Northwest Airlines Flight 305 began as the most prosaic of milk runs. It started in Washington, D.C., at 8:30 a.m. last Wednesday, with scheduled stops at Minneapolis, Great Falls and Missoula, Mont., Portland, Spokane and finally Seattle. What happened en route rivaled Alfred Hitchcock's more baroque fantasies. In the most elaborate skyjacking ploy in the bizarre history of air piracy, an inconspicuous middle-aged traveler identified on the manifest as "D.B. Cooper" extorted $200,000 from the airline, and apparently foiled any plan of capture by parachuting to safety over southwest Washington State.
Whoever the latest air pirate is, he obviously had conceived his plan with a lapidary's attention to detail. Wearing dark glasses and a plain business suit, he boarded the Boeing 727 in Portland and took a seat at the rear. He did nothing to distinguish himself from the other 36 passengers aboarduntil he gave a stewardess a note stating his demands. "I thought he was trying to hustle me," said the stewardess, Florence Schaffner. "I stuffed the note in my purse, and he motioned that I should take it out and read it." He wanted, upon arrival at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, the sum of $200,000 and four parachutes. Recalls Passenger Richard Simmons: "I saw one stewardess answer a call, and her face dropped. She looked bewildered and gulped. I guess she learned what was happening then."
She certainly did. The hijacker showed her a briefcase that contained two red cylinders and a tangle of wire. He told her calmly that unless his demands were met he intended to blow up the airplane. She immediately relayed the demands to Captain William W. Scott, who in turn radioed Seattle ground control. Northwest President Donald W. Nyrop quickly issued orders to cooperate fully with the hijacker and "do whatever he demands." Airline officials were dispatched to round up the money, and a call went out for the four parachutes.
The 727 circled the Seattle airport until the hijacker was satisfied that the money and parachutes were ready. The plane then touched down at 5:40 p.m. Said Pilot Scott to the men in the control tower: "We will ask you to stay there until we get coordinated with our friend in the back."
Getting Antsy. Says Passenger Barbara Simmons: "It was really strange. When the plane landed, we sat there for 15 minutes, and nobody talked." As soon as the money and parachutes were brought aboard, the hijacker allowed the passengers and two of the stewardesses to disembark; however, he demanded that one of the girls, Tina Mucklow, remain on board as a hostage. The hijacker asked to be flown to Mexico. The crew explained that such a flight was out of their ship's range. At one point the impatient captain told the tower: "This guy is getting antsy." To underscore the point, the hijacker interrupted an attempt by a Federal Aviation Administration official to board the plane by snapping: "Let's get this show on the road!"