An amateur crime historian has begun a two-day search along Washington’s Columbia River, close to a spot where notorious skyjacker DB Cooper is believed by some to have buried wads of cash after parachuting out of the back of a Boeing 727 half a century ago.
Eric Ulis began the dig to looking for a parachute and briefcase on Friday, working under the theory that Cooper could have buried the items close to where $6,000 of Cooper’s $200,000 skyjack ransom was discovered in 1980.
Five years ago, the FBI closed the case on a man who, in November 1971, was in his mid-40s, dressed in a suit and tie and identified himself as Dan Cooper to airline check-in clerks. He then boarded a Northwest Orient Airlines jetliner between Portland and Seattle, ordered a bourbon and soda, and handed a note to a flight attendant claiming he had a bomb in his briefcase.
“Miss, I have a bomb and would like you to sit by me,” the note said.
After picking up $200,000 in cash and four parachutes in Seattle, Cooper let the passengers deplane and ordered the aircraft to take off again and set off in the direction of Reno, Nevada. At the low height of 10,000 ft somewhere over south-western Washington, Cooper lowered the aircraft’s rear stairs and jumped.
The FBI said that after 45 years on the case, its crime-fighting resources would be better used elsewhere. But the case remains deeply imbedded in American crime mythology.
Ulis believes that the FBI never searched the area around where the cash was found, and that Cooper may have buried the parachutes, an attache case and the money at the same time, but dug smaller holes instead of one much bigger hole.
The dig, which is being streamed live on a DB Cooper Facebook page, will cover a 600 sq ft area about 20-50 ft away from where the $6,000 was found.
Among Ulis’s theories is that investigators may have been searching for Cooper’s drop zone in the wrong position because the FBI was given flawed information about the hijacked plane’s path – instead using the route of the trailing US Air Force interceptors who had trouble flying as slowly as the airliner.
“This flaw led to an incorrect FBI search area that explains why nothing has ever found in the search area – a fact that would appear to be highly unlikely if Cooper had actually landed in the search zone,” Ulis wrote on his website recently.
“In totality, this theory ultimately explains how DB Cooper managed to avoid capture. Simply put, the authorities were looking in the wrong area,” Ulis added.
If that ever proves true, it will be an embarrassment for the FBI. Initially, investigators believed Cooper must have been an experienced skydiver. But after years with no new clues turning up, agents came to believe Cooper probably did not survive the jump.
“During the course of the 45-year NORJAK investigation, the FBI exhaustively reviewed all credible leads, coordinated between multiple field offices to conduct searches, collected all available evidence, and interviewed all identified witnesses,” the FBI said in 2016, using an abbreviation of the phrase “Northwest hijacking”.
The FBI’s latest statement said “although the FBI appreciated the immense number of tips provided by members of the public, none to date have resulted in a definitive identification of the hijacker. The tips have conveyed plausible theories, descriptive information about individuals potentially matching the hijacker, and anecdotes – to include accounts of sudden, unexplained wealth.”
Whether or not Ulis’s search turns up anything of interest, many still have doubts that Cooper could have survived the jump or certainly that it was something anyone with knowledge of sky-diving would have attempted.
FBI special agent Larry Carr once put it bluntly: “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.”
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