D.B. Cooper: FBI closes notorious unsolved skyjacking case

The FBI has closed its investigation into a notorious 1971 skyjacking conducted by a man who came to be known as D.B. Cooper.

Over 45 years, the hunt for the mysterious man who got away with $200,000 in ransom money after parachuting out of a plane has sparked a slew of books, songs, amateur theories, and even a deathbed confession by a man who claimed to be the hijacker.

But despite an ongoing search, which a Washington Post reporter once described as “Jesse James meets the Loch Ness monster,” the FBI declared the investigation to be essentially over on Tuesday.

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“During the course of the 45-year NORJAK investigation, the FBI exhaustively reviewed all credible leads, coordinated between multiple field offices to conduct searches, collected all available evidence, and interviewed all identified witnesses,” the bureau said in a statement, using an acronym for the phrase “Northwest hijacking.”

After Cooper disappeared without a trace into the mountains, “somewhere between Seattle and Reno,” according to the FBI, he became a Robin Hood-like legend for devotees of the case.

He beat the man. He’s not just a folk hero, he’s a folk genius,” Bruce Smith, a contributor to an online forum called The Dropzone who lives northeast of Portland, told the Telegraph in 2011. “He’s a master criminal in the tradition of Robin Hood and other gentleman bandits.”

The case began on the afternoon of Nov. 24, 1971, when a man described as being in his mid-40s wearing a suit, raincoat, and dark sunglasses boarded a flight from Portland, Ore., to Seattle. He bought his $20 ticket using the name “Dan Cooper,” but an early wire-service report misidentified him as “D.B. Cooper” and the name stuck, the Associated Press reports.

After boarding the plane, he ordered a bourbon and soda, lit a cigarette, and coolly handed the stewardess a note. In capital letters, it read, “I have a bomb in my briefcase. I will use it if necessary. I want you to sit next to me. You are being hijacked,“ the Telegraph reports.

He then demanded $200,000 and four parachutes. In Seattle, he received them, releasing the 36 passengers and two flight attendants. The plane then took off again, setting a course for Mexico City at Cooper’s direction, the FBI said in a statement.

Somewhere between Seattle and Reno, the bureau said, the hijacker jumped out of the back of the plane with a parachute and the money strapped to his body, “disappearing into the night – and his ultimate fate remains a mystery to this day.”

Originally, FBI investigators thought Cooper must be have been an experienced skydiver, possibly with military experience, in order to potentially survive the jump, the Washington Post reports. But they eventually scrapped that theory.

No experienced parachutist would have jumped in the pitch-black night, in the rain, with a 200-mile-an-hour wind in his face, wearing loafers and a trench coat,” Special Agent Larry Carr said in 2007. “It was simply too risky. He also missed that his reserve chute was only for training and had been sewn shut – something a skilled skydiver would have checked.”

Mr. Carr eventually came to question whether the skyjacker survived the plunge, as his parachute wasn’t steerable.

In 1980, an 8-year-old boy found weathered $20 bills along the Columbia River, but this lead too eventually dried up, the New York Daily News reports. Now, the snippets of money, a pink-hued parachute, and a black tie will be stored at the FBI’s headquarters in Washington, DC.

One amateur theory called “promising” in a 2011 book about the case suggested Cooper was simply a persona.

A scientific illustrator at the University of Chicago posited that Cooper may have taken on the character from a French comic called “Dan Cooper,” which was about a test pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Associated Press reports.

For now, however, the FBI says it is “redirecting resources” to focus on other cases, though it will continue to field tips related to the parachute and stolen cash, spokeswoman Ayn Dietrich-Williams said in a statement.

The case is the last unsolved skyjacking, with the spectacle of Cooper’s actions long holding the public’s attention, Geoffrey Gray, who wrote the 2011 book “Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper,” told the AP.

“The fascination with Cooper has survived not because of the FBI investigation, but because he was able to do something that not only captured the public imagination, but also maintained a sense of mystery in the world,” he said.

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D.B. Cooper Skyjacking Mystery: Man ID'd as the Hijacker in Upcoming Documentary Is a 'Viable Suspect,' Says Retired FBI Agent
Over the past four and a half decades, the so-called D.B. Cooper skyjacking case has captivated countless armchair detectives – not to mention teams of FBI investigators – hoping to finally crack the nation’s only unsolved act of air piracy.

Now a California man, who has assembled a team of investigators, thinks he may have finally solved case, which will be detailed in the two-part History Channel special D.B. Cooper: Case Closed? that airs on Sunday and Monday.

“In my 35 years I’ve never seen as much evidence on any case I’ve worked on,” says Tom Colbert, a former research director for LA’s local CBS affiliate who assembled a team of retired investigators [including a dozen former FBI agents] to re-examine the case for nearly five years. “I’m absolutely certain in my mind that we’ve got him. It’s just a matter of time before he has to admit it.”

The identity of the alleged culprit, who is confronted by Colbert’s investigators at one point during the upcoming docu-drama with cameras rolling, will be revealed during the program.

The man who became known as D.B. Cooper first made headlines in November 1971 after he boarded a commercial flight in Portland and told a stewardess that he had a briefcase filled with dynamite.

The plane was bound for Seattle and by the time it landed the authorities had delivered the $200,000 in cash he requested, along with four parachutes.

He ordered the pilot to fly him to Mexico, but somewhere near the Washington-Oregon border he strapped on a parachute and leaped from the jet into a rainstorm, never to be seen again – although $5,800 of the money was discovered by an 8-year-old boy on the edge of the Columbia River nine years later.

The FBI, who did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for a comment on the case, has long maintained that Cooper probably didn’t survive the risky nighttime jump. Over the years, their case files have grown to more than 60 volumes.

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“The D.B. Cooper case is a mystery like any case where you don’t get resolution, but there has to be an answer,” Ron Hilley, who spent 24 years as an FBI agent and served as a member of the investigative team that re-examined the case, tells PEOPLE.

“He [the man they name as the culprit] looks like an extremely viable suspect to me. I would love to see the explanation that clears him.”

D.B. Cooper: Case Closed? airs on Sunday and Monday on the History Channel