Checking In…

…on the Missing Persons File

Search parties still hunt for Amelia Earhart, who vanished on July 2, 1937. (NASM SI-85-14508~P)
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On the evening of November 24, 1971, a 40-something man paid cash for a one-way ticket from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle, Washington, aboard Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305, a Boeing 727. He told the ticket agent his name was Dan Cooper.

During the flight, Cooper told a flight attendant he had a bomb in his briefcase, which he would detonate if $200,000 in cash and four parachutes weren’t waiting at the Seattle airport. They were. After landing, Cooper allowed all passengers to be released. He told the flight crew to fly to Mexico City. Somewhere over southwestern Washington, Cooper jumped from the rear exit into below-freezing temperatures and a driving rain. He had left behind a J.C. Penney tie, a tie clip, and two parachutes.

In the following days, the Federal Bureau of Investigation had interviewed a D.B. Cooper, according to a Portland, Oregon wire service reporter, and though the man was eventually cleared, the Northwest hijacker was forever after known by that name. The question of what happened to Cooper and his bag of loot has become one of the FBI’s best-known unsolved cases.

In 1980, eight-year-old Brian Ingram found a bundle of tattered $20 bills totalling $5,800 buried along the banks of Washington’s Columbia River. The serial numbers identified the bills as part of the money Cooper had demanded.

In 2007, the FBI released new information, including a photograph of Cooper’s black tie, from which a DNA sample was obtained. Last year, an FBI agent unveiled a possible profile of Cooper as a loner who might have worked as a cargo loader in the U.S. Air Force (hence the familiarity with parachutes) before taking, and later losing, a job in the civil aviation industry. After 39 years, the FBI is still searching.

Diane Tedeschi


Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

In 1998, a bracelet bearing the name Antoine de Saint- Exupéry, along with the name of his wife, Consuelo, was fished out of the Mediterranean Sea. The French aviator and author had disappeared on July 31, 1944, while flying an F-5B, a reconnaissance version of a Lockheed P-38 Lightning. Two years after the bracelet was recovered, a diver located parts from an F-5B off Marseille. In April 2004, French authorities announced that the parts were indeed from Saint-Exupéry’s aircraft. But what had brought it down? Enemy fire? Though the fragments retrieved from the sea had no bullet holes, there were too few pieces to rule out a hit. German pilot Horst Rippert believes he likely shot down the F-5B, but his claim has not been verified. Was it suicide? Or simply an accident caused by the sometimes careless Saint-Exupéry?

Patricia Trenner

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