On the day before Thanksgiving, November 24, 1971, an appropriately well-dressed man who was around six feet tall and thought to be in his mid-40s bought a $20 airplane ticket for Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305. The name he provided when he purchased the ticket was Dan Cooper, which would later prove to be an alias, and shortly before the aircraft took off, the nondescript man passed a flight attendant a note.

The note said in no uncertain terms that Cooper was carrying a bomb in his briefcase — a fact he was happy to substantiate by showing her its contents, which included red sticks, a battery, and a mess of wires. His demands were as simple as they were unusual: he wanted $200,000 in twenty-dollar bills (the equivalent of nearly $1.3 million in today’s money) and four parachutes. In order to meet his demands, the aircraft landed in Seattle, were Cooper allowed the 36 passengers on board the flight to disembark as other crew members brought his money and parachutes on board. He forced two pilots, a flight engineer, and one flight attendant to remain on the aircraft after it was refueled. He then gave the order to take off and head for Mexico City, adding the unusual demands that the pilot keep the aircraft under 10,000 feet and fly no faster than 200 knots.

Those unusual requests, the pilots surmised, were to make it safer for the hijacker to jump out of the plane, and at around 8:00 p.m., somewhere in the skies between Seattle and Reno, Nevada (likely in the vicinity of Ariel, Washington), Cooper lowered the rear stairwell and the pilots reported their ears popping as the cabin pressure shifted rapidly. Cooper, they realized, had opened the door and jumped out. No one would ever see the hijacker again.