without hurting anyone.
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With Nessie and Bigfoot proven hoaxes, with most -- okay, fine -- all UFO stories shown to be bullshit, and with pointless-yet-entertaining arguments with your friends about when/where/how absolutely anything happened easily solvable with a ten-second Google search, there's precious little mystery left in the world. At least, little that's not of the banal ("Who's Kim Kardashian shtupping this week?") or horrific ("Who killed JonBenet Ramsey?") variety.
Sometimes, having all the answers isn't for the best. There's nothing wrong with *not* knowing what happened to D.B. Cooper. In fact, I'd argue there's a lot that's right about it.
For example, how else would we have this?