The Columbia Journalism Review says the mystery of how Dan Cooper’s name evolved into “D.B. Cooper” in the famous hijacking case has been solved.
On Thanksgiving eve 1971, a passenger who flew under the name Dan Cooper hijacked a Portland-to-Seattle flight, had it set down in Seattle long enough to refuel, pick up $200,000 in extorted funds and a parachute, release other passengers, and then took off again, supposedly for Mexico City. En route, he bailed out and was never seen again. The plane landed in Reno (“The night D.B. Cooper didn’t come to Reno,” RN&R, Dec. 4, 1996). Somehow, his name has come down to us as D.B. Cooper.
In The Dictionary of Misinformation (1975), Tom Burnam wrote that D.B. Cooper was a person whose whereabouts were checked during the investigation and who was in jail at the time of the hijacking. According to Burnam, D.B.’s name somehow was substituted for Dan’s.
CJR reports that now-decesased United Press International reporter Clyde Jabin used the “D.B.” in a story the day of the hijacking and that Oregon Journal reporter James Long blames himself for putting the term in Jabin’s ear during a phone conversation with poor audio during a Portland storm (“One mystery solved in ‘D.B. Cooper’ skyjacking fiasco,” CJR, July 22).
That doesn’t entirely explain it, though. Many journalists, such as Walter Cronkite on CBS, continued to use Dan well into the story.