‘Twas The Night Before Thanksgiving

By CodingStrategies on November 24th, 2017

Every American knows about Thanksgiving Day, right? Like the part where then-President Thomas Jefferson thought making it a national holiday was “a ridiculous proposition.” Or the fact that baby turkeys are called poults (and are seriously cute). Maybe it’s the detail that there were no potatoes at the original Thanksgiving table because Europeans thought they were poisonous. There were no forks either; people ate with knives, spoons and fingers. Then there’s the issue of meal marathon – the first Thanksgiving dinner took three days to eat! And while contemplating food, Benjamin Franklin wanted to make the turkey the national bird (so would there have been bald eagle on the holiday table instead?). Cranberries were not just for nourishment either; they were used to treat wounds and dye arrows. And the best way to tell if a cranberry was ripe was to see if it bounced. And of course, Thanksgiving continues to provide an opportunity to give thanks for blessings big and small.

On November 24, 1971 (Thanksgiving Eve) a man wearing a dark suit, white shirt, black tie, mother of pearl tie pin, sunglasses and a raincoat, carrying a black attaché case, purchased a one-way ticket on Northwest Orient Airlines from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington. Dan “D.B.” Cooper took seat 18C in the rear of the passenger cabin for the 30-minute flight. Eyewitnesses remember a middle-aged man of average height with no distinguishing marks. The flight was about 30 percent full and left on time at 2:50 pm. That’s when everything changed.

Shortly after takeoff, Cooper ordered a bourbon and soda, and handed a note to the flight attendant stating that he had a bomb. He demanded four parachutes, $200,000 cash and a fuel truck standing by to refuel the jet in Seattle. The flight attendance conveyed the demands to the pilot, who contacted Seattle air traffic control, which in turn informed local and federal authorities. The jet circled Puget Sound for about two hours while the ransom money and parachutes were assembled and emergency personnel were mobilized. Everyone who came in contact with Cooper found him thoughtful, calm, polite and well-spoken. He ordered a second bourbon and soda, paid his drink tab and even offered to buy meals for the flight crew during the refueling stop in Seattle.

Part of the landing delay involved acquiring the ransom money – there were 10,000 unmarked $20 bills, most with serial numbers beginning with the letter “L” indicating issuance by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and most from the 1963A or 1969 series. FBI agents painstakingly made a microfilm copy of each bill. At 5:39 pm the aircraft landed at Seattle-Tacoma Airport and Northwest Orient’s Seattle operations manager approached the plane to deliver a knapsack of money and the four parachutes. Once the delivery was completed, all passengers and flight attendants were permitted to exit the plane, with the exception of one flight attendant who would accompany Cooper and the pilots on the next leg of the journey.

During refueling, Cooper outlined his flight plan to the cockpit crew: a southeast course toward Mexico City at the minimum airspeed possible without stalling the aircraft and at a maximum 10,000 foot altitude. He further specified that the landing gear remain down in the takeoff/landing position, the wing flaps be lowered 15 degrees and the cabin remain unpressurized. Cooper was informed that the aircraft's range was limited to approximately 1,000 miles under the specified flight restrictions, which meant that a second refueling would be necessary before entering Mexico. Cooper and the crew agreed on Reno, Nevada as the refueling stop. 

At approximately 7:40 pm the jet was again in the air, secretly tailed by two fighter planes scrambled from McChord Air Force Base. At about 8:00 pm warning lights indicated the activation of the aft stair at the back of the plane and at 8:13 pm the aircraft’s tail section sustained a sudden upward movement, significant enough for the pilots to trim the plane back to level flight. At 10:15 pm the jet landed at Reno for refueling without Cooper on board. The assumption is that D. B. Cooper exited the plane just after 8:00 pm in a heavy rainstorm over the Lewis River in southwestern Washington, undetected by the Air Force fighter pilots.

The search operation, arguably the most extensive and intensive in U.S. history, uncovered no significant material evidence relating to the hijacking. But it wasn’t until July 8, 2016 that the FBI announced it was suspending active investigation into the case of D. B. Cooper. The 60-volume case file compiled over the 45-year course of the search will be preserved for historical purposes at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. The hijacker was never seen again and only $5800 of the money was ever found, rotting on the banks of the Columbia River. This could actually be considered a perfect crime, assuming that Cooper survived the jump. After all, he neither brought nor requested a helmet.

While D.B. Cooper was undeniably an air pirate and extortionist who endangered the lives of passengers and crew, his bold, adventurous, and unprecedented crime inspired a cult following, expressed through song, film and literature. But what could have happened to D. B. Cooper?

Possible Outcome Possible Codes
Died from the jump

V97.21XA – Parachutist entangled in object, initial encounter

V97.22XA – Parachutist injured on landing, initial encounter

V97.29XA – Other parachutist accident, initial encounter

Drowned in the river

W69.XXXA – Accidental drowning in natural water, initial encounter

W74.XXXA – Unspecified cause of drowning, initial encounter

Died from Exposure

X31.XXXA – Exposure to excessive natural cold, initial encounter

X36.1XXA – Avalanche, landslide or mudslide, initial encounter

X37.8XXA – Other cataclysmic storms, initial encounter

X58.XXXA – Exposure other specified factors, initial encounter

Killed and/or eaten by Bigfoot

W55.81XA – Bitten by other mammals, initial encounter

W55.82XA – Struck by other mammals, initial encounter

W55.89XA – Other contact with other mammals, initial encounter

Lived hidden in the woods

Z59.0 – Homelessness

Z59.1 – Inadequate housing

Z59.4 – Lack of adequate food and safe drinking water

It is important to remember that while he remains missing, no one knows if his real name is D. B. Cooper, so his status as a missing person isn’t exactly legitimate. But the impact of his successful piracy lives on – because of D. B. Cooper, nobody can step on an airplane in North American without first undergoing a full search of their person and luggage. The ability of a passenger to assume control of an airplane was the trigger event that caused commercial airlines to begin searching everyone before boarding, and ultimately led to the founding of the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA). Now you know whom to “thank” for that wait in the security lines!