A Brief History of Airplane Hijackings, From the Cold War to D.B. Cooper

Though many Americans may associate airport security with 9/11, it was a wave of hijackings in the late 1960s and early 1970s that laid the foundation for today’s airport security protocols.

During that period, a hijacking occurred, on average, once every five days globally. The United States dealt with its own spate of mile-high crimes, convincing reluctant government officials and airport executives to adopt the first important airport security protocols.

Hijacker D.B. Cooper—the subject of the new Netflix docuseries “D.B. Cooper: Where Are You?!”—emerged as something of a folk hero during this era. While other more violent hijackings might have played a bigger role in prompting early airport security measures, it was the saga of Cooper that captured the imagination of the American public—and helped transform the perception of the overall threat hijackings posed to U.S. air travel and national security.

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Man in Clown Mask Attempts to Steal Jet to Fly to Area 51 to See Aliens

A Las Vegas man is in considerable legal trouble following a wild incident wherein he breached an airport’s security perimeter by way of a limousine and then donned a clown mask while attempting to commandeer a jet for a trip to Area 51 to see aliens. The multilayered misadventure reportedly unfolded last Wednesday evening when Matthew Hancock allegedly drove a limo through two metal fences surrounding the city’s McCarran International Airport. After pulling up alongside a jet on the tarmac, authorities say the man stepped out of his vehicle, put on a clown mask, and informed workers at the aircraft that he intended to “blow this place up” with a bomb.

According to police, Hancock then inexplicably got back inside the limousine and began to drive away, while the understandably alarmed airport personnel fled the scene. Fortunately, there was no standoff nor any altercation when cops caught up with the vehicle as the man is said to have surrendered immediately. It was then that things took an even stranger turn when Hancock reportedly revealed to police his reasoning for the brazen event. After telling them that there was a bomb in his vehicle, the man explained that he wanted to steal a jet and then somehow use it to journey to Area 51 “to look at aliens.”

Cops subsequently searched Hancock’s limousine and found a crude-looking fake bomb made out of what appeared to be an oxygen tank, a fire extinguisher, and various metal objects all strung together with Christmas lights. As one might imagine, the man was promptly arrested and has been charged with multiple crimes including threatening an act of terrorism.

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D.B. Cooper Skyjacking Case Turns 50

Fifty years ago this evening, a mysterious individual who later came to be known as D.B. Cooper became a part of American folklore by way of a brazen skyjacking that remains unsolved to this day. The iconic case began on November 24th, 1971 when a largely nondescript man wearing dark sunglasses and wielding a briefcase boarded a normally routine flight from Seattle to Portland. Once in the air, he slipped a flight attendant a note stating that he had a bomb and, after showing her what appeared to be the explosive device, informed her that he wanted $200,000 in cash as well as four parachutes. What followed next was a daring caper that has continued to baffle researchers for decades.

The hijacked flight subsequently landed at a nearby airport where the other passengers, unaware of the drama unfolding around them, were evacuated and the money was delivered to the airliner by authorities looking to resolve the matter as peacefully as possible. The plane then took off once again en route for Mexico City, per the man’s instruction, with only him and the crew remaining aboard. Shortly thereafter, he walked to the back of the aircraft and opened a staircase that descended from the rear of the plane. Grabbing the $200,000 and strapping on a parachute that had been provided by police, he jumped from the plane and vanished into history.

The FBI immediately launched an exhaustive investigation into the case and set out searching for the skyjacker, who had actually gone by the name ‘Dan Cooper’ when he boarded the plane. However, the man was soon dubbed ‘D.B. Cooper’ due to an error in an initial media report that wound up being picked up by the wire services and, in turn, stuck to the suspect ever since. The wild nature of the crime, specifically the skyjacker bailing from the plane in mid-air, generated headlines around the world. However, the widespread attention and the best efforts by the authorities proved fruitless when it came to determining the identity of the mysterious man.

Perhaps the biggest break in the case occurred around five years later when a young boy stumbled upon a bundle of money from the skyjacking on a remote beach near Vancouver, Washington. Although the discovery provided some insights into what might have become of the man after he jumped from the plane, it did not answer the big questions surrounding the story, specifically who was D.B. Cooper and did he survive his harrowing leap? Over the ensuing decades, the FBI continued trying to crack the case until finally announcing in 2016 that they were suspending their active investigation, but were willing to look at any new potential evidence that may come up in the future, as happened the following year.

