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Home Travel Passengers on DB Cooper flight say it was ‘not a victimless crime’ as they share details of night terrors & flying fears

Passengers on DB Cooper flight say it was ‘not a victimless crime’ as they share details of night terrors & flying fears

by Staff

DB Cooper’s infamous heist in the sky was not a victimless crime and it left many aboard the hijacked Boeing 727 traumatized for years afterward, two of the crook’s hostages say.

On November 24, 1971, a smartly dressed man identifying himself as Dan Cooper hijacked Northwest Airlines Flight 305 during its passage from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle.

Bill Mitchell, 72, was sat in the last row on the left side of the aircraft, across the aisle from CooperCredit: DB Cooper
Northwest Orient Flight 305 was hijacked on November 24 shortly after taking off from Portland, Oregon, bound for SeattleCredit: AP
The identity of DB Cooper remains a mystery after more than 52 yearsCredit: AP1971

Shortly after takeoff, Cooper handed a note to a nearby flight attendant informing her that he had a bomb in his briefcase and needed two things in exchange for the lives of everyone on board: $200,000 in $20 bills and four parachutes.

The cash and the parachutes were to be delivered to him by hand upon arrival in Seattle. Only then would all of the passengers and some of the crew be permitted to get off the plane.

Cooper’s negotiations were carried out almost silently. He communicated with a stewardess sitting next to him and gave her notes to take to the cockpit so the pilots could relay his demands to authorities on the ground.

Bill Mitchell, a 20-year-old University of Oregon sophomore, and Michael Cooper, a 31-year-old teacher from Montana, were two of the passengers sitting closest to DB Cooper during the silent skyjacking.

Both of the men were oblivious to the frightening situation quietly unfolding in the cabin, but both also took notice of DB Cooper and both grew increasingly suspicious that something was amiss on Flight 305 the longer the journey – which was meant to last just 30 minutes – dragged on.

The only inclination that something was wrong came when the pilot announced over the intercom that the aircraft was experiencing minor engine trouble and they needed to burn off excess fuel before attempting to land in Seattle.

In reality, the pilot was circling in the sky to buy authorities enough time to scramble together Cooper’s ransom money and parachutes.

“The pilot’s explanation for what was happening didn’t make sense to me,” remembered Michael, 84.

“I just kept looking out the window and wondering why the hell we were doing this.

“I had no idea a hijacking was going on but I realized there was probably something special going on between the guy in the back row and the stewardess.

“Occasionally a stewardess would come from the front of the airplane to the back, talk to the stewardess sat next to the hijacker, and go back to the front of the plane.

“We were totally without knowledge that a hijacking was going on. I was more concerned that the pilot was lying and there was something seriously wrong with the airplane.”

Bill, meanwhile, was confused as to why the stewardess was giving so much attention to the old-looking man in the back instead of him, a young college student.

“What I couldn’t understand was – I was a college kid, right? And this flight attendant wouldn’t even pay attention to me, she was just talking to this guy in his suit, skinny tie, and dress shoes – which I thought were tacky,” said Bill, 72.

“I remember thinking, ‘Why are you wasting so much time with him?’

“But another thing I remember is that he’d put his hand in his briefcase periodically, set it in there, then pull it out and put it back quite frequently, which I thought was a little unusual.”

Shortly after the pilot’s announcement, all of the passengers were asked to move up to first class and everybody obliged, except for Bill and DB Cooper.

“I already had everything settled and I thought if this plane is going to blow up or crash, what good is sitting in first class going to do for me? So I didn’t move,” said Bill.

“Eventually, a flight attendant came up and said, ‘Sir, can you please move forward?’ which again I thought was strange, but I was tired and hours into what was meant to be a 37-minute flight, so I moved and that’s when we started to land.”

A SHOCKING REALIZATION

After two and a half hours, Flight 305 finally landed.

The aircraft taxied to the end of the runway and parked a significant distance from the terminal and all other aircraft.

“It all seemed suspicious at that point,” said Michael. “I was then sitting next to a guy who worked for some government agency who’d recently investigated a hijacking and he thought something unusual was going on too.

