Note: Some of you might not remember that DB Cooper was the name of the person who hijacked A NWA B-727 and parachuted out of the back with $200,000 ransom money!
Written by Bill Hoover:
Best to sit down with a nice drink while reading this. I welcome comments.
Well, here it is. I will state my case. As I said, I started this over fifteen years ago, and while I have a nice stack of files on this case, I have not gone into them in ages. That being said, I will be telling you some things as best that I remember them without digging up the files.
I fell from a ladder while trimming a tree a few years before my official age sixty retirement from Delta. That put me out on disability with a fractured spine and spinal fusion. When my age sixty rolled around in 2002, I officially retired. In retirement, I was on a website called PCN Death notices. This site sends out the passing of fellow Delta pilots.
The site was run by a lady named, Carol Faulkner. She and her husband were living in Arizona and both were retired from Delta. I think that Carol was from Human Resources. She still runs the notification site.
Well, one day, Carol sent out a death notice of a Delta pilot, a Donald B. Carter. She said that she had little background information of his passing, and further, she said that she could find no records of a Donald B. Carter being a pilot for Delta. Records did not show up at ALPA
either. I found that fascinating and could not imagine how a multi-billion dollar airline corporation could not have one of its pilots within its records. Carol did say that there was another Delta pilot, a Roy P. Sandness, who had the same birth date as this Donald B. Carter. She closed by asking if any of the pilots could supply any further information about either of these two individuals.
As I sat at my computer reading this, I noticed that Donald B. Carter had the same initials as DB Cooper. I was making no connection between the two people whatsoever, it was just something that came into my mind. I was trying to remember what entailed the DB Cooper event, and with nothing to do at that moment, I Googled DB Cooper hijacking and started to read. My reading included the police and FBI reports. As I went through those reports, I was shocked to see how many items of evidence, which a pilot would certainly have questioned, were totally overlooked by the FBI.I found it astounding.
I am going to mention here just a few of the items of evidence in the reports, and then you can make your own conclusions as we go further into this.
1. The hijacker checked into Portland Airport for a Northwest Airlines Boeing 727 flight to Seattle. He checked in under the name of Dan Cooper. Later at a press conference the FBI said that they were looking into a low life minor criminal in the Portland area with the name DB Cooper. The press ran with that and the name stuck until now. We will come back to the alias Dan Cooper later.
2. The man was middle age, had a tan, wore sunglasses, and wore a black tie with a white shirt. Several things stand out here. This hijacking took place in November in Portland. People in Portland do not have tans. People in Portland probably do not own sunglasses. This is not a Portland resident. This is somebody from the south. Who wears a coal black tie? An undertaker, a bus driver, an airline crew member. So, what does the FBI report say? Possibly he was a Mormon missionary.
3. Enroute to Seattle, he demanded $200,000 in cash and two parachutes. He had the plane circle until the parachutes and the cash had been gathered. He carried some kind of a wired device that he said was a bomb. As they circled, he pointed out McChord AFB and Takoma airports to the flight attendant. This guy was familiar with the area as viewed from the air. FBI report says possibly military.
4. The flight landed, all the passengers and all the flight attendants but one were allowed off the plane. The money was gathered along with the two parachutes. The hijacker asked that enough fuel be loaded to go to Mexico. He also wanted the pilots to take off with the aft stairs extended. Obviously, he had no intention to go to Mexico. When Northwest said that they would not allow the aft stairs to be down for takeoff, the hijacker responded that that was Ok, he would lower the stairs inflight. This guy knew his airplane. FBI report: maybe he was familiar with the 727 from Vietnam; maybe he was a disgruntled flight attendant. When the refueling was taking longer than usual, he commented on it. He knew his airplane and he knew how long a refueling should take.
But here is where his knowledge really stands out, he specified the route of flight, told the pilots what speed and what flap setting to use when enroute. He specified the altitude. This guy knows this particular plane well.
