Previously unpublished photos of D.B. Cooper jet discovered
Just in time for the 51st anniversary of the infamous hijacking of a Seattle-bound airliner on Thanksgiving Eve 1971, KIRO Newsradio announces the recent discovery of four previously unknown high-quality professional photographs of D.B. Cooper’s Boeing 727.
The 727 Cooper (or whoever he was) hijacked and then parachuted from was built by Boeing in Renton, Wash. in 1965. It changed hands a few times after leaving the Northwest Airlines fleet and then was ultimately scrapped in the 1980s – in what now seems like a missed opportunity to preserve an infamous crime scene or at least a chance to create one heckuva tourist attraction.
The photos were discovered by myself last month in the archives of the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) in St. Paul, Minn. I was conducting research for another project, taking advantage of a new service offered by MNHS whereby an archivist in Minnesota displays the contents of folders of archival materials (using a camera and remote-meeting software) while a client observes from anywhere with an internet connection.
A helpful archives employee named Colin Dunn carefully thumbed through and displayed a series of images from the MNHS collection. In a folder described as containing photos of aircraft belonging to Northwest Airlines, the tail number on a handsomely photographed Boeing 727 – ‘N467US’ – caught my eye because it looked familiar.
Dunn paused as, back home in Seattle, I said, “Hang on a minute!” and quickly typed “DB Cooper 727” into a search engine. Sure enough, up popped “N467US.”
It was an exciting moment of discovery in an otherwise uneventful – yet incredibly helpful –process of examining hundreds of archival items from afar (which, in the past, would’ve required a trip to the Twin Cities).
MNHS has an extensive collection of photos and documents related to Northwest Airlines, which was founded in Minnesota in 1926. The “Northwest Airlines” brand went away for good in 2010 following a merger with Delta.
The images of N467US are undated, black-and-white prints, and may have been taken before the hijacking, or sometime not too long after. There is no information on the backs of the photos, and MNHS has no other details about why the images were created; it’s unclear if they relate in any direct way to the November 1971 hijacking. The location pictured in the photos is the airport in Bismarck, N.D. Three images show the aircraft on the tarmac, and one shows it in flight, likely having just taken off.
One aspect of the 727 which Cooper took advantage of in his escape is shown clearly in two of the images: the aft staircase, which was unique to the Boeing jet, and which was used by Cooper to leave by parachute somewhere over southwest Washington 51 years ago.
In addition, the composition of the photographs – especially those which show the aircraft from inside a lounge or restaurant at the airport – indicates that these were likely shot by a talented photographer who knew how to make memorable images beyond just capturing the basics of the given scene.
KIRO Newsradio has reached out to the Bismarck Historical Society for help in dating the photos and perhaps identifying the photographer.
Meanwhile, Bruce Kitt is a retired Northwest Airlines employee who now runs the Northwest Airlines History Center in Minneapolis. He was interested to learn of the discovery of the images in his museum’s backyard but doesn’t believe they’ll change the narrative or affect the long-cold case of D.B. Cooper.
“There is only, I think, one photo of ‘467’ that’s famous, and that’s the nighttime shot taken at Sea-Tac … in the course of negotiations and the money delivery,” Kitt said by phone a few days ago, referencing the only known photo of the aircraft taken while the hijacking was in progress.
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That famous image was shot by now-retired Seattle Times photographer Bruce McKim (who KIRO Newsradio interviewed last year for the special program broadcast on the 50th anniversary) and appears in pretty much any book about the hijacking ever published.
“Any other photo you see of ‘467’ [is] ho-hum,” Kitt said.
Kitt said the Cooper jet was returned to regular service after the hijacking.
“It wasn’t marked afterward, ‘Hey, you’re flying on the plane that was hijacked,’” Kitt said, before wondering aloud if Northwest Airlines had ever considered doing such a thing.
“I’m sure they may have thought of that,” Kitt continued and then reconsidered. “But I’m sure somebody in PR and legal may have thought, ‘You know, let’s think. Let’s revisit that and talk about that a little more.’”
If you happen to be D.B. Cooper or anyone who can shed more light on these images, please reach out to me via my contact information below. In case the former is true, there’s likely still time to reveal your identity before Thanksgiving.
You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.