In addition to the official law enforcement investigation, the D.B. Cooper case has also become a cottage industry for armchair researchers, who have fastidiously pored over the details of the event and put forward all manner of potential suspects. Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in the quintessential American mystery with a variety of books, documentaries, and TV specials devoted to trying to unmask the man at the center of the strange story, yet he remains a cipher. One enlightening development from this proverbial Cooper renaissance is that some of the key witnesses from the flight have come forward to share their first-hand experiences from the skyjacking.

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How much did Saudi Arabia know? FBI release first secret 9/11 files showing anonymous Saudi embassy staffer ‘helped two hijackers in LA and let them stay at his apartment before the attack’

The FBI has released its first declassified 9/11 document exactly 20 years after the deadly terror attack which claimed the lives of 2,996 people.  

The document was published Saturday evening, a week after President Biden signed an executive order directing the agency to make the secret files available to the public for the first time. 

The order to release the documents came amid significant pressure from the families of 9/11 victims, who are eager to probe potential Saudi government links to the attack.

The FBI file that is significantly redacted details a 2015 interview with an official who worked at the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles. 

He admitted that he allowed two hijackers to use his apartment and helped them travel around LA. He was found to be an al-Qaeda ‘facilitator’ by the FBI and the Saudi Consul General wanted to fire him for distributing extremist Muslim literature. 

He was also a close associate of two other Saudis, Omar al-Bayoumi and Fahad al-Thumairy, who the helped the hijackers.  

The new FBI file reveals that al-Bayoumi, who has admitted befriending them, worked as a ‘ghost employee’ at a Saudi aviation firm in the US.  

And it details how al-Thumairy gave the hijackers money, travel assistance and lodging.  

The Saudi official, who is only referred to as PII and who applied for US citizenship in 2015, is thought to be Mussaed Ahmed al-Jarrah who worked at the Saudi Consulate in Washington, DC. 

Al-Jarrah’s name was accidently left unredacted in separate court papers penned by an FBI official. However, he has vigorously denied any involvement and insists he did not know any of the hijackers.  

Of the 19 hijackers on board the four doomed 9/11 planes, 15 were Saudi nationals. 

Last Wednesday, Saudi Arabia released a statement maintaining its innocence, saying ‘it is lamentable that such false and malicious claims persist’.  

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Dig for D.B. Cooper Clues Conducted in Washington State

A D.B. Cooper researcher who believes that evidence from the legendary skyjacking case might still be hidden somewhere in the wilderness of Washington state conducted a dig this past weekend in search of new clues to the nearly five-decade-old mystery. According to a local media report, crime historian Eric Ullis spent Saturday and Sunday scouring a patch of land on the shore of the Columbia River for materials that may have been left behind by the still-unidentified individual behind the infamous caper. Known as the Tena Bar, this particular spot has long intrigued Cooper researchers as it was where $6,000 from the 1971 heist was discovered by a young boy back in 1980.

At the time of the remarkable find, the FBI purportedly searched the Tena Bar location for any additional evidence from the case, but only recovered a few additional scraps of the ill-gotten loot. However, Ullis believes that their investigation into the location may have been too narrowly focused on the spot where the money was discovered, causing them to miss other nearby areas of interest. To that end, the crime historian suspects that Cooper not only buried some of the money at the Tena Bar, but also stashed his parachutes and the attache case that he carried aboard the plane that fateful day.

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On the day before Thanksgiving, November 24, 1971, an unremarkable middle-aged man bought a plane ticket under the name Dan Cooper, paid with cash, and boarded the Boeing 727 for a short afternoon flight from Portland to Seattle.

He sat by himself in the back row of Northwest Orient Flight 305.

He ordered a bourbon and soda, and slipped a note to flight attendant Florence Schaffner shortly after takeoff.

Schaffner assumed it was just another passenger slipping her his phone number and slipped it into her pocket. Cooper urged her to read it.

On the note, Cooper had written, “Miss, I have a bomb here. I want you to sit by me.”

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