“And then the next thing we know, a fuel truck pulls up alongside the plane and then a few minutes later a stewardess came walking down the aisle holding a huge sack with the name of a bank written across it.”

Bill similarly recounted, “I wasn’t aware of a domestic hijacking that had happened before so that never crossed my mind.

“We weren’t told about anything of a hijacking, we just thought we were flying around for a couple of hours.

“Then I remember the flight attendant walking on carrying this bag, passing me all the way to the back of the plane, which I later learned was the ransom money.

“But I didn’t know it at the time and they finally let us off. I remember seeing the parachutes in the front of the plane as I left.”

The whole situation scared the hell out of me and made me never want to fly on an airplane again.

Michael CooperFlight 305 Passenger

It was only after they’d stepped off the plane that Bill, Michael, and all of the other passengers were made aware of what had happened: the flight had been hijacked, an FBI agent told them, and the passenger responsible had a bomb in his briefcase.

“I looked around and didn’t see the guy who’d been sitting in the aisle across from me, so that’s when I started piecing everything together,” recounted Bill.

“The FBI took us onto the bus and started going through the list of passengers. My name was called first, and then Dan Cooper’s who nobody answered for, and they carried on through the list.”

Bill would eventually leave SeaTac airport after speaking with investigators but for Michael his exit from Flight 305 marked the beginning of a new chapter with his entanglement with Cooper.

During the roll call, when nobody answered for Dan Cooper, Michael raised his had and said, “I’m M. Cooper, Michael Cooper,” believing the agent must’ve made a mistake.

“I saw the guy standing at the head of the bus scratch something off his sheet,” he remembered.

“They then took us to the terminal building where we were interviewed by a handful of people. I gave them my identification and my information, described to them what happened, and then my sister picked up, where I spent the rest of the evening in Seattle.”

Michael’s sister drove him back to her house and left him for the night to go out to a party.

He would later discover that the agent who conducted the roll call had counted D. Cooper among the passengers on board the bus but not M. Cooper.

M. Cooper, as far as federal authorities were concerned, was unaccounted for and therefore presumed to be the hijacker.

Mitchell was a 20-year-old sophomore heading home for the holidays at the time of the skyjackingCredit: Bill Mitchell
Mitchell shared his original ticket for Northwest 305 during a local news interview in 2019Credit: KOMO NEWS
The above image shows the row of seats Cooper was sitting in aboard Flight 305Credit: FBI
Members of the crew aboard Cooper’s flight are seen after the plane landed safely in RenoCredit: AP

After all the passengers exited, Flight 305 was instructed by DB Cooper to take off again in the direction of New Mexico.

Somewhere over southwest Washington, he parachuted out of the flight with the ransom and all of his belongings, never to be seen again.

Michael Cooper, meanwhile, was left alone with his thoughts at his sister’s home.

He was unable to call any of his friends or family members because she didn’t have a phone.

He could barely believe the events of the past few hours – and his disbelief was further suspended when he switched on the 10 o’clock news to see his name on the screen, identifying him as the skyjacker at large.

“The top story that night was the hijacking,” said Michael. “I was watching the footage, when one of those messages appeared along the bottom of the screen saying that the FBI was seeking Michael Cooper, a high school teacher from Missoula, Montana, in connection with the hijacking.

“I just shook my head in disbelief. I thought, ‘This can’t be true, what the devil has happened?’

“Because I couldn’t call anyone – not my wife, my parents, or friends – and say I didn’t do this, that’s not me.

“I just got up and went to bed. It was all just too much for me to process.”

‘SCARED TO DEATH’

While Michael slept, back in his hometown of Missoula, the Cooper family’s phone was ringing off the hook with agents and reporters quizzing Michael’s wife regarding his whereabouts.

She was unable to provide them with any details – nobody had heard from him since the plane landed.

Administrators at Missoula Sentinel High School were also contacted by the FBI, who informed the Bureau that Michael had left school early that day to catch a flight.

Speculation about Michael Cooper began to build on local news broadcasts, and his parents were also eventually quizzed by cops in Sequim, Washington.

