by Bruce A. Smtih
A 2-3 foot diameter “pilot” chute was discovered near Tina’s Bar in 1988, just one mile upstream from the money find, investigator Galen Cook has announced this week.
Although this information had been reported in a local newspaper at the time, it had never been carried by major media outlets and subsequently has gotten lost in 40 years worth of investigatory dust.
Nevertheless, Cook said that several different DB Cooper sources had recently provided bits of the pilot chute story, and he felt the 41st anniversary of the skyjacking was an ideal moment to re-release the information, updating its meaning with the weight of recent findings.
This disclosure is the second major piece of information the distinguished DB Cooper sleuth has delivered this week, and Cook’s announcement comes just days after he declared that two men had found shards of $20 bills at Tina’s Bar one month prior to Brian Ingram’s discovery $5,800 worth of skyjacking money in February, 1980.
The information concerning the pilot chute comes from several different sources. Cook said that Richard Tosaw is the primary focal point of the discovery, and that in 1988 a diving team he asssmebled – led by Curtis Rainey - had located the chute snagged on a “wing dam” about a mile upstream from Tina’s Bar.
Wing dams are wooden structures designed to trap sediment and slow the aggregation of soils in the river channel, much like a jetty or rock groin.
Richard Tosaw died in 2009, and Cook said that he discovered references to the pilot chute find recently in notes provided to him from the Tosaw family.
Pilot chutes, which are found on most parachutes, are a small canopy about 2-3 foot in diameter and are designed to pop out of a parachute bag when the rip cord is pulled. The pilot chute is spring-loaded, according to diving expert and DB Cooper aficionado Mark Metzler, and it helps pull the main parachute out of the container.
“All emergency bailout rigs, such as the ones provided to DB Cooper, would have a pilot chute,” Metzler said.
Cook says the pilot chute that Tosaw’s crew found was discovered in about 20 feet of water and mostly buried in river bottom mud. The pilot chute is about 2-3 feet in diameter and made of nylon, and it is reportedly constructed in a rugged fashion. It is currently in the possession of the Tosaw family.
Corroborating the Tosaw family notes is a DB Cooper expert known as “Georger” on the DropZone website, the most popular forum on the Internet exploring this intriguing case.
Cook says that “Georger” has recently sent him a November 23, 1988 clipping from a Vancouver, WA newspaper by Associated Press reporter Bob Bauman that describes the pilot chute find as presented in the notes provided by the Tosaw family. The newspaper account lists the specific location of the find as Caterpillar Island.
The newspaper report also states that the pilot chute was evaluated by Earl Cossey, the widely-known but controversial parachute rigger intimately associated with the DB Cooper case, and who allegedly provided Northwest Orient Airlines with the parachutes the skyjacker used in his getaway.
Cossey reportedly claimed that the pilot chute found by Tosaw was not one that would have been part of the chutes that he gave to NWO because the stitching and materials indicated it was from an earlier era.
Cook says that he has spoken recently with Cossey, who confirmed his prior opinion that the pilot chute was not part of the NB-8 or Pioneer “luxury type” parachutes that Cooper received.
It is not believed that Cooper cannabalized another back chute for its pilot canopy as both Cossey and a second individual, acrobatic pilot Norman Hayden, who both claim to have provided the chutes Cooper used, also report that they got their second, unused chutes back from the FBI.
In an associated development, Cook also says that he has received information supporting his announcement from last year regarding the “fiery object” phenomena. Specifically, Cook says that two more Vancouver residents now report seeing a burning object over their city’s sky at 8 pm on the night of the skyjacking. This buttresses Cook’s earlier claim that a “Janet” had seen a red, glowing object leave a low-flying jetliner the evening of November 24, 1971, and arc its way towards Tina’s Bar.
“Janet” further claims that she saw a ladder or stairway underneath the aircraft and possibly saw a man climbing down. Presumably this occurred as the plane flew overhead at 10,000 feet and through rain clouds.
This claim has been dubbed “the fiery object phenomenon” and has been widely derided, although Mr. Cook firmly believes “Janet’s” story despite its far-fetched nature. Now, however, her tale may have supporting evidence.
Cook feels that DB Cooper may have made an “escape kit” from the briefcase that contained his bomb, and that it included a neatly folded pilot chute which he deployed as he exited the aircraft. Cook also speculates that the briefcase may have held other items needed in Cooper’s jump, such as the knife that was used to cut shroud lines off one of the reserve chutes that were subsequently used to lash the money bag.
Cook wonders if the bomb in the briefcase was a fake explosive device, and the whole package was actually a collection of road flares that Cooper used to burn all of his evidence and-or provide some illumination of the landscape beneath him.
“I’ve talked with a number of military jumpers – commando types – and they all tell me that jumping at night in total darkness is very tricky,” Cook says. “They tell me that they drop flares routinely to see a silhouette of the ground – to see if they’re coming up on a building or a tree. They told me that anything, even a road flare, is better than nothing.”
Others support that perspective.
“But just dropping a flare is worthless,” Metzler told the Mountain News. “Using a canopy to give a flare some ‘hang-time’ is a smart move.”
What is indisputable is that Cooper’s briefcase and its contents have never been found, and the fate of these items is one of the enduring mysteries of the crime.
However, if any of these speculations are true the implications are enormous, as it means DB Cooper did not exit his aircraft over Washington and waited until he was above Oregon. This is in sharp contrast to the strongly held belief, especially by the FBI, that Cooper jumped much further north – over Ariel, Washington about 25 air miles north of Vancouver.
Another strange element of this case is that Galen worked extensively with Richard Tosaw – on the shores of Caterpillar Island and elsewhere from 2005 onward – even trudging in waders on the very wing dam that Tosaw had found the pilot chute almost twenty years before. Yet, Tosaw never mentioned the finding.
“Tosaw did not tell us everything he knew!” exclaimed Galen. Ironically, the Janet story also comes from an archival search of the deceased Cooper sleuth’s notes – long held under a similar veil of secrecy.
© 2012 Bruce A. Smith