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In contrast, Ralph Himmelsbach emphasizes Cooper’s criminality throughout his book: “Confident of the Bureau’s enormous capacity to investigate and solve crimes, I heard myself say: ‘Cooper, huh? Well, turkey, we’ll have you in the slammer before the Thanksgiving dinner goes in the oven'” (Himmelsbach and Worcester 32). Like Schaffner, Tina Mucklow was affected by the experience for years. Mucklow stopped speaking to the media not long after the hijacking and withdrew from public view, joining a Catholic convent in Oregon where she lived for twelve years before leaving the convent and changing her name as public fascination with the hijacking persisted.
When Flight 305 landed in Seattle after two hours in the air, steps had been taken by Northwest Airlines President Donald W. Nyrop to meet all of Cooper’s demands. In his book, Himmelsbach describes the scene at the Seattle airport from the F.B.I.’s perspective:
At 6:05 p.m., the Northwest Airlines courier car approached the aircraft. Cooper again informed the crew that no one was to come aboard and that the stewardess, Tina Mucklow, was to go to the car and get the money and the parachutes. It was quiet aboard the aircraft, where the passengers had been told they would be debarking in a few minutes.
But, when Tina returned to the aisle of the airplane carrying a sack, and then the parachutes, more than one passenger now guessed the nature of the delay.
After a quick check of the money bag, Cooper permitted the passengers to leave the plane. Flight Operation at SEA–TAC was stopped as the passengers filed out of the front door of the plane, and walked down the runway. As the last of the passengers left the craft, a stewardess called out:
“Have a nice Thanksgiving!” (Himmelsbach and Worcester 30)
Only the flight crew, Cooper, and Tina Mucklow remained on the plane once all of the passengers had been released. With the parachutes and money aboard the plane, Cooper specified that “he wanted to go to Mexico City non–stop, that the aircraft configuration must be gear DOWN, flaps at 15 degrees, that the aft entry door must be open at all times, and that the aft stairs be extended after take–off” (F.B.I. Seattle). Cooper later “specified that the stairs must be fully extended before take–off” (F.B.I. Seattle). Cooper was informed that the plane couldn’t take off under those conditions, and that flying with the landing gear down at an altitude under 10,000 feet (which Cooper demanded) would require the plane to refuel before reaching Mexico City. According to the F.B.I. files, Reno was proposed as the potential refueling stop, and Cooper “agreed to this without much, if any, objection” (F.B.I. Seattle).
The plane lifted off in darkness from Seattle, and Tina Mucklow and Cooper were alone in the cabin of the plane. Cloud cover and rain at 5,000 feet obscured any hint of the landscape. When they reached the desired altitude, Cooper told Mucklow to join the flight crew in the cockpit. Cooper also instructed Mucklow to close the privacy curtain that separated first class from the back of the plane. Mucklow did as instructed, locking the cockpit door once she entered. From the cockpit, the flight crew and Mucklow monitored Cooper’s opening of the aft door and his extending of the stairs. Himmelsbach places Cooper’s jump at 8:12 p.m., thirty minutes after the plane lifted off from Seattle:
Though the crew did not know for sure at the time, they were a few miles north of the Oregon border, flying over some of the most rugged terrain on the North American continent. A track of the airplane, kept by the FAA air controllers in Seattle, plotted the jet over Ariel, on the southern outreach of Mount St. Helens, a sleeping giant that was to make its own history nine years later. (Himmelsbach and Worcester 45)
The final image Tina Mucklow saw of D.B. Cooper when she drew the curtain closed before joining the flight crew in the cockpit was of him tying something by a cord around his waist. When the plane landed in Reno the only evidence that remained on the plane was two parachutes (one unopened, one unfolded with several of the cords cut free), a black clip–on tie, and a mother–of–pearl tie pin.
4. I Didn’t Expect to Have a Gun Drawn on Me
Videos of exuberant, athletic people—some with video cameras on their helmets, others spinning and doing stunts in air—played when the skydiving website loaded. I called the 1-800 number flashing on my computer screen, and the operator (whose chipper tone immediately conjured for me the image of a headset–adorned woman reading from a marketing script) took my information, processed my payment, and gave me the contact information for Sam—the proprietor of the skydiving business in Oregon that would be managing my jump.
When I called Sam, his voice conveyed anything but corporate slickness. He picked up on the fourth or fifth ring and said only, “Hello?” I asked him if this was the correct number of the skydiving business, and he said, “Yep, that’s the one.” Sam sounded like he was in his sixties. Static crackled on the line as he waited for me to speak. I told Sam that I would be coming to the Portland area from Florida for the Thanksgiving weekend. I confirmed that it was my first jump, and I asked him if there was anything I needed to know or to wear. Sam paused and then said loudly, “You got any of those adult diapers, any Depends?” When I asked him if I should also wear one over my head as a blindfold, he laughed. “We always take bets on whether the ladies are going to be moaners or screamers. Are you going to be one of those?” he asked. “Just give me a call when you get here on that Friday, and I’ll give you directions to the place.” The last thing he said before he hung up was, “We’ve got the best safety record in the business.”