Within 24 hours, the FBI’s error was finally rectified and reports were changed to name Dan Cooper (who later became known as D.B. Cooper due to a printing error in an early news article) as the culprit cops were seeking.

Michael Cooper was never contacted by the FBI again.

More than 50 years later, he said he is still waiting for an apology from the Bureau.

And both he and Bill admitted that their brush with death affected them for years after.

“The whole situation scared the hell out of me and made me never want to fly on an airplane again,” admitted Michael.

“It took me quite a while before I was able to find the guts to go back.

“I also lost my faith in the federal government,” he added.

“I used to think that the FBI was the most professional organization in the world, and knowing that they made such a stupid mistake of just crossing off the wrong name and never even bothering to apologize just left a sour taste in my mouth.

“For years afterward, my income taxes were quite often checked and I had to go into the Bureau and justify my expenses, so clearly I still had a red flag against my name.”

The DB Cooper case remains the only unsolved skyjacking in American history. The above sketch is known as ‘Composite B’Credit: FBI
The only thing left behind by Cooper was a clip-on tie and a handful of cigarette buttsCredit: FBI
A bundle of Cooper’s ransom was recovered from Tena Bar in 1980Credit: Getty

Bill said it took him quite some time to fully process the frightening ordeal for which he’d unknowingly been provided a front-row seat.

When the reality of the situation set in, he lost several nights of sleep and today still objects to any claims that Cooper’s heist was a victimless crime.

Mitchell said: “It did bother me. It took me a bit of time to realize that I was sitting next to eight sticks of dynamite, and one small action could’ve ended in a very different outcome. I could’ve been blown up.

“So I’ve never considered this a victimless crime.

“This guy was a criminal who put people’s lives in danger, he wasn’t a hero of any kind.”

SEARCH GOES ON

Where Cooper landed, and whether or not he even survived his perilous jump, has never been determined.

The FBI considered more than 800 potential suspects in the five years after the heist, though failed to find any evidence to determine a conclusive match.

The only trace of Cooper ever yielded came in 1980 when a child digging along the banks of the Columbia River in Tena Bar, north of Portland, unearthed stacks of rotting $20 bills totaling $5,800.

Further investigation linked the bills back to Cooper’s ransom.

The FBI published the bills’ serial numbers in the hope of fresh leads, but the vast majority of the cash was never recovered.

Cooper’s trail went cold again and the case has continued to baffle law enforcement and amateur detectives alike in the years since.

Last week, retired FBI Agent Larry Carr, who oversaw the Cooper case for three years, told The U.S. Sun that he believes Cooper died on the night of the hijacking.

Had he survived, Carr says he has no doubt the Bureau would’ve caught him.

“When you look at the breadth of the FBI’s investigation, every field office in the US had leads on this case. It was a full-court press by the FBI to get it solved for years,” said Carr.

“This is just a guy that committed a bank robbery in the sky and jumped to the earth, and lived among us or died. But suppose he lived among us, he would have been caught, just like they all were.

“It’s the same investigation. You ask questions and get the answers. And you follow up those answers with other questions. And when those questions lead you to someone else, you just do that.

“And we enlisted thousands of people to ask those questions and follow up those leads.

“And so I firmly believe, just like any other crime when you have 1000s of people asking questions and following potential suspects, you will always find something unless the person is no longer with us.”

Michael and Bill also believe it’s unlikely DB Cooper survived the jump.

But both men want answers as to who Cooper was.

Searching for those answers is Eric Ulis, an independent investigator who recently obtained a sample of Cooper’s DNA lifted from a clip-on tie he left behind on his seat.

Ulis believes he can unmask Cooper by the end of the year.

He told The U.S. Sun, “By December 31, 2024, this is going to be a new world as far as this case is concerned.

“We’re either going to have figured out who this guy is, or we’re gonna have a solid DNA profile to work with that’s going to be pointing us in the right direction.”

Investigator Eric Ulis and Bill Mitchell pictured together at a CooperCon eventCredit: Facebook/Eric Ulis

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