Flying For Thanksgiving? Remembering The World's Most Famous Thanksgiving Criminal

Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, is one of the busiest travel days of the year. If you're flying, the indignities of modern-day air travel, with its hub travel insanity, long lines, crowds and delays are all numbing. If you think your turkey-day air travel experience is unpleasant, let's pause to recall the most famous Thanksgiving air travel crime of all time.

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On November 24, 1971, at the Portland International Airport, a man calling himself Dan Cooper boarded a Northwest Orient Airlines Boeing 727 headed for Seattle. Cooper travelled with a bit of class. He sported a dark business suit, crisply pressed white shirt and black tie. He lit up a cigarette (how times have changed) and ordered a stiff drink. Shortly after take-off Cooper passed a note to the flight attendant. The attendant thought Cooper was trying to pick her up and ignored the note. Cooper was flirting, alright, but flirting with disaster--it was a ransom and hijacking note demanding $200,000 in cash. Cooper, fashioning a typical businessman's briefcase, said he had a bomb.

Cooper's demands caused the plane and its Thanksgiving-eve travelers to circle the Puget Sound for what seemed an interminable two hours while airline and law enforcement scrambled to meet Cooper's demands. The plane landed in Seattle and re-fueled and airline officials got Cooper his money. The plane took off again with Cooper and the pilots on-board, following Cooper's explicit re-routing demands. One of Cooper's demands was that he be given emergency parachutes equipped on-board.

Two air force F-106 fighter jets scrambled to follow the 727 as it took off again. At about 8:15 pm, somewhere over southwest Washington, and not far from Mt. St. Helens, Cooper leaped out of the rear of the plane with a parachute and his $200,000 loot. He was never seen again. About a decade later an eight-year-old boy, on vacation with his family, stumbled onto about $5,600 of the marked bills given to Cooper--well-worn from their treacherous Thanksgiving-eve journey.

This Thanksgiving when relatives offer to "drop-in," think of Dan Cooper and the notorious unsolved holiday robbery.