Watch Of The Week: Db Cooper Where Are You?!
The Netflix series DB Cooper: Where Are You?! begins straightforwardly by simply recounting the astonishing events of 24 November 1971 when, on a Northwest Orient flight from Portland to Seattle that would ordinarily have lasted only 37 minutes, a passenger in sunglasses and (it would later turn out) a clip-on tie, handed an air stewardess a note informing her of a bomb in his suitcase. Soon after this, he made his demands: $200,000 in cash and four parachutes. The latter was a particularly clever ask. Had he required only one, the authorities on the ground might have been tempted to indulge in sabotage; as it was, they could not take the risk that he would put members of the plane’s crew in the other three.
The plane landed, the passengers filed off, and the money and the parachutes were put on board. By now, it was dark and stormy. The plane having taken off again, the hijacker asked the pilot to fly at only 200mph an hour and as low as possible. The crew were all in the cockpit when they felt the pressure in the cabin change. The hijacker had jumped, taking his money with him. Where had he landed? No one quite knew. Had he died, or had he escaped? Again, no one has ever been able to answer this question. A body has never been found, nor has a parachute. Quite quickly, however, DB Cooper (a false name) became a folk hero.
With its Mad Men-style titles and its lavish use of old airline ads, the first episode takes you back to the days when flying was still inexplicably glamorous. How strange to think of an airport without metal detectors, of buying a plane ticket on the spot, much as you would one for the Tube or a train. It’s quite gripping, too, when various crazy theories are offered up. There are so many suspects. Everyone has their favourite. Could Robert Rackstraw, a Vietnam veteran and convicted fraudster, have been Cooper? What motivated the hijacker? Can it really only have been the money? As someone notes, the cash wasn’t even enough to “buy an Arby’s franchise”.
But then – things take a turn. The second half of the series is about the madness that comes from an obsession with an unsolved mystery like this one. So far, Tom Colbert, a former TV journalist, has spent on his investigation as much money as the hijacker got away with – a trail that has convinced him of FBI involvement in the case (he sued the organisation at one point).
But Colbert isn’t the only one. Several others, pale-faced and smiling, perform for the camera, trying hard to make light of their “work” – honestly, they’re not obsessed; they just want to know the truth – while visibly twitching at the thought of theories that contradict their own. DB Cooper, if by some miracle he is still alive, must be laughing his head off. I picture him dancing in delighted, victorious circles in front of his TV screen, waving an old toupee like a flag as he goes.