It was 48 years on November 24th since D.B. Cooper (he used the name Dan Cooper but was mistakenly called D.B. by reporters) boarded and hijacked a Northwest Orient flight that was headed from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle, Washington. He claimed that he had a bomb on board the flight and demanded $200,000 in cash as well as several parachutes. At some point during the flight, he jumped out of the plane and was never seen again. The D.B. Cooper mystery remains the only unsolved skyjacking in American history.
And now, nearly 50 years later, the man who sat closest to Cooper on that flight has come forward with his story. In an interview from his home near Seattle, Bill Mitchell showed KOMO News his original plane ticket. “This is the actual airline ticket,” he said, adding, “Standby flight from Portland to Seattle. The fare was actually $12.04. Flight 305. November 24, 1971.”
Mitchell was a sophomore at the University of Oregon when he boarded the plane for what was supposed to be a quick and routine flight. However, everything changed when the pilot’s voice came over the speaker and declared, “We had engine trouble and so we’re going to have to run out some fuel.”
At that point, passengers weren’t aware that Cooper had told a flight attendant that he had a bomb on board the aircraft. “He would pass her notes saying, ‘I’ve got a bomb and I need $200,000 and I’ve got five parachutes,’ or whatever,” Mitchell remembered.
When all of the passengers on the flight were invited to sit at the front of the plane, Mitchell decided to stay in his original seat – he and Cooper were both seated at the rear of the plane with Cooper on the right and Mitchell on the left.
While he admits that he didn’t pay much attention to Cooper, he did notice that the flight attendant sat down next to the hijacker which made Mitchell a bit jealous. “My ego got in the way of this,” he admitted, adding, “It sort of bugged me that this flight attendant was talking with this older guy with a suit and smoking, and here you had a University of Oregon sophomore sitting right across the aisle and she wouldn’t make any eye contact or anything.”
Because of Mitchell’s jealousy that the flight attendant was paying more attention to Cooper than him, he was able to help authorities with the now infamous sketch of the hijacker.
When he got off the plane, the FBI suggested to Mitchell that he shouldn’t comment on the events that happened on the aircraft. “He’s out there and you’re one of the primary witnesses. So, we just recommend that you don’t [comment],” they suggested. So why, after nearly 50 years, has he decided to come forward with his story? “[It’s] 48 years later. I think I’m pretty safe,” he said.
As for what he thinks happened to Cooper and the money, Mitchell has a thought, “My theory from day-one, or three days after I realized what was going on, is that he’s plunked down on the ground some place in southern Washington dead with the money.” However, he did state that “He could be out there. He could.”
The only solid evidence found was almost six thousand dollars in cash that mysteriously showed up along the Columbia River in 1980, although nobody knows how it got there.
The FBI officially closed the case in 2016. The identity of D.B. has never been solved, although there has been much speculation that Robert Rackstraw – who passed away earlier this year – was in fact the infamous hijacker that seemingly disappeared into thin air with what is equivalent to over a million dollars in today’s money. This mystery has captivated many people over the years and people are still talking about it, almost five decades later.