DB Cooper Challenge

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In 1971 a man known only as DB Cooper hijacked a plane, demanding $200,000 cash and two parachutes. Once his demands had been met, he strapped on a parachute , the money and from the back stairs of a commercial Boeing 727 leapt into the night over the forests of Washington State, never to be seen again. For forty years Cooper sleuths have debated the facts of the case. Did he survive the parachute jump or die instantly on impact? Did he freeze to death in the deep woods or walk to the nearest road within minutes?  And how did he escape the area with hundreds of law enforcement officers after him?

In this series we answer two questions. Could he have made his escape? And if YOU were DB Cooper, could you have pulled off the crime? We recreate the situations Cooper would have faced, the tools that he had on hand, and watch what happens as our cast of “criminals” attempt to recreate the crime and outwit the authorities and maybe even DB too!

We take 4 intrepid men in their 40’s and one gutsy woman (one theory holds that Cooper was actually a woman who had a sex change). We put them in recreations of the Cooper skyjacking that require them not only to be cool under fire, but use their brains and cunning to compete against each other to overcome the odds and “pull off the crime”. The contestant who shows the most skill in successfully overcoming the obstacles wins the $200k that Cooper got away with.

Episode 1: The Jump

Cooper jumped from a 727 going 200 mph, at night wearing a suit and loafers. Cooper sleuths claim his shoes would have blown off in the air blast and he would have tumbled out of control almost instantly due to the 20 lbs sack of money tied to his waste. Others claim he could have pulled the rip cord while still on the stairs, yet other experts claim the shock of that would have killed him.  Yet another analysis of the type of parachute indicated a “hard pull” that would have prevented Cooper from ever opening the chute.  We take our Cooper look a likes into a skydiving wind tunnel to test their ability to pull the ripcord, maintain free fall and deal with the bag of money. Using stunt man rigging we simulate the shock of yanking Cooper off the stairs and see how our band of criminals fairs through the trial. In the wrap up our commentator confers with experts and our Coopers to decide what worked and what didn’t.

Episode 2: The Disguise

Was Cooper a man or a woman? Was he swarthy or had makeup on? Did he use contacts to color his eyes? What else was he carrying besides the briefcase that we couldn’t see? In this show we let our Coopers go into a used clothing store to buy the standard black suit, tie and raincoat that the skyjacker is iconically known by. We allow them to also buy whatever they think would be helpful to them, with the caveat that it has to be hidden under their clothes and not be detectable. As a test, we send them into public places to interact with sales people, counter clerks etc and then we go in later and ask for a “description of the perpetrator”. We see who did the best job on their disguise and how good/bad eyewitnesses really are. The hidden items come into play in later episodes when they are stranded in the woods.

Episode 3: Where is DB Cooper?

When Cooper jumped we know there was a cloud layer at 3000 feet at night in a light rain with 10 miles visibility. He would have floated out of this cloud layer and been able to look at the ground for several minutes and would have seen…….what? That is the big question that Cooper sleuths continue to debate. Could he see landmarks and knew where he was right away? Did he drop the flares he had in his brief case for indicator lights? Or did he descend into blackness until he crashed unknowingly into the ground. We simulate this decisive moment very accurately with our “criminals” blindfolded in a helicopter. At night, in a light rain, we fly them out over Coopers jump area and at 3000 feet remove their masks and give them several minutes to look around while the helicopter slowly descends to the woods. Some of the Coopers are allowed two way radios, as proposed by some of the theories, and are allowed to communicate with accomplices on the ground in an attempt to locate their position. Recapping, the participants discuss the problems and solutions to the situation. This is in preparation for the next episode, where they are actually stranded in the woods at night.

Episode 4: The Death Woods

Our now seasoned Cooper Criminals have their suits and raincoats, their hidden items, a three minute survey of the area at night but now find themselves alone with a parachute in the middle of a forest in November. Our camera crews follow each of then individually as they attempt to escape the woods or give up (and die) in frustration. We see if the hidden items really do make or break their individual escapes. Can you contact your partner over the walkie-talkie? Can you find a road in the night or do you wait until morning (when its easier to get caught)?  Can you build a fire in the rain or just burn the parachute? We ‘encourage’ all the participants to take different approaches to the problem to heighten the drama.

Episode 5: The Long Road Home Finally

Our cast of criminals now finds themselves somewhere in the state of Washington as the sun comes up. Many will have reached a road while others may be ‘dead’ in the woods. The last leg of this arduous adventure is making it to public transportation that will get you home WITHOUT getting caught. Here we let our cast go on their own, we follow them as they hitchhike, walk, bribe or bullshit their way out of the woods and to the nearest public transportation.  We give them 6k in cash to make it happen since Cooper we know lost at least 6k that was found on Tina Bar in 1980. Our well worn Coopers meet at “home” where the cast are met by the commentator and experts to recap the adventure and decide if Cooper made it or not.

The Cooper Case is a 40 year enduring mystery that has NEVER been recreated in real life. In the same way that a who-done-it puts the viewer in the roll of the investigator, for the first time this series allows the contestants to vicariously be the bad guy,1 using wits and knowledge to get away with the unsolved crime of the century. Cooper and his story have never been told like this and the format could easily extend to other historic criminal cases.