Skyjacker DB Cooper’s unsolved case is re-examined in a new Netflix documentary series

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Kristi Turnquist / Oregonlive.com (TNS)

Considering the skyjacker who became known as DB Cooper committed his crime more than 50 years ago, you’d think interest in the case would wane. But perhaps because the mystery man was never identified and he jumped off a plane with $200,000 in a briefcase and got away with it, DB Cooper’s story refuses to go away.

The four-part Netflix documentary series DB Cooper: Where Are You?! is the latest example of the enduring fascination with the legend. Again, the series begins with what we know. On November 24, 1971, a man calling himself Dan Cooper bought a ticket at Portland International Airport. He boarded Northwest Orient Airlines Flight #305 for a short flight to Seattle.

The man in the business suit and sunglasses ordered a bourbon and lemonade and the plane took off. On the way to Seattle, the man informed a flight attendant and the captain that he had a bomb in his briefcase and that he was asking for $200,000 and four parachutes.

The plane landed in Seattle and the passengers were escorted out before the plane took off again with only a few crew members and Cooper in possession of the money and parachutes. As the plane flew over the Pacific Northwest, Cooper parachuted out of the plane full of cash.

After Cooper – who became known as DB Cooper thanks to an early misunderstanding – jumped into the dark, no one knows exactly what happened. But that has only fueled theories, investigations, conspiracies and other ideas about who he was, whether he survived, whether he had any accomplices involved in the plan, what became of the money and so on.

Directed by Marina Zenovich, DB Cooper: Where Are You?! examines some of the people who tried to solve the Cooper mystery while touching on “Cooperites,” the wannabe sleuths who scour the internet for clues .

The series also reminds us how pervasive the Cooper mythology has been in popular culture, spawning films, TV shows, books, and far-fetched theories. Remember when some diehards thought Jon Hamm’s “Mad Men” character Don Draper was Cooper? Or, more recently, the Disney+ Marvel Universe series Loki, which pokes fun at the possibility that Tom Hiddleston’s trickster was the infamous Skyjacker?

Over the four episodes, various interviewees share their experiences, their favorite theories, and why DB Cooper has remained such an enduring object of fascination.

Bill Mitchell recalls boarding the Northwest Orient flight to Seattle in 1971 as a sophomore at the University of Oregon. Even when Cooper was writing notes with his demands, Mitchell says the passengers were largely unaware of the danger they might be in.

Vintage clips add context to how different the flight experience was when Cooper committed his crime. airport security? There was none. And stewardesses, as flight attendants were called back then, were often sexually harassed. In an archival interview, a man with a ’70s-style green mustache says he thinks Cooper is a hero, calling the Skyjacker “one of the most refined cats to ever walk the earth.”

Geoffrey Gray is one of several authors who have written about Cooper and those following the case. Gray, whose book is called Skyjack: The Hunt for DB Cooper, talks about how Cooper became a folk legend and how much of the Cooper saga isn’t about the Skyjacker, it’s about the people who are chasing him.

DB Cooper: Where are you?! spends a lot of time with one of those people, Tom Colbert, a former television journalist-turned-documentary-producer-turned-investigator. Colbert was featured in one of Cooper’s many previous documentaries, the History Channel 2016 special “DB Cooper: Case Closed?”. In the Netflix series, Colbert talks about feeling that the History Channel special belittled the work of Colbert and his cold case team, leading to her belief that a man named Robert Rackstraw was Cooper.

The Netflix series also includes visits to an “unknown” location in Oregon and a search for Cooper’s parachute and money, as well as footage of CooperCon 2021, a gathering of “Cooperites” and others connected to the Cooper case investigation Kiggins Theater in Vancouver, Washington. Among the featured guests is Eric Ulis, a Cooper researcher who is interviewed on DB Cooper: Where Are You?! and who appeared in another History Channel documentary, The Final Hunt for DB Cooper, based on Ulis’ theory centered on the possibility that Cooper landed in an area near Ridgefield, Washington.

After reviewing a list of some of the people suspected of being Cooper, “DB Cooper: Where Are You?!” does not come to any particular conclusion. Instead, it seems to be true to Gray’s idea that we’ll likely never know who Cooper was and if he got away with his crime, and that’s why he continues to intrigue us.

As author Bryan Burrough says of the infamous skyjacker, “I hope he’s never found.”

“DB Cooper: Where Are You?!” begins streaming on Netflix July 13.

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