Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Time of Chaos and Paranoia by Geoffery Gray

The topic is "D.B. Cooper", who hijacked of Northwest Flight 305 shortly after it left Portland en route to Seattle the day before Thanksgiving in 1971. After picking up a ransom of $200,000 he parachuted out of the back of the 727 and was never seen again. He became a famous American outlaw, the legendary Robin Hood of the sky, the subject of poems, ballads and rock songs; up there in the criminal annals with Billy the Kid, Bonnie and Clyde, and Bigfoot.

Cooper spurred one of the biggest manhunts in law enforcement, as spy planes orbited over search areas, and soldiers and generations of FBI agents on the ground waded through snow, mud and rain in one of the most remote forests in the nation. For four decades, agents, detectives, reporters, treasure hunters, amateur sleuths and others have hunted for clues that might reveal who the hijacker was. But no effort has yielded definitive results. His identity is still a mystery

Cooper’s was a transcendent crime. In one jump the hijacker was able to make the good guys root for the bad guys; his crime came to symbolize one individual overcoming technology, the corporation, the establishment, the system. Even lawmen were impressed with the cleverness and courage of the getaway and hoped Cooper would never be caught. “You can’t help but admire the guy.”

He developed his own cult following, several websites that continue to follow the investigation and every year on the anniversary of his crime worshippers toast his feat and keep the legend going at a party in forest of southwest Washington State.

Like quests to find the Holy Grail and the Lost Dutchman Mine, however, the hunt for D.B. Cooper is an odyssey that tests the boundaries of obsession, and the farther along the path one gets, the stranger and stranger things happen. It’s called the “Cooper Curse” by those who’ve felt it. Is it real or something we create then blame when we fail to find out what happened? Or is it the by-product of a moment in time defined by chaos and paranoia?

When Cooper jumped in the fall of 1971, the nation was at war with itself. In government buildings and on college campuses, bombs went off. In cities, looters roamed as riots raged and buildings burned. At demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, protestors were arrested by the tens of thousands. A defeat in Vietnam was imminent. The nation was also mired in recession. Labor strikes crippled the workforce. Unemployment soared. So did the crime rate. Prisons were overcrowded and taken over in riots. Communes were built. Cults formed. Otherwise normal teenagers ran away from home, and had to be “deprogrammed” after they were brainwashed.

“The music is telling the youth to rise up against the establishment,” Charlie Manson said during his trial for murder. “Why blame me? I didn’t write the music.”

Mobs had formed. The underground was rising. Terrorists were homegrown. Communist fears were were born. Inside J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI a campaign was afoot to compile information on protestors and expose the anarchists. Phones were tapped. At the center of the spookfest was President Nixon. “I just want to ask you one favor,” Nixon told top aide H.R. Halderman. “If I am assassinated, I want you to have them play Dante’s Inferno, and have Lawrence Welk produce it.”

Skyjacking was then a national epidemic. Throughout Nixon’s term, there had been roughly a hundred hijackings of American airplanes, and over half the attempts had been successful. The airplane had become the next stagecoach, a crime scene for dangerous jet-age robberies.

Like no other innovation, the invention of the airplane and the evolution of American airpower were testaments to the nation’s technological virility and ethos. Air-power had been instrumental in winning the World Wars, in ushering in a new horizon and a new age. Boeing had built the 747, the jumbo jet. And yet, in one impulsive action, the lone skyjackers was able to show the fallibility of the costly flying machines. What good was the power of the Air Force in a country like Vietnam where American soldiers were slaughtered under the canopy of the jungle? What good was flying a jet to vacation in Miami when so many flights were getting rerouted to Castro’s Cuba?

The skyjacker himself was a kind of schizo-transcendentalist. On board a jet, taking all the passengers and crew as hostages, the skyjacker was able to create his own society. He became his own head of state, directing others- the pilots, stewardesses, the lawmen, the mayors, the governors, the C.E.O.’s - to act upon his whims. In one flight, the skyjacker went from nobody to somebody. And with reporters from newspapers, radio and television stations monitoring the drama, the culprits achieved celebrity.

Dr. David Hubbard, a psychiatrist interviewing nearly a hundred airplane hijackers in the late 1960s and early 1970s, described taking over an airplane as a holy experience,. “The skyjackers”, he wrote, “seemed intent to stand on their own feet, to be men, to face their God, and to arise from this planet to the other more pleasing place.” Hundreds of skyjackers and terrorists have taken over airplanes.

Only one remains unknown: D.B. Cooper.

Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper: Crown Publishers, N.Y.C., 2011

1 comment:

  1. Ballad of DB Cooper

    He was carrying a briefcase
    When he stepped aboard the plane
    Northwest 305 from Portland
    On the tarmac in the rain
    Dressed in loafers & a dark suit
    Underneath an overcoat
    A white shirt & a black tie
    That was loose around the throat

    It was Thanksgiving eve
    Back in 1971
    He had on a pair of sunglasses
    There wasn't any sun
    He used the name Dan Cooper
    When he paid for the flight
    That was going to Seattle
    On that cold and nasty night

    They taxied to the runway
    And then took to the sky
    Cooper let a little
    Bit of time go by
    Before he called the flight attendant
    And told her to stay calm
    But that inside his briefcase
    He said he had a bomb

    Two hundred thousand dollars
    In 20 dollar bills
    A plane, a crew, some parachutes
    & No one would get killed
    They landed in Seattle
    The authorities complied
    All the passengers were let off
    The crew remained inside

    The plane took off for Portland
    Just Cooper & the crew
    It wasn't quite an hour
    When he bid them all adieu
    But first he tipped each one of them
    Two thousand bucks apiece
    He was such a nice man
    They later told the police

    Out a little service doorway
    In the rear of the plane
    Cooper jumped into the darkness
    Into the freezing rain
    They say that with the windchill
    It was 69 below
    Not much chance that he'd survive
    But if he did where did he go?

    Some guy who lived in Oregon
    By the name of DB Cooper
    Was arrested and interrogated
    By a couple of state troopers
    It wasn't him who did it
    The lawmen had no luck
    But the papers ran the story
    The name DB Cooper stuck

    It was on a family picnic
    8 or 9 years later
    Six thousand muddy dollars
    Found by a 2nd grader
    On the banks of the Columbia
    Which would've been on his route
    Authorities confirmed
    That it was part of Cooper's loot

    Whoever DB Cooper was
    Today is still a mystery
    The only unsolved skyjacking
    In aviation history
    No one's ever tried to claim
    The very large reward
    No one's ever seen him since
    He bailed out the door

    Divers search the river
    Every summer still
    For an article of clothing
    Or a twenty dollar bill
    A briefcase or a wallet
    With some kind of ID
    To determine who this DB Cooper
    Might actually be