5. While on the ground in Seattle, the hijacker asked the cockpit to order "crew meals" to be brought to the aircraft. Notice, it is not a generic "food" or "sandwiches," but "crew meals" This is someone intimately familiar with airline jargon and "crew meals" availability.
6. After takeoff, the hijacker went to the back of the airplane,read the instructions for lowering the aft stairs, and lowered the stairs. I have more than a few thousand hours on the 727, and while I know where the handle is to lower the stairs, as a cockpit crewmember, I would have to read the instructions on the placard. A flight attendant most likely would not have to do that. While lowering the stairs, it became evident that the air stream was preventing the stairs from totally extending.He then called the cockpit on the cabin intercom, and told them to lower more flaps so he could lower the stairs. This guy knows his airplane. How easy would it be for someone not on the 727 to feel comfortable in making the required selections on the cabin intercom to connect to the cockpit?
In summary, I believe the evidence clearly indicates that this was not some ex-military guy who knew the 727 in Vietnam;this was not some random airline employee or some flight attendant. This was a fully qualified Boeing 727 pilot. And certainly, this was not a Mornom missionary.
Now, let's go back to that alias that he used to check in: Dan Cooper. The FBI did check that name out and they did come across the fact that a Dan Cooper was indeed a character in a European comic book. They should have followed that clue further. The character in the comic book, Dan Cooper, is a Canadian Air Force test pilot- remember that. This comic book was never published or sold in the United States. It was only sold in Europe and Canada. And, furthermore, this comic book was published in French. The FBI summary is that perhaps the hijacker was ex-US military and was familiar with the comic book while serving in Europe. This comic book was published by a well-known Belgian illustrator. Now, just for a moment, ask yourself, without help, how does a Belgian comic book illustrator come up with story-lines month after month about a Canadian Air Force Test Pilot? It stretches credibility that he did it on his own. Interestingly, the last issue before the hijacking involved Dan Cooper, Canadian Air Force Test Pilot, jumping out of a civilian airliner. Stick with me; this is all going to lead back to our Delta pilot.
Only one flight attendant remained on the plane the whole time. She was the last person to see the hijacker, and to see him when he jumped. Shortly after the hijacking, she entered a convent, and has never granted an interview or talked about this.
7. The hijacker jumped on a segment of the air route just north of Portland and near the Columbia River. The weather was IFR, but it would have been easy for him to define this point as the airway takes a very sharp bend at that point. If indeed he were a pilot, an old rusty Boy Scout compass would have indicated the point. He jumped at a point near the river called Tina Bar. The FBI summary said that this was a guy who had to have been totally comfortable in the wilderness. That is true. They also indicated that he was probably a "loner" as nobody reported a husband, son, friend, etc. missing after the hijacking. He had been gone for several days, and there seemed to be no family asking where he had been.
So much for the evidentiary material, let's get back to our Delta pilot.
I took the information that Carol Faulkner put out and did a search of Donald B. Carter, who did not appear on any Delta records, and this Roy P. Sandness, the guy with the same birthday. What I found was that indeed a Donald B. Carter had gone to court and affected a legal name change. Now, some people who are baptized Brunhilda or Torkel, may go tocourt to change a first name that they do not like, and after a divorce, an ex-wife may go back to her maiden name, but what motivates someone to go all the way from Donald B.Carter to Roy P. Sandness?
I tracked this Roy P. Sandness back to his place of death, it was either North or South Dakota, I can't remember. I read his obituary, and it said that he was being buried in Canada. I was actually able to go to the church website and see the tombstone. It reads: "Donald B. Carter/ Roy P. Sandness." They are one in the same. They are one and the same Delta pilot.
I then tried to trace this Donald B. Carter. He was raised north of Winnipeg on the edge of a huge National Forest. He had no father. He had a brother: Dan Carter. This Dan Carter was a test pilot for the Canadian Air Force and died in an airplane accident. Our Donald B. Carter was also a Canadian Air Force pilot. He hunted and fished, loved the outdoors, flew as a bush pilot. He would also have been familiar with the French comic book. He also would have been familiar with parachutes. He was a loner. He never married until after he retired from Delta.
