Search for DB Cooper “historic sites” in Portland and Seattle

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With the 50th anniversary of the infamous DB Cooper hijacking this Thanksgiving eve, the places where the crime took place – Portland and Seattle airports – still hold physical traces that awaken memories of what happened. on a dark and stormy Pacific Northwest night. decades ago.

For those who may not remember, “DB Cooper” is what the media called the unknown hijacker who boarded a Northwest Airlines 727 in Portland in the afternoon. of November 24, 1971. On his way to Seattle, the man, who had in fact given his name Dan Cooper, told a flight attendant that he had a bomb. They landed at Sea-Tac Airport, where Cooper received $ 200,000 in cash and four parachutes in return for the 35 passengers. The plane restarted and headed south. Somewhere above southwest Washington, Cooper jumped out of the jet’s back door and was never seen again.

There have been so many theories about who DB Cooper really was, and so many people claimed he was a relative or a friend. Fifty years later, interest in the unsolved mystery has waned somewhat over time, but Cooper’s search still continues; a researcher is even at work this fall, trying to find the money from the diversion along the Columbia River (where thousands of Cooper dollars were found in 1980).

But setting aside all the unproven theories and conjectures, Portland International Airport and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport are the only two places where the existence of DB Cooper – or whatever his real name – can be. be confirmed, and where the only concrete story could still remain.

Kama Simonds is a spokesperson for the Port of Portland. During a recent visit to Portland International Airport, Simonds shared with KIRO Radio a series of old maps and aerial photos of Portland Airport from 1971.

“It’s the terminal road that goes past here, and you can almost see that there was a bit of parking right outside,… obviously not something we’re doing now,” Simonds told KIRO Radio. “But then you walk into the building, and that was the ticket hall wall. So back then you could come and buy a ticket here.

And that’s exactly what DB Cooper did on November 24, 1971: he paid $ 20 in cash for a ticket to Seattle, then walked out the door without a security check. Since no vehicle associated with Cooper has ever been identified, no one knows how it got to Portland Airport 50 years ago – a cab? bus? walk? – but it’s safe to say he probably didn’t take advantage of this convenient parking lot.

“What we’re looking at here is a diagram of the airport as it looked in 1971,” Simonds continued, pointing to a diagram and explaining the layout of the PDX 50 years ago. “And if you look at it from the sky, it basically shows the two Y-shaped halls, on either side of the Y, and they go down to the main terminal, that’s in the middle.”

“You can see the Northwest Airlines flights were out of this L hall,” Simonds said.

Hall L was right next to the main terminal and on November 24, 1971, flight 305 boarded gate 52, which was only the second door to the main terminal hall.

For anyone more used to walking to Satellite North at Sea-Tac via escalators, a subway ride, and then other escalators, recreating Cooper’s walk from ticket office to door is a somewhat amazing experience. It was just a few hundred yards at most.

Due to construction in progress in 1971, passengers on Flight 305 descended to the lower level of the door and onto the tarmac, then boarded the 727 via the stairs integrated into the rear door of the jet.

Unfortunately for purists or lovers of historical preservation, the Concourse L has disappeared. In its place is Hall C, so the closest place to the “DB Cooper Gate” – if anyone wants to make a pilgrimage to Portland Airport – would probably be Gate C7.

There are no tourist maps or directional signage indicating this fact, of course. The hijacking is a crime, and Cooper has endangered the lives of nearly 40 people. But, five decades later, it’s no exaggeration to say that the hijacking is an important cultural moment in Northwestern history and, really, in American history.

Since Portland prides itself on being notoriously “weird,” is it strange enough to have a historic plaque at the airport for DB Cooper?

“There is no plaque,” ​​Simonds said. “There are a lot of aviation myths and traditions around this. … This is one of those cases that has not been resolved. And I think that’s what keeps the plot alive.

Yet, says Simonds, DB Cooper and what he did have nothing to commemorate at an airport.

“He’s still a criminal, he did something illegal,” Simonds said. “So I think we would be more likely to celebrate some of the amazing pioneers in aviation.”

The Portland chapter of the incident ended when the 727 took off around 3 p.m., and it was not until shortly after the hijacking began, with a note from Cooper handed to an officer of board and a series of communications describing its requests. and threats. The next stop, after the short flight from Portland, then nearly two hours of flight time in a holding pattern north of Seattle, was Sea-Tac Airport. The plane landed around 5:45 p.m.

At Sea-Tac, DB Cooper has of course never set foot at the airport. The 727 was parked far from the terminal – after all, he said he had a bomb in his briefcase – and Cooper stayed on the plane while he waited for the cash and parachutes before releasing the passengers, then waited a little longer until the jet was refueled.

Like Portland Airport, Sea-Tac has undergone several major construction phases over the past 50 years, so it’s a bit difficult to find where the 727 was parked the day before Thanksgiving 1971.

Fortunately, an iconic photo of the plane during the Sea-Tac hijacking phase was taken by Bruce McKim for the Seattle Times. The photo was probably taken zooming in from a location on the old Sea-Tac outdoor observation deck, which no longer exists. In the image, the 727 is visible, parked on a concrete surface, with a portable staircase to the front left side door. A few vehicles can be seen nearby, and behind it a fence and a distinctive building can be seen up close.

Port of Seattle aviation spokesperson Perry Cooper – no connection to DB, he jokes – enlisted the help of a long-time Port of Seattle staff member to clarify the location of 727 and identify the building visible on the old Bruce McKim photo.

The building is the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, which still sits west of the airport, but is now completely obscured by trees. Additionally, the zoom probably helps the church in the photo be much closer to the parked jet than it actually is in real life.

On a ride with Perry Cooper around the tarmac at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, he got as close as he could safely and legally to the “DB Cooper parking spot” – at the south end of what is now the central track.

“What we understand is that they would have landed on what is now our central runway and that would have boiled down to the connection between a taxiway at the very end and the tail, the south end of that runway. “Perry Cooper told KIRO. Radio. “So at the time, it was 34-Left or 16-Right. And right now, it’s now the central track, since we’ve added the new track to the west.

The Sea-Tac phase of the hijacking ended when the 727 restarted at about 7.40 p.m. and was heading south. On board were DB Cooper, the flight crew, and a flight attendant, but Cooper wouldn’t be a passenger for long. When the jet landed in Reno, it was gone.

There are at least two other spots at Sea-Tac related to the hijacking, if they are not directly connected to DB Cooper. One is the Northwest Airlines lounge where passengers and two of the flight attendants were taken by bus once they were released from the jet. This lounge was in Hall B and is now long gone.

The other place is gate A-4. This is where Flight 305 was supposed to have disembarked its passengers if there had been no hijacking. Perry Cooper says there is no plaque there; but, he says, door commemorations are not out of the question, they are simply limited to non-criminal activities.

“We have the Insomnia in Seattle door, ”Cooper said. “It’s N-7. We actually had a celebration when it closed during construction for the modernization of North Satellite, and we actually contacted the film company and they allowed us to use a photo of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.

As for the celebrations related to the 50th anniversary of the 1971 hijacking, it is clear that the Port of Seattle has no intention of reaching out to producers of The pursuit of DB Cooper for images of Treat Williams or Robert Duvall.

Editor’s Note: An alternate version of this story first appeared in COLOMBIA, the quarterly magazine of the Washington State Historical Society, of which Feliks Banel is editor.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News, find out more about him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian podcast here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.


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