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Several people have claimed to be the mysterious plane hijacker D.B. Cooper — including one Richard "Dick" Briggs.
The story is infamous: On Nov. 24, 1971, a man identifying himself as Dan Cooper bought a one-way ticket on Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305 from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington. Cooper, wearing dark sunglasses, a black necktie and a raincoat, took his seat, ordered a bourbon and soda, and slipped a flight attendant a note informing her he had a bomb in his briefcase, demanding $200,000 in twenty-dollar bills and four parachutes. Upon landing in Seattle, he got his ransom demands, let off the passengers and instructed the plane to take off once more, heading south toward Mexico. But that wasn't Cooper's getaway plan. Shortly after taking off a second time, while over a wooded area of Washington state along the Columbia River, the mystery man strapped on a parachute and jumped out with his newly acquired cash. No one ever saw him again.
The incident remains the only unsolved hijacking in American history — and that has meant the hijacker’s identity remains a source of wonder. (Incidentally, he was misidentified as "D.B. Cooper" in the early reporting of the incident and the moniker stuck.)
The new Netflix series “D.B. Cooper: Where Are You?!” explores several people that have been linked to the case, including Briggs.
At a party in Oregon in 1980, Briggs — then a drug courier — apparently not only claimed to be Cooper, but predicted that some of the money Cooper stole was about to be found, The Mercury News reported in 2017. Just five days later, along the coast of the Columbia River outside of Vancouver, Washington, a kid discovered $5,800 in cash. Investigators determined that the cash was, in fact, the money Cooper stole: serial numbers on the bills matched the money from the heist.
Briggs died the same year in a car crash.
Thomas Colbert, the filmmaker behind the 2016 History Channel docuseries "D.B. Cooper: Case Closed?" began looking into Briggs in 2011. He determined that Briggs couldn't have been Cooper because he didn't have the credentials that he believed a person likely would need to in order to pull off such a hijacking.
"Briggs was a party boy,” Colbert told The Mercury News. “He never went to Vietnam. He wasn’t a pilot.”
But a friend of Briggs did seemingly fit the profile. It was Colbert's eights months worth of research into Briggs that led him to focus on Robert Rackstraw.
Rackshaw had worked as a pilot, served as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army and was trained in explosives and psychological operations, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported in 2019. He was released from the military shortly after the hijacking in 1971 because of multiple incidents of misconduct. He was later arrested by American authorities while working as a pilot in Iran, after fleeing from charges of forging checks in his missing stepfather Phillip Rackstraw's name. He was charged with the murder of his stepfather after the man's body was found, but was acquitted in 1978. He was arrested in 1979 in California on charges of grand theft of an airplane, check fraud and possession of explosives, and he served a year in prison for check fraud.
In his docuseries, Colbert concluded that Rackstraw was Cooper. However, Rackstraw, who had actually previously claimed credit, denied being the hijacker. Rackstraw said those previous claims were just a stunt; his lawyer told the Arizona Republic in 2018 that he'd made it up to meet women. Additionally, the FBI looked into him as a potential suspect, but cleared him in the 1970s, according to the Associated Press.
Rackstraw died in 2019 in San Diego at age 75.
Meanwhile, the mystery of D.B. Cooper's true identity continues to enjoy its long life.
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