This Donald B. Carter made his way across the U.S. border and went to work flying for Northeast Airlines in Boston. I have talked to a Northeast pilot who remembered him. He also had a girlfriend in Boston. She worked for Northeast. When we tried to interview her, she said that if it had anything to do with Donald B. Carter, she would not discuss it. Can you imagine that after all these years? Donald B. Carter eventually qualified as a captain on the Boeing 727 with Northeast. He subsequently went to Delta when Delta bought Northeast.
It appears that he was based in Atlanta, but there is also some information that he was also in Miami. Remember the guy with the tan and the sunglasses? Subsequent to the hijacking, he went to court and changed his name. He then went out on medical with Delta and later retired. FAA records show that, though he had no medical after leaving Delta, he bought a seaplane. Records also indicate that he had owned a seaplane in Canada years earlier, and at the time of the hijacking.
So, why and how did he do it. Except for the one package of money that has been found at Tina's Bar on the Columbia River, none of the money has ever turned up. The FBI had the serial numbers for each and every bill and all the banks were on alert. This was not done for the money. He was a
wealthy airline pilot, no kids, no family; he did not need the money. He did this to prove to himself that it could be done. One of the loose ends in all this is the comic book illustrator in Belgium. I just wonder if Donald B. Carter was not feeding him story lines. After all, his dead brother had been a Canadian Air Force Test pilot, and the comic book character's name was used to check in for the hijacked flight. I believe that Donald B. Carter never got over the death of his brother, and I believe he was the source of the comic book lines for the Belgian illustrator.
Regardless of how much we are at attention for our cockpit duties in flight, we all daydream somewhat. I think that Donald B. Carter did a lot of this. I think he daydreamed of how someone could hijack a civilian airliner and jump out of it. He knew exactly how the stairs operated. He knew exactly the flap settings and speeds. He knew the route that he wanted and the jump point.
I found some relatives of Donald B. Carter/Roy P. Sandness and interviewed them over the phone. They were very cooperative. I was upfront with them and said that I was wondering if their now Roy P. Sandness could be DB Cooper. They said they would not doubt it. They also told me that Donald B. Carter had a cabin on a lake in Canada just over the U.S. border near Seattle. They said that the cabin was only accessible via seaplane. They
said that nobody had been back to the cabin since Carter had died. And, there is the second loose end. A trip to that cabin may be in order. You just may find the parachute or even some money.
So, in summary, what do I think? I think that Donald B. Carter never got over the death of his brother. I think he was the source for the comic book story lines for the Belgian illustrator. I think he had spent a lot of time planning this hijacking. I think he was totally familiar with the Boeing 727. I think he probably flew from his cabin in Canada down to the Portland area and landed and tied up the airplane somewhere on the Columbia River. He then got on the hijacked flight and carried out exactly what he had imagined would be necessary to accomplish the feat. He did not do this for the money. This was something mental. He exceeded the boundary of what he had only been imagining and tried to put it into reality. He was totally comfortable in the wilderness. He was familiar with parachutes. He would have owned a black tie. He was based in Miami at the time and
would have had a tan and owned sunglasses. He was a loner and nobody would have reported him missing or asked where he had been. I believe that after the jump, he made his way back to the seaplane on the Columbia River and flew back to his cabin on the Canadian Lake. I believe the single pack of
money found near Tina Bar years later was something that he accidentally dropped.
When he first went to Delta, Delta was not flying to Portland, so he did not have to show up in that airport where someone might recognize him. However, later on, Delta did start service to Portland, and I think at this point it became a risk if he were to return to that airport and be recognized. It is at this point that he goes out on medical, changes his name, and disappears from Delta records.
That's it. I hope you enjoyed the read.