D.B. Cooper Suspect Dies; Mystery Still Unsolved

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January 31, 2021

A main contender for the identity of the mysterious hijacker D.B. Cooper has died. Sheridan Peterson, a retired teacher who has long suspected to have been the perpetrator of the 1971 heist and getaway, died in California. He was 94.

On Nov. 24, 1971, a man who identified himself as Dan Cooper boarded a flight from Portland, Ore., to Seattle. Several hours later, he was famous, after having made a bomb threat, hijacked a plane, and parachuted out into the unknown.

It began in Seat 18C, which was occupied by a man wearing a dark suit, sunglasses, a black tie, and a memorable tie pin. While the plane was still on the runway, the man handed a note to a flight attendant, alleging that he had a bomb and demanding $200,000 and four parachutes. The plane flew to Seattle, where airport officials gave the man his money and parachutes, in exchange for release of the 36 other passengers onboard and two members of the flight crew. The pilot and remaining flight crew stayed onboard with the man, who directed that the plane go next to Mexico.

"Dan Cooper" never made it to Mexico — with the plane, anyway. He opened the plane's back stairs, walked down them, then jumped into the freezing rain at a height of 10,000 feet, trusting his newfound parachutes to get him and his newfound money to safety. He was not heard from again. Somewhere in the subsequent flurry of news stories, the man was dubbed D.B. Cooper, and the name stuck.

Investigators from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other organizations considered Peterson a likely suspect because of a number of strong matches between his experience and what was known of the mysterious hijacker:

  • D.B. Cooper suspectPeterson was a smokejumper who really liked to skydive.
  • The WWI Marine veteran also was a technical editor at Boeing, the Seattle-based aviation manufacturer. A Boeing newsletter photo showed him dressed in a way very similar to that described by witnesses of the hijacking. As well, Peterson worked in the department that wrote the manual for the Boeing 727, the model that Cooper hijacked.
  • Sketches of the suspect matched sketches of Peterson at the time.
  • Peterson was, in 1971, the approximate age of the man described as D.B. Cooper.

Peterson wrote for the National Smokejumper Association an article about the coincidences and about his being a prime suspect for being Cooper. He also said that he had an alibi, that he was in Nepal on the date in question.

One famous part of Cooper's outfit was a tie that he left behind. In 2004, scientists did testing on DNA found on the tie but found no match. They did match Peterson's DNA against that found on the tie but did not publicly announce the results.

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