On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, almost forty years to the day after D.B. Cooper’s jump, I arrived at 9:30 in the morning at a rural airport and sky–diving business fifty miles south of Portland. The sun was out, and there were few clouds in the sky. The temperature was in the low forties, but it was expected to climb to almost fifty — “A beautiful day to jump,” Sam had said the day before when I called him for directions. When I parked in the gravel driveway, two Rottweilers ran up to greet me.
“Well, you made it from Florida,” a short, round man called out affably as he walked from one of the buildings. The dogs sniffed me eagerly, and I asked Sam if they were friendly, and he said, “Yeah, yeah, they’re fine.” I introduced myself, and Sam said, “That’s what I figured. Come on in, and we’ll get you set up. You’ve got some paperwork to fill out, and I’ll be in there in a minute.” He pointed me to what looked like a remodeled barn that served as an office. Outside, four young adults (they looked to be between eighteen and twenty–five years old) stood next to the tailgate of a truck as they discussed the previous evening. A young woman said one of their friends was on the warpath to find a husband last night, and one of the young men nodded vigorously. The two young men were already wearing jumpsuits. When I greeted them, they acknowledged me and then went back to their conversation.
Inside the office, a wood–burning stove sat in the middle of the room. Insulation bags had been secured between the studs of the clapboard walls. When I sat at a round table near the door, a woman emerged from the back room with the release papers for me to sign. I assumed the woman was Sam’s wife. Thin, soft–spoken, and demure, she seemed to be the counterpoint to Sam’s gregariousness. She barely spoke to me except to point out the places where I needed to sign and initial the release papers. As I looked over the forms, Sam entered and sat down across from me and rubbed his hands together. “Alright,” he said. “So where you from in Florida?” I told him Pensacola, and he continued to rub his hands and said, “Okay.” I told him the old joke that Florida is more Southern the farther north you go, and he said, “Yep. Yep. That’s where the Naval Air Station is, right?” Sam was wearing an Airborne sweatshirt, and I asked him if he had learned to jump in the military. “Yep,” he said. I told Sam that my father was a marine in Vietnam, and Sam nodded approvingly. When he asked me what brought me to Oregon from Florida, I told him that I was planning to go to the D.B. Cooper party that night in Ariel, Washington. Sam smirked, and when I asked him if he knew anything about D.B. Cooper, he told me that the F.B.I. used to call him for years about Cooper.
“I ran the only skydiving business in the area at the time,” Sam said. “I knew every skydiver out there. The F.B.I. called me the day after the jump and asked me if I knew Dan Cooper. I said, ‘Hell, yes, he lives right up the road and jumps all the time,’ but the Dan Cooper I knew didn’t match their description.” Sam paused for a moment, formulating something. “Hey, do you know who Ralph Himmelsbach is?” I told Sam I wasn’t familiar with Himmelsbach, and Sam grinned. “Himmelsbach was the lead F.B.I. agent,” he said. “I used to give Himmelsbach a hard time. If you see him up there today, tell him you know me.”
I asked Sam if he knew D.B. Cooper, and he grinned and crossed his arms, then swiped the air with his hand and said, “No, no, I probably trained him, though. Just about every skydiver went through me back then.” I then asked Sam if he was D.B. Cooper, and he laughed loudly and said, “No, Cooper was a thin man.” I told Sam he looked pretty thin to me, and he rolled his eyes. The woman I assumed to be Sam’s wife emerged from the back room and collected my papers as Sam said, “Those F.B.I. guys couldn’t find their butts with both hands.”
“What are your political beliefs?” Sam asked me, and I told him that I didn’t feel comfortable telling him my political beliefs right before he threw me out of a plane. “In my view, you’ve got Republicans, Conservatives, Democrats, and Progressives,” Sam said. He tilted his head slightly forward, looked at me over the top of his glasses, and said, “‘Progressive’ is just another word for ‘Communist.'” There was a photograph on the wall of Sam with George H. W. Bush, and I asked Sam if he was the person who took the President skydiving on Bush’s eighty–fifth birthday. “No, that was great that he did that, though. This picture is from a dinner I went to because of the newspaper I used to run,” Sam said, but didn’t elaborate further.
“Let me tell you about the cops around here,” Sam said without prompting. “I figured out not long ago that several of them were pressuring these underage girls to have sex with them, and I hired a private investigator to follow the cops and run a sting on them. When the cops found out that I was the one who busted them, they started following me around town. One day, one of the cops pulled me over up there around the bend, and he asked me to step out of the car. When I did, he told me that I had better watch what I was doing, or I might find myself in the river. When he said that, I put my hand behind my back like this, like I had my pistol, and I said, ‘If you’re going to do it, do it now, because I’m going right to your supervisor when you get done with me.'”
As Sam told me this story, his wife emerged from the back room with my papers and told me that I had missed a few places where I needed to initial and sign. Sam continued acting out the scene while the woman, unfazed, carried my papers back into the other room after I made the corrections. I asked Sam what the concealed weapon permit laws were in Oregon, and he grinned, then reached into a pocket of his sweatpants and produced a small pistol in a holster. He turned the pistol back and forth a few times for my answer, before placing the pistol back in his pocket as Scott, carrying several small logs, entered through the front door.