It’s old and dirty, but a piece of cloth found in a Washington field might hold the key to solving one of the FBI’s most enduring mysteries. The FBI is analyzing a torn, tangled parachute buried the dirt and found by children in southwest Washington to determine whether it might have been used by famed plane hijacker D.B. Cooper, the agency said Tuesday.
What ever happened to DB Cooper? More than thirty years later clues are still being found. The tattered, half-buried parachute had Cooper country chattering Wednesday over the fate of the skyjacker, who leaped from a plane 36 years ago.
In 1980, the case was put in the spotlight once again, after a young boy found $5,800 in $20 bills from the ransom money decomposing along the banks of the Columbia River. In 2001, the FBI extracted a DNA sample from the J.C. Penney tie he was wearing on the flight and left behind before jumping, but that sample hasn’t matched up with anyone in the investigators’ sights.
The DB Cooper case (code-named “Norjak” by the FBI) remains an unsolved mystery. Traveling under the name Dan Cooper this man boarded a Boeing 727, Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305 flying from Portland International Airport to Seattle, Washington. He was described as being in his mid-forties, and between 5 feet 10 inches and 6 feet tall. He wore a black raincoat, loafers, a dark suit, a neatly pressed white collared shirt, a black necktie, black sunglasses and a mother-of-pearl tie pin.
He sat in the last row of the plane, seat 18-C, lit a cigarette, and ordered a bourbon and soda. The plane took off and he passed the stewardess a note. Florence Schaffner was 23, she dropped the man’s note in her purse, thinking, it was just another guy giving her his phone number. But this man was insistent. “Miss. You’d better look at that note. I have a bomb.” She looked at the man’s eyes. She saw that he was serious.
In the note he threatened to blow up the airplane if he did not get four parachutes and a $200,000 ransom. When the plane landed in Seattle, the suspect allowed the passengers and two flight attendants to get off the plane, and the officials handed over the money, in $20 bills, and the parachutes. He sat alone in the back of the plane near the aft stairs.
Later in the cockpit, the crew noticed a light flash indicating that the attempted to operate the back stairway door. The crew started to notice a change of air pressure in the cabin and that DB Cooper had lowered the aft stairs and jumped out of the plane never to be seen again. At the time Cooper jumped, the plane was flying through a heavy rainstorm, with no light source coming from the ground. Dead or alive, he has never been found.
Despite an 18-day search of the projected landing zone in 1971, no trace of DB Cooper or his parachute turned up. The FBI doubts he survived because conditions were poor that night and the terrain was rough, however few signs of his fate have been found.
There are no obvious markings on the discovered parachute to indicate whether it’s the type Cooper used, a Navy Backpack with a 26-foot canopy. As of this date the DB Cooper case remains the nation’s only unsolved hijacking.
On state Route 503, 10 miles east of the Interstate 5 Woodland exit, the Ariel Store and Tavern, near where many believe Cooper landed, throws an annual party in his honor on the anniversary of the jump.