- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2011

The FBI is investigating a “promising lead” in the nearly 40-year-old case of D.B. Cooper, who hijacked a passenger jet and then escaped with a $200,000 ransom by parachuting over the Pacific Northwest.

The bureau is trying to determine if there is physical evidence to link a new suspect to the hijacker, whose fate and identity have remained a mystery. Agents are hoping to match fingerprints from the now deceased suspect with those found on items left behind by the hijacker.

An FBI spokesman said the bureau was still looking at a number of viable leads in the case but that this one was “the most interesting.”

“This is the one we are most excited about,” said Agent Frederick Gutt, spokesman for the FBI field office in Seattle, which is conducting the investigation. He cautioned that the FBI was not on the brink of solving the case, saying more work needs to be done.

Mr. Gutt said that about a year ago, a retired law enforcement official directed FBI agents to a “credible” source who pointed them to a potential suspect they had not known about earlier.

“The source believes the suspect was the hijacker but he was not in a position to know, ” said Mr. Gutt. “That is where physical evidence will come in.”

Mr. Gutt said the source’s information points to the deceased suspect but it still remains to be proven whether he was the hijacker or a victim of coincidence. He said the source had been “a close associate of the suspect” both before and after the hijacking and that agents were able to corroborate some of what the source told them.

He said the source lead them to other people who knew the suspect and had items the suspect may have touched.

Mr. Gutt said agents are in the process of trying to see if they can match fingerprints from items the suspect touched on the ground with the prints left by D.B. Cooper on the plane. He said the agents did not get any good prints off the first item, a guitar strap that was sent to the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Va., but have other items to test.

“Physical evidence may or may not yield results,” he said. “At the end of the day, it would be nice to make a physical connection.”

Mr. Gutt said the case was “a low priority” for both the agents and the laboratory because the suspect is dead.

This latest development in the case was first reported by The Telegraph, a newspaper in London.

The case remains the only unsolved airline hijacking in U.S. history.

The man who called himself Dan Cooper hijacked a Northwest Orient Airlines flight headed from Portland, Ore., to Seattle on Nov. 24, 1971, after giving a stewardess a note saying he had a bomb in his briefcase. He demanded $200,000 and two main back parachutes and two emergency chest parachutes.

He released the passengers in Seattle in exchange for the cash - 10,000 $20 bills - and the parachutes. After ordering the crew to fly the aircraft to Mexico, Cooper lowered the 727’s aft stairs and jumped out of the plane with the money at 10,000 feet altitude somewhere between southern Washington state and just north of Portland, Ore., never to be seen again.

An 18-day search of the projected drop area yielded no body, parachute or cash.

In 1980, Brian Ingram, then 8, found some of the money, $5,800 in decaying $20 bills on the banks of the Columbia River but there has been no trace of Cooper.

Over the years, the FBI has run down thousands of leads.

In addition to the latest suspect, Mr. Gutt said the FBI are actively investigating a number of leads including some whose names have been public and some whose names have not come out. He said if the bureau can match the fingerprints of the latest suspect to D.B. Cooper, it would be “pretty corroborative” that he was the hijacker.

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