Robert Rackstraw a.k.a. D.B. Cooper

Robert Wesley “Bob” Rackstraw Sr. was a Army helicopter pilot with the First Cavalry in Vietnam, 1969-1970. For extraordinary heroism in combat he won two Distinguished Flying Crosses; for gallantry, the Silver Star.¬† Yet his commanders found his unauthorized ground and air missions with the CIA and Green Berets, and lying about attending two universities¬† to obtain a security clearance, as reasons to dismiss him from a secret aviation unit. After seven years in the military he was dishonorably discharged in 1971.

Five months later, angry and disillusioned, on November 24, 1971 Rackstraw bought a $20 ticket from Portland, Oregon to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport under the name Dan Cooper. He hijacked the Boeing 727, demanded and received four parachutes and $200,000 ransom, directed the plane to Mexico City, skydived from it somewhere over Northwest Washington, and disappeared.

The hijacking created international headlines. A mix-up in an early news report dubbed him D.B., and the name stuck. The FBI led a massive hunt for the mysterious highjacker and the sizable ransom, $1,500,000 in 2024 dollars.

The military records Medic first received from the National Personnel Records Center were incomplete.  A few photographs of Rackstraw, two nondescript pages from a 201 file, a military summary bereft of detail. A National Archives tech agreed to resubmit the records request. Three additional pages followed. Absent were evaluations, promotions, award citations, disciplinary actions, demotions, court-martial related material, the dishonorable discharge. Medic was advised these items may only be available to next of kin but to submit a written request, which is pending.

Volumes have been written about the search for D.B. Cooper. Briefly, after Racktraw’s plane heist and successful escape, he amassed a string of felonies and spent time in prison. Local authorities who suspected him of the highjacking contacted the FBI, who cleared Rackstraw as a suspect.

In the 1980s and 90s, Rackstraw became a UC law instructor and arbitration expert. Decades passed as the FBI pursued but could not identify or capture D.B. Cooper. In 2016 the bureau declared its nearly 50 year effort to apprehend the hijacker closed. Undeterred, an elite group of private citizens began an independent pursuit. Their diligent team work revealed the true identity of D.B. Cooper.

Rackstraw died a free man in 2019, coyly never admitting that he was D.B. Cooper. Only $5,800 of the $200,000 ransom money was recovered.