It's dirty and it's old, but a piece of cloth found in a Washington field might hold the key to solving one of the FBI's most enduring mysteries
On Nov. 24, 1971, an unassuming man wearing a business suit and appearing to be in his mid-40s allegedly hijacked and threatened to blow up a Northwest Orient Airlines plane traveling from Portland, Ore., to Seattle if he did not get four parachutes and a $200,000 ransom.
When the plane landed in Seattle, the suspect, known only as Dan Cooper or D.B. Cooper, allowed the passengers and two flight attendants off the plane, and the officials handed over the money, in $20 bills, and the parachutes.
According to the FBI, Cooper simply told the remaining crew to "fly to Mexico" after they took off from Seattle.
"Back in the early '70's, late '60's, hijackings weren't uncommon. The philosophy of the day was cooperate. Comply with his demands and we'll deal with it when the plane lands," said Larry Carr, an FBI special agent who manages the case out of the bureau's office in Seattle.
But no Cooper.
||In a daring getaway, Cooper jumped out of the speeding 727, thousands of feet over the Pacific Northwest, during a raging storm.
Cooper disappeared, and is still missing today, despite a massive manhunt.
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.
Countless suspects have emerged, but none have turned out to be the mystery man. 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.
Cooper's story became the stuff of lore, even a movie. Now, more than three decades later, the FBI has the possibility of a breakthrough.
Two weeks ago, two children discovered a parachute buried in the dirt, in a field approximately 100 miles south of Seattle. Investigators still need to excavate part of the chute's remains.
"It's the right color, it's the right size. It's definitely the right location, so the investigation will tell," said Carr.
He told ABC News he hopes the forensic tests on the chute will be completed this weekend.
He noted that parachutes buried in the middle of nowhere aren't something found very often, so the find could offer a big break in the case if it pans out.
But does the parachute belong to Cooper? Will they find his remains? Or is this a tantalizing clue that will again lead to disappointment? Stay tuned.
FROM DAILY HERALD
A tattered, half-buried parachute unearthed by kids had D.B. Cooper country chattering Wednesday over the fate of the skyjacker, who leaped from a plane 36 years ago and into the lore of the Pacific Northwest.
The parachute is about all most people in this neck of the southwestern Washington woods ever expected would be found as evidence of Cooper's daredevil escape attempt.
The children, responding to a publicity campaign, urged their father to call the FBI, Carr said, and when their find became public this week, it reignited talk of the region's favorite folk hero.
||"Hunters are all through here," Idy Gilbert said Wednesday as she served drinks at Nick's Bar and Grill. "They find lots of bodies up here all the time, people who are missing. They would have found some bones. All they found was a chute."
In November 1971, a man identifying himself as Dan Cooper, later mistakenly identified as D.B. Cooper, hijacked a Northwest Orient flight, claiming he had a bomb. He demanded and got $200,000, then jumped out the back of the plane somewhere near the Oregon line.
He may have landed around Amboy, not 30 miles from Portland, Ore. That's the same area where children playing outside their home recently found fabric sticking up from the ground where their father had been grading a road, FBI agent Larry Carr said Tuesday.
In Ariel, about 20 miles northwest of Amboy, the Ariel Store has an annual D.B. Cooper party.
Dona Elliot, owner of the store, said Wednesday she thinks Cooper hid out in brush and trees for an accomplice to take him to the airport in Portland, about 60 miles south.
"It's the perfect place; no one would have looked for him there," she said.
The T-shirt for this year's party will have a parachute theme, she said, even though she's skeptical that the artifact the kids found is Cooper's.
"It will be 37 years in November," she said. "There can't be too much left of that parachute."
The FBI doesn't want to excavate the property until it confirms, either through an expert's examination or scientific analysis of the fabric, whether the chute is the right kind.
If it is Cooper's parachute, that will solve one mystery -- where he apparently landed -- but it will raise another, Carr said.
In 1980, a family on a picnic found $5,880 of Cooper's money in a bag on a Columbia River beach, near Vancouver. Some investigators believed it might have been washed down to the beach by the Washougal River. But if Cooper landed near Amboy and stashed the money bag there, there's no way it could have naturally reached the Washougal.
"If this is D.B. Cooper's parachute, the money could not have arrived at its discovery location by natural means," Carr said. "That whole theory is out the window."
Retired FBI agent Ralph Himmelsbach, of Woodburn, Ore., who worked the Cooper case, said Wednesday he doubts the remnant found near Amboy could be the nylon parachute Cooper carried when he jumped into poor conditions over rough terrain.
"Lying in the mud, mostly wet, would not be the kind of environment that would be good for a parachute," he said, though he conceded he could offer few alternate explanations for how the chute got there.
Himmelsbach said his theory of the case hasn't changed.
"The night it happened, I thought he had a 50 percent chance," he said. "... It has gone down since then."
Locals prefer to think he made it."I think he's out there enjoying his money," Gilbert said. "Most people here say they think he made it. We may never know."
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