What Was DB Cooper's Plan 'A'?
By: ERIC ULIS
A lot of time has been spent considering what happened the night of the DB Cooper skyjacking on November 24, 1971, especially after he jumped. However, it’s amazing to me how little thought has been expended trying to determine what DB Cooper’s “Plan A” was. More to the point, it is obvious to me that Cooper’s original plan was derailed and that he was left to implement an improvised plan, call it “Plan B.” That said, what did Plan A look like? What can Plan A tell us about the actually implemented Plan B?
My research strongly suggests that Cooper’s Plan A involved him jumping in the outskirts of Seattle. Of course, this did not happen because his timing was delayed by virtue of the ransom not showing up in the requested knapsack—but rather in an open-top bank bag—and the problems he experienced getting the airstairs to lower.
With all of this in mind, it is worthy to consider what his original Plan A looked like. If everything ran according to plan, what was supposed to happen in that case?
The reason this is important is that understanding what Cooper’s Plan A looked like may give us a better idea of what Cooper’s actually utilized Plan B looked like.
Specifically, I suspect the plan that Cooper utilized to escape the region undetected probably mirrored his original plan albeit one or two days delayed.
Based upon my knowledge of the case I have a theory of what DB Cooper’s Plan A looked like. It goes as follows:
I think it likely that DB Cooper started his day in Seattle. I believe he probably already had a motel room lined up, and a rental car. While Cooper was clearly familiar with the Seattle region, I do not believe that he lived there at the time of the skyjacking.
The benefit to starting the day in Seattle is that it gave Cooper some options. Specifically, if he had to abort the skyjacking attempt he could easily have disembarked in Seattle as a regular passenger and traveled back to his motel to regroup and try another day. Likewise if he pulled off the caper flawlessly it appears that he would have landed in the outskirts of Seattle, temporarily stashed the money and parachutes, worked his way back to his motel, changed his clothes, then got behind the wheel of his rental car and collected the stashed ransom, perhaps even the parachutes and attache case.
It is very important to remember that at this very early hour the authorities wouldn’t even know whether he was still on the jet because it was still flying slowly to Reno. Also, remember that there was no sketch or description for Cooper released at this time. This means Cooper would have had no worries about someone thinking he looked like the skyjacker because no one yet knew what Cooper looked like.
This is where things get interesting. What does Cooper do from this point—the point where he actually has the ransom in the trunk of his rental car?
To begin, I think he immediately leaves the area. The reason for this is because he had to understand that given his comments regarding the Seattle region the authorities were going to quickly start combing over the area to find him. Therefore, it makes no sense to stick around especially if he’s got a jump on the authorities while they’re still waiting for the jet to land in Reno.
In my mind, the plan that makes the most sense is to turn the rental car in at SeaTac and catch a red-eye flight out of town. Think about it, he could actually be boarding a flight in Seattle at the same time that the authorities are just realizing that he is no longer on the jet as it arrives in Reno.
In fact, if this were actually Cooper’s Plan A, it would also partially explain why he chose to skyjack the flight he did and why he was so concerned about things getting pulled together by 5PM and getting the “show on the road.” After all, he had a late night flight to catch.
With this in mind, I looked into red-eye flights out of Seattle. Sure enough, United Airlines had a non-stop red-eye flight to New York City during the 10PM hour. Thereby giving Cooper enough time to jump, land, get back to his motel, change clothes, check-out, retrieve the ransom, go to SeaTac, check his luggage and board the flight to NYC.
Of course, there is a fair amount of conjecture here but it makes sense. He had to be aware that he had several hours where he could have moved quite freely before a sketch was broadcast along with a description. The logical course of action is to leave the scene of the crime as quickly as possible.
That said, we know this didn’t happen. For reasons mentioned above, Cooper’s Plan A was replaced by Cooper’s Plan B. A plan that had him ultimately jumping much nearer to Vancouver, WA. However, the essence of his plan going forwad from that point was probably not to unlike his original Plan A. That is to say, Cooper likely stashed the money temporarily—Tena Bar comes to mind—and caught a Greyhound bus back to Seattle. He probably got some rest, changed his clothes, checked out of his motel, then drove himself to SeaTac to catch a flight out of town, albeit probably two-days delayed.