The mystery of the D.B. Cooper skyjacking draws enthusiasts from all over to Vancouver to discuss the case
Bill Mitchell was a college student at the University of Oregon who just wanted to take a short flight from Portland to Seattle to get back to family for Thanksgiving.
“Ended up, my 15 minutes of fame has lasted more than 50 years,” Mitchell said Friday morning in downtown Vancouver. “It’s been an adventure.”
Mitchell did not do much of anything on that flight. But he did sit by someone who would become famous, or infamous, depending on your point of view.
Mitchell, now living in Kent just outside of Seattle, sat across the aisle from the man we know as D.B. Cooper, the famous skyjacker.
That man was never found, never caught.
Mitchell is in Vancouver to speak at CooperCon, an annual convention that draws enthusiasts from all over the country to talk theories and discuss evidence of the only unsolved skyjacking in American history. The convention started Friday and will continue through the weekend at Kiggins Theater.
Eric Ulis, the organizer of the convention, said interest in the case ranges from those who are very serious about the subject to those with a passing interest. Many are still trying to solve the case. Others just love the story of D.B. Cooper.
All these years later, it remains crazy. The flight from Portland landed in Seattle, and the man known now as Cooper demanded money, parachutes, and that the crew take him to Reno, Nevada. Somewhere over Southwest Washington, he jumped out of the airplane with his parachute and the money.
No one has seen him since. Some of the money was found, but in a place that baffles investigators. Another piece of a very difficult puzzle.
“It’s one of those cases that is unique,” Ulis said. “First of all, it’s the only unsolved skyjacking in United States history. It’s 51 years now. That time frame, you had the late 60s, early 70s, Mad Men kind of component. Kind of a cool type of thing. The way the guy handled himself was kind of James Bond-esque in a way, which I think resonates to a certain degree.”
How cool was D.B. Cooper?
For one, passengers on the plane had no idea they were being hijacked.
Mitchell said he never spoke to Cooper. Mitchell noticed that Cooper was getting a lot of attention from a flight attendant, but that was it. (Cooper gave a note to a flight attendant during the trip to Seattle. The flight attendants never told the passengers that Cooper had threatened to use a bomb if his demands were not met.) The plane landed, the passengers were allowed to leave, but the crew was kept on board.
Mitchell has embraced his bit of fame.
“I do it for fun. I don’t get paid or anything. I don’t have an agenda,” he said. “I go to where people are nice. Eric is nice.”
Mitchell came to Ulis’ convention last year for the 50th anniversary of the skyjacking. He said he had a good time, so here he is again.
Friday’s sessions had a decent crowd, but Ulis expects a lot more enthusiasts for Saturday and Sunday.
There will be talks on the money found at Tena Bar on the Columbia River in 1980. There is a new lead, or new theory, on a person of interest that was released last week. That will be on the agenda. There will be discussion on the flight path and drop zone. Plus, a session on all the suspects through the years. And more.
Susan Anderson of Portland showed up Friday dressed as D.B. Cooper, with sunglasses and that black tie.
“It’s amazing that it’s still a mystery. Not a lot of mysteries in the world anymore,” Anderson said. “It’s awesome that it’s still a mystery.”
Kelly Gesterling and her 13-year-old daughter Maddie made it to Vancouver from Tampa, Fla., to take in the convention.
“My mom made me read a book on it, and then I did a project on it,” Maddie said.
CooperCon started in 2018. (There was no convention in 2020.) This is Gesterling’s first trip to the convention.
“Everybody is coming together,” Kelly Gesterling said. “Even with competing theories, everybody is learning … and pushing the case forward.”
Many enthusiasts believe the case will be solved one day.
“There are tantalizing clues that I think whet people’s appetite,” Ulis said.
“Fundamentally, the important thing to remember is that this is real. This is a real thing. This isn’t Bigfoot. This isn’t the Loch Ness Monster. A real guy did this on November 24, 1971. That plays a part in people’s psyche as well. They realize, ‘It’s real, it’s unsolved, and who knows, maybe I’m the guy who actually solves it.’”
CooperCon continues from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Kiggins Theater. For ticket information, go to: https://coopercon2022.com/