D.B. Cooper: who is skyjacker in Netflix’s Where Are You, did he survive jump - when is D.B. Cooper Day?

D.B. Cooper became an American legend when he hijacked a plane, made off with $200,000, and parachuted out somewhere over Washington, never to be seen again.

D.B. Cooper is an enigma and American legend who was made the focus of the Netflix documentary DB Cooper: Where Are You?! which was released in July. The miniseries revisits one of the greatest unsolved crimes in modern American history.

Cooper notoriously hijacked a commercial plane, held the crew to ransom, and then made off with a thousands of dollars in cash, literally disappearig into the night. The crime began a 4-year investigation into his identity which has never been conclusively solved, though many believe that Cooper died the night he hijacked the plane.

Cooper has appeared as a storyline in several American TV shows including Prison Break, The Blacklist, and 30 Rock. Since Cooper’s infamous hijacking, the FBI compiled a file of more than 1,000 suspects, but his identity has never been confirmed.

A composite sketch of D.B. Cooper based on eyewitness accounts

Who was D.B. Cooper?

The name D.B. Cooper was used by the media at the time to refer to an unidentified man who hijacked Northwest Orient Airlines flight in 1971. The man purchased a one way ticket on a 30-minute flight from Portland to Seattle under the name Dan Cooper on 24 November 1971.

On the flight, which contained 35 other passengers, he told a flight attendant that he had a bomb and demanded $200,000 and four parachutes. When the plane landed in Seattle, Cooper’s demands were met and he allowed the passengers and most of the crew to leave the plane.

Cooper then told the remaining crew to fly him to Mexico - during the flight, Cooper parachuted out of the plane somewhere over Washington using a parachute and taking the money with him - he has not been seen or heard of since. Witnesses described Cooper as being in his mid-40s, and airline staff said that he was very polite unlike typical hijackers. He reportedly paid his drink tab during the hijacking and tried to give a flight attendant his change.

What happened to D.B. Cooper?

Police believed that it is unlikely Cooper survived the jump as the weather conditions were poor, he would have been unfamiliar with the terrain, which was largely wilderness, and he did not have suitable clothing or equipment. Even if he did survive the initial jump, it would also be unlikely that he then survived the night in the Washington wilderness in late November with no idea of his exact location.

The Cooper case was open for 45 years but remains unsolved

Additionally, none of the ransom money turned up in the years following the hijacking, suggesting that Cooper did not live to spend it. The FBI kept the case open for 45 years but suspended it in 2016 having made no conclusive findings as to Cooper’s true identity. To this day, the crime is the only unsolved case of air piracy in commercial aviation history.

What are the theories about D.B. Cooper’s identity?

More than 1,000 suspects were compiled by the FBI during the 45 years that the case was open - many of which turned out to be hoaxes or attention seekers. Some of the suspects that have been rejected over the years include veteran paratroopers, conmen and criminals.

Lyle Christiansen suspected that his brother Kenneth, who died in 1994, may have been Cooper - Kenneth has trained as a paratrooper during the Second World War, and worked in Seattle at the time of the hijacking. However, he FBI discounted Kenneth because he did not match the description of Cooper and had more experience as a paratrooper than Cooper showed.

Richard McCoy Jr. committed a notorious copycat hijacking in 1972, also parachuting out of a hijacked plane and making away with $500,000 - though he was later arrested. McCoy was killed in a shootout with police after escaping from prison - he was discounted as a suspect in the Cooper case when evidence showed he was in Las Vegas at the time of the hijacking.

Another suspect was Robert Rackstraw, Army pilot and ex-convict who was discharged just months before the hijacking. Like many other suspects, he was ruled out by police because no direct evidence linked him to the crime.

When is D.B. Cooper Day?

D.B. Cooper Day is celebrated every year on 24 November - the day of his crime, and recognises the ongoing mystery of Cooper’s indentity. The celebration originated in Ariel, Washington, where Cooper is believed to have jumped from the plane. This year will be the 51st D.B. Cooper Day.

When is DB Cooper: Where Are You?! on Netflix?

The four-part miniseries was released on 13 July and is available to watch on Netflix now.