EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - A key player in the 1971 D.B. Cooper hijacking, Northwest Airlines Capt. William Rataczak, has retired.
Rataczak, who retired Monday after 34 years with Northwest Airlines, was the co-pilot during the hijacking.
Cooper captivated the nation when he ransomed a plane for $200,000 and then parachuted out the back over Washington state.
He was never seen again, but $5,800 of the ransom was found along the Columbia River in 1980. The hijacking has inspired books, a movie, annual festivals and a play by local playwright John Orlock.
Rataczak, who lives in South Haven, had been flying commercially only six years when a man calling himself Dan Cooper - the "D.B." came from a reporter's mistake and remains today - boarded Rataczak's Boeing 727 in Portland, Ore., with 36 other passengers.
Cooper gave a flight attendant a note that said he had a bomb.
"He wanted $200,000 and four parachutes," Rataczak said. "And no funny stuff."
The plane circled above the Seattle airport while police raced to get the money and parachutes. When it landed, Cooper freed the passengers and two flight attendants in return for the ransom.
Rataczak said he, the other pilot, a flight engineer and the remaining two attendants could have left the plane, too, because they were out of Cooper's sight. But Rataczak said he couldn't get the flight attendants' attention.
Cooper ordered Rataczak and pilot William Scott to fly to Mexico.
Shortly after takeoff, Cooper jumped from the rear stairs at 10,000 feet, going 196 miles per hour, about 20 miles north of Portland. He wore only a business suit with loafers, and he plummeted into stormy weather with a windchill of 70 below zero.
An FBI manhunt found no trace of Cooper, and the myth surrounding the hijacking gained momentum. Hundreds of people who attend annual festivals in Ariel, Wash., think Cooper escaped with his money and is alive and well today.