By Tim Binnall
For the first time in 48 years, a man who sat just a few feet away from D.B. Cooper during the infamous 1971 skyjacking caper is sharing his remarkable story with the media. Bill Mitchell recalled to the Seattle TV station KOMO that he was a sophomore at the University of Oregon when he stepped onto the plane for what he thought was going to be a routine trip from Portland to Seattle. And, initially, that appeared to be the case until the pilot announced that they were having some engine trouble and, as such, they had to "run out some fuel."
Unbeknownst to Mitchell and the other passengers, the plane's engine was perfectly fine and, in fact, the landing was delayed because authorities on the ground were scrambling to get the money that had been demanded by Cooper at some point during the journey. At the invitation of the pilot, all of the other people on board the flight moved up to the front of the plane except for Mitchell and Cooper, who remained seated in the back. According to him, the skyjacker was situated on the opposite side of the aisle from him in the rear of the airliner.
Amusingly, Mitchell says that he only thought something was amiss when the flight attendant sat down next to Cooper, which bruised his ego, since the woman was paying more attention to "this older guy with a suit" and not him. "She wouldn't make any eye contact or anything," he explained. Eventually, the plane landed in Seattle and the passengers departed the aircraft, which subsequently took to the skies once again with only Cooper and the crew on board. Upon receiving the money that had been delivered when the plane stopped, the skyjacker parachuted from the airliner and was never found, spawning a mystery which has lasted for nearly a half-century.
Alas, since none of the passengers were aware of what was unfolding at the time, they didn't make any particular effort to observe Cooper. That said, Mitchell and others aboard the flight contributed what little they did remember of the man to help form the FBI's iconic drawing of the skyjacker. As for why he remained silent for so long, Mitchell explained that authorities cautioned him that Cooper was "out there and you're one of the primary witnesses." However, with so much time having passed since the skyjacking, the witness says that he now feels safe to tell his story and even showed off his plane ticket from the legendary flight.