In November 1971 Northwest Orient Airlines flight 305 from Portland to Seattle, was hijacked by a man claiming to have a bomb in his suitcase. This being long before the days of airplane security, the man was identified only by the name under which he booked: D. B. Cooper.
After diverting the plane to Mexico City, taking delivery of $200,000 and four parachutes, he allowed the passengers and most of the cabin crew to disembark. He later escaped by parachuting, in the pitch black, in winter, into Oregon woodland.
This crime has never been solved. He was never found, dead or alive. And D. B. Cooper has never been definitively identified.
It is easy to see why director John Dower (My Scientology Movie; The Last 48 Hours of Kurt Cobain) would be drawn to this story. The case has never been solved, Cooper himself has become a kind of folk anti-hero in the Ned Kelly vein, and it is, beyond the moral implications, an old-fashioned tale of derring-do. But more than all this, the Cooper legend has become symbolic, and iconic, spawning even D B Cooper gatherings, hunters who have spent years scouring the woodland where Cooper was calculated to have jumped, and individuals who are convinced they know his real identity.
It is this latter group around which Dower’s feature revolves. He doesn’t claim to solve the mystery, although that may have been his initial motivation. Instead, he uses his footage to interrogate the phenomena of the believers: three individuals who are convinced that they knew the real D B Cooper ( a friend, an uncle, and a late husband). This feature is more about them than it is about Cooper himself.
Dower also touches briefly on the hijack phenomena (which was rife in the 60s and 70s) and on the sudden economic downswing of Seattle at the time, when Boeing pulled out of the city.
The Mystery of D B Cooper is bit wobbly in its intent: not entirely sure of where it’s going. But despite this, it is a fascinating watch, full of extraordinary ( and possibly deluded!) characters. It is also a nostalgic trip back to the “golden age” of plane travel, when you got a three course lunch, an ashtray, and bomb-laden hijacker with every ticket.
The Mystery of D B Cooper will be streaming on HBO and Binge from November 25th.