RENO, Nev. (UPI) -- A courteous middle-aged man disappeared, apparently by parachute, with a $200,000 ransom Wednesday night while a jetliner he hijacked was en route from Seattle to Reno.
As the plane reached Reno on a flight from Seattle, pilot William Scott was monitored reporting to the airport tower by radio that the hijacker "took leave of us somewhere between here and Seattle," becoming the first man to escape from a hijacked jetliner by parachute.
FBI agent Harold Campbell said that two of the four chutes the hijacker had been given in addition to the ransom were missing when the plane reached Reno and there was "no way he could have gotten off in Reno."
The man, described by Scott as "very courteous," flashed what he said was a bomb in making good his hijack, but Campbell declared it was not known if it was actually explosive.
A search was under way, Campbell said, between Seattle, Wash., and Reno, Nev., especially in the wilderness areas of Oregon.
Campbell declined to comment on reports that the hijacker was an experienced parachutist, possibly a firefighting smoke jumper.
The man was tentatively identified as a "D. B. Cooper." passengers reported he was "swarthy" and "very relaxed."
They also said he chatted amiably with a stewardess before handing her a note saying he was taking over the plane.
FBI agents with dogs unsuccessfully scoured the area around the Reno airport after the landing, moving through a residential community and a sagebrush wilderness.
The Northwest Airlines 727 jetliner with 43 aboard was hijacked on a flight from Portland, Ore. to Seattle. A stewardess saw "two red cylinders and wires" which the hijacker claimed was the bomb, the FBI said.
All the passengers and two stewardesses were permitted to disembark the plane at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport after he was given the money, the biggest ransom ever paid a hijacker.
Northwest Airlines said the money was collected from Seattle area banks. He was also given four parachutes, delivered by McChord Air Force Base near Seattle.
The Air Force sent aloft a jet fighter, a jet trainer, and a cargo plane with parachutists aboard to trail the airliner as it flew south. An Air Force spokesman said the pursuing planes may not have been able to see the hijacker jump from the jet because it was too low and too dark.
The hijacking began between Portland, Ore., and Seattle, Wash., when the hijacker handed a stewardess a note asking $200,000 ransom money. The plane.
Flight 305, originally took off from Washington, D.C., and made stops at Minneapolis, Minn.; Great Falls, Mont.; Missoula, Mont.; Spokane, Wash., and Portland.
The plane circled Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for nearly two hours while Northwest Airlines officials obtained the money and personnel cleared a section of the field.
The man told the pilot that everyone would be killed if his demands were not met.
The passengers described the man as "very relaxed" before the hijack which sent off so smoothly most people didn't know what had happened until the plane landed.
The plane took off from Seattle 8:37 p.m. Pacific Standard Time with a new load of fuel and flew slowly, about 180 knots per hour and at a low altitude on a flight plan that was to land him in Reno for refueling three hours later.
The jetliner landed in Reno after passing over Spokane, Wash., Portland, Red Bluff. Calif., and Sacramento, Calif.
Just before leaving the Seattle airport the Federal Aviation Administration told the pilot he could fly with no restrictions on altitude or direction.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Finegold, one of the passengers that disembarked in Seattle, told newsmen that the crew informed those aboard "there were some minor difficulties.
"Then we saw they were dumping gas, and I thought there was some landing gear problem. After we landed, I saw this gas truck drive up and I thought to myself, 'Why don't they get us off first?'"
He said he then saw a money bag being handed over "and I realized there had been a hijack."
Another passenger, Mrs. Richard Simmons, Seattle, said the stewardesses "kept wishing us a happy Thanksgiving and the crew kept us ignorant to avoid panic.
"We thought we were on our way to Vancouver after the plane passed over Seattle, and I thought, 'Oh, my gosh, either we're being hijacked or we got on the wrong plane.'"