Saturday, Nov. 27, 1971: The D.B. Cooper hijacking

Posted on October 29th, 2007 – 6:25 PM
By Ben Welter

The unsolved hijacking of Northwest Flight 305 on Thanksgiving eve 1971 spawned scores of books, TV shows, movies and songs. Here’s the Minneapolis Tribune’s Page 1A account of the press conference held at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport two days after the well-mannered hijacker jumped off the jet’s rear stairway, presumably wearing a parachute and carrying a bag holding $200,000 in cash. The story doesn’t mention “Dan Cooper,” the name the hijacker used that night.

Hijacker’s note
at first mistaken
as date invitation

By Dean Rebuffoni
Staff Writer

A Northwest Airlines stewardess said Friday she first thought a note handed her by a hijacker on a flight Wednesday between Portland, Ore., and Seattle, Wash., was “a pass” or an attempt to “hustle” her.

  FBI sketch of D.B. Cooper …

Stewardess Florence Schaffner, 23, who said she regularly encounters amorous passengers in her work, put the note in her purse without reading it.

The hijacker, who was sitting beside her for the takeoff, motioned to her to read the note, however. It was then that Miss Schaffner, 1600 E. 77th St., Richfield, discovered that the man claimed he had a bomb, was demanding $200,000 ransom, four parachutes and the flight crew’s cooperation in his escape.

The hijacker – described by crew members as “not nervous,” “rather nice,” and “never cruel or nasty” – got everything he wanted, and apparently used two of the parachutes to leave the Boeing 727 jet airplane sometime during its flight later Wednesday from Seattle to Reno, Nev.

At a press conference yesterday morning at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, the plane’s six crew members gave this account of the hijacking:

  … and a second sketch.

The middle-aged hijacker, who wore dark glasses, a dark overcoat and a business suit, apparently boarded the plane, Northwest’s flight 305, in Portland. He sat alone in the last row of seats in the coach compartment.

Shortly after takeoff from Portland, the man asked Miss Schaffner to sit beside him and then handed her the note.

After she read the note, Miss Schaffner looked inside a small black suitcase the man was holding.

“I was scared to death and pretty nervous,” she said “but I do remember seeing a red cylinder in the suitcase.”

She said the hijacker had no other suitcases with him, and added that the cylinder filled the black suitcase.

While Miss Schaffner carried the note forward to the plane’s cockpit, a second stewardess, Tina Mucklow, 22, sat next to the hijacker to, as Miss Mucklow said, “ensure our passengers’ safety.”

The plane’s commander, Capt. William Scott, 262 Peninsula Rd., Medicine Lake, read the note and contacted Northwest officials via radio. He was told the money and parachutes would be delivered to the airplane while it refueled in Seattle.

Scott went into a holding pattern northwest of Seattle while the $200,000 was collected from several Seattle banks and the four parachutes from nearby McChord Air Force Base.

The airplane landed after about one hour of 40 minutes of circling. The plane’s 36 other passengers – who were not aware of the hijacking – left the aircraft in Seattle with Miss Schaffner and a third stewardess, Mrs. Alice Hancock, 24, Inver Grove Heights.

  Capt. William Scott

Scott, First Officer William Rataczak, 3407 Selkirk Dr., Burnsville, and Second Officer Harold E. Anderson, Excelsior, remained in the cockpit throughout the hijacking. They never saw the hijacker.

Miss Mucklow, 7320 Cedar Av., Richfield, remained seated beside the hijacker in the coach compartment and relayed his demands to the cockpit via the plain’s intercom system.

“He was always polite to me,” Miss Mucklow said of the hijacker. “He did seem impatient at times, though.”

While the plane was being refueled, a courier delivered the $200,000 – in $20 bills – and the four parachutes. Miss Mucklow met the courier at the foot of the aircraft’s stairs. The money, she said, was in a “soft, white, cloth laundry bag.” She said the bag was open and hand no drawstrings.

Scott said the hijacker demanded the airplane fly to Mexico City, but the captain emphasized that the man did not demand the plain fly a certain route.

“All he knew was he was being taken to Reno (for refueling) on the first leg of a flight to Mexico,” Scott said.

The hijacker also demanded the crew open the plane’s rear door and lower the stairwell after takeoff from Seattle. Scott said he flew below 10,000 feet altitude and at about 200 miles per hour during the Seattle-Reno flight.

Scott said he and his crew made no attempt to stop the hijacking, but followed the orders of Northwest officials with whom they were in radio contact.

“Everything seemed to go nicely as long as we went along with (the hijacker’s) demands,” Scott said. He added that there was no sky marshal on board the plane at any time.

Miss Mucklow remained with the hijacker as the plane left Seattle. Shortly after takeoff and about 8 p.m. Wednesday, Scott lowered the plane’s rear stairs. The hijacker then told Miss Mucklow to, she said, “go to the front, pull the curtain (between the coach and first-class compartments), and don’t come back.”

  Tina Mucklow

Miss Mucklow did just that. There was no further communication with the hijacker during the Seattle-Reno flight.

Scott said he assumed the hijacker was still aboard when the plane landed in reno. He denied reports that he had radioed officials as the plan approached Reno that the hijacker “took leave of us.”

After landing in Reno, Scott tried to call the hijacker on the plane’s public address system. He addressed the man as “Sir,” and asked if the hijacker had further instructions.

There was no replay. Scott said he found the passenger cabins empty when he walked back from the cockpit after landing.

Two of the four parachutes were still in the plane, Scott said. There was no trace of the hijacker, the money, the laundry bag or the black suitcase the hijacker claimed held a bomb.

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