- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2008

The FBI does not think notorious hijacker D.B. Cooper survived his parachute jump from a commandeered jetliner over the Pacific Northwest with $200,000 in cash, but the newest agent to head the 36-year-old case would like to know for sure.

“Diving into the wilderness without a plan, without the right equipment, in such terrible conditions, he probably never even got his chute open,” says agent Larry Carr in Seattle, echoing a long line of both professional and amateur sleuths who have been captivated by the much-publicized stunt since November 1971.

Mr. Carr and the FBI are not yet ready to give up the hunt for the elusive thief who called himself both Dan Cooper and D.B. Cooper and, once again, are asking the public for help in the agency’s “Norjak” investigation.

“On a cold November night 36 years ago, in the driving wind and rain, somewhere between southern Washington state and just north of Portland, Oregon, a man calling himself Dan Cooper parachuted out of a plane he’d just hijacked clutching a bag filled with $200,000 in stolen cash,” the FBI said.

“Who was Cooper? Did he survive the jump? And what happened to the loot, only a small part of which has ever surfaced? It’s a mystery, frankly. We’ve run down thousands of leads and considered all sorts of scenarios. Would we still like to get our man? Absolutely … and you can help.”

Evidence released for the first time by the bureau includes pictures of the black J.C. Penney tie Cooper removed before jumping, which later was used for a DNA sample; a mother-of-pearl tie pin; some of the stolen $20 bills found by a young boy in 1980; one of the parachutes he left behind and the canvas bag it came in; and a map of the search area where the FBI thinks he landed.

Cooper hijacked a Northwest Orient Airlines flight headed from Portland to Seattle on Nov. 24, 1971, after threatening that he had a bomb in his briefcase.

The jet was on the ground in Portland when Cooper handed a note to flight attendant Florence Schaffner. Initially, the attendant thought he was giving her his phone number, so she slipped it unopened into her pocket, but Cooper told her, “Miss, you’d better look at that note. I have a bomb.”

Pilot William Scott then contacted Seattle-Tacoma air traffic control and was instructed to cooperate with the hijacker. Cooper demanded $200,000 and two main back chutes and two emergency chest chutes. He then gave the captain permission to fly to Seattle, where he released the passengers in exchange for the cash and the chutes.

Cooper ordered the flight crew to head toward Reno, Nev., at 170 knots and at an altitude of 10,000 feet.

Within minutes, Cooper had lowered the plane’s aft stairs and bailed out — never to be seen again. An 18-day search of the projected drop area yielded no body, parachute or cash.

No evidence has surfaced regarding his whereabouts since that day although, in late 1978, a placard with instructions on how to lower the aft stairs of the aircraft was found a few flying minutes north of Cooper’s projected drop zone. Two years later, Brian Ingram, then 8, found $5,800 in decaying $20 bills on the banks of the Columbia River.

“We originally thought Cooper was an experienced jumper, perhaps even a paratrooper,” said Mr. Carr, who usually is assigned to investigate bank robberies and was 4 when the hijacking occurred. “We concluded after a few years this was simply not true. No experienced parachutist would have jumped in the pitch-black night, in the rain, with a 200-mile-an-hour wind in his face, wearing loafers and a trench coat. It was simply too risky.”

There is a solid physical description of Cooper, provided by two flight attendants who spent the most time with him on the plane. They described him as 5-foot-10 to 6-foot tall, 170 to 180 pounds, in his mid-40s, with brown eyes.

If alive, the man known as D.B. Cooper would be in his 80s, and would have a heck of a story to tell.

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