As the 40th Anniversary of the DB Cooper skyjacking approaches, both celebratory plans and investigatory efforts are intensifying.
DB Cooper, the famed hijacker, jumped out of his Northwest Orient airliner with $200,000 tethered to his waist the night before Thanksgiving Day in 1971.
A festival commemorating the event, known as Cooper Daze, is held annually on the Saturday following Thanksgiving Day at the Ariel Tavern, the central point in the FBI’s ground search for Cooper. This year Cooper sleuths expect a record turn-out, fueled in part by a corresponding symposium on the skyjacking hosted by noted Cooper author Geoffrey Gray.
At the same time, however, a number of investigatory issues are bubbling over with controversy, dispute and hard feelings.
To begin, the recent revelations concerning ownership of the back parachutes delivered to Cooper are causing a ruckus.
Although some say that the issue is a tempest in a teapot, the statements of Earl Cossey – long believed to be the owner of the parachutes, but now somewhat discredited with the release of long-forgotten FBI documents – cast a harsh light on the FBI’s conduct of the case and an apparent lack of diligence. Further, Cossey’s strongly held opinion that DB Cooper was an inexperienced skydiver and most probably died in the jump due to a “no-pull” on the ripcord, seems to have influenced the Bureau’s perspective on Cooper’s skills. Once considered a master criminal, the FBI now considers Cooper little more than an inexperienced jerk who got himself killed and wasted a lot of taxpayers’ dollars.
According to Ayn Dietrich, the spokesperson for the FBI on DB Cooper during a November 1 interview, the case is “still open, but inactive.”
Due to the case’s “open status” however, Ms. Dietrich says she needs to follow new edicts from the Department of Justice and so is unable to comment substantively on investigatory matters. Conversely though, since the case is “inactive” the Bureau is unable to allocate significant resources to it.
Nevertheless, what about the parachute-ownership question?
Ms. Dietrich didn’t weigh-in on this one, and apparently Mr. Cossey has won the first round in a War of Words that has developed over the issue.
In an effort to learn the truth of this matter the Mountain News recently contacted Mr. Cossey to ascertain who owns what, and can the second, “not-used-by DB Cooper” parachute be examined if, in fact, Mr. Cossey still has possession of it.
However Coss, as he prefers to be called, slammed down the phone on this reporter, but not before making a prolonged statement:
“You’re the worst guy – the worst reporter – I’ve ever had to deal with in forty years,” Coss said. “I’m not talking with you!”
Yet, he continued.
“Everything you’ve written is all f*****d-up. You say there was a square, sport parachute. There was no square chute. I’ve told you over and over there was no square chute.”
Nevertheless, Mr. Cossey has steadfastly described the second, “not-used” parachute as a “sports” rig, which is often thought by casual observers to be a rectangular, or square, parachute, and steerable – making it a top-notch choice. Cossey has long maintained that since Cooper did not choose this “Cadillac” of a parachute and instead jumped with the “beat-up VW” of an old, non-steerable, military rig known as an NB-8, Cooper was clearly not a skilled skydiver.
“I’ve read your stuff on the Internet,” Cossey challenged. “Are you laying a trap for me?…Or are you just trying to build-up your little newspaper?”
By contrast, the owner specified in the FBI documents, Norman Hayden, has been cooperative and a consummate gentleman. He has invited the Mountain News and an observer to inspect the “not-used” chute, which was returned to him by the FBI several years after the skyjacking.
Mr. Cossey disputes Hayden’s claim and has done so in explicit, vulgar terms.
As this debate heats up, though, Mr. Hayden wishes to have no part of the mud-slinging that has begun, and Hayden has informed the Mountain News that he will not involve himself or his parachute in any further investigations, such as inviting the Mountain News to return and inspect the canopy that lies within his Pioneer parachute container.
In addition, Mr. Hayden will not allow his parachute rig to be examined microscopically for unique “titanium sponge” metal shards that have been recently discovered on DB Cooper’s tie by an independent group of investigators known as the Citizens Research Team (CRT).
Hayden is resolute.
“DB Cooper has been a mystery for forty years,” Mr. Hayden told the Mountain News today, “and now, I’m going to let the parachute be part of that mystery. I’m okay with that…I know the truth of it…I don’t want my name in print, associated with what is being said about me…I’ve never had to experience that kind of thing in my life, before.”
A report on the initial interview with Mr. Hayden and the examination of his parachute can be found on the Mountain News. (See DB Cooper stories).
Nevertheless, the citizen sleuths have found some remarkable new evidence.
The CRT was originally founded in 2007 by the then-Cooper case officer, FBI Special Agent Larry Carr. This small crew, headed by archeologist Tom Kaye, was allowed by Carr to have unprecedented access to the Cooper evidence.
Further, current Cooper case agent, Curtis Eng, has also authorized the citizen sleuths additional access, and the CRT released its findings in October, 2011.
The titanium sponge that has been found is a “rare” substance and Kaye says that in 1971 only a handful of metal-working shops would handle such a pure form of titanium. Thus the number of individuals who would have shards of it on their tie would be relatively few.
Kaye had told some investigators that he would like to take metallurgical samples from Mr. Hayden’s rig, but inexplicably Mr. Kaye did not respond to email invitations from the Mountain News prior to Mr. Hayden’s announcement, today. Now, the prospect of obtaining any evidentiary samples seems remote.
Mr. Kaye had suggested that he would be able to gather samples at the upcoming DB Cooper symposium in Portland prior to the Ariel festival.
The symposium is touched beyond Hayden’s rebuff by the parachute controversy .
The symposium is being organized by author and Cooper investigatory Geoffrey Gray, whose recent book, Skyjack – The Hunt for DB Cooper, has offered new information on the case, including the fact that Norman Hayden is the owner of the back parachutes, a news item that stunned nearly every private investigator associated with the Cooper story.
In addition, Gray had access to the FBI files on the parachute and Hayden’s ownership, some of which he downloaded to his web site. This site was scrubbed, though, when the ability of private investigators to access these files became known on the Internet, particularly on the popular Cooper forum at the DropZone skydiving web site.
http://www.dropzone.com/cgi-bin/forum/gforum.cgi?do=post_view_flat;post=3110098;page=1113;sb=post_latest_reply;so=ASC;mh=25; (page 1113,Oct. 18, 2011,8:23 am.)
As for the DB Cooper symposium, it is scheduled to take place all-day Saturday in Portland’s Hilton Hotel on November, November 26. To learn more, visit Mr. Gray’s web site: http://huntfordbcooper.com/join-the-hunt.
Two of the speakers will be South Hill residents Ron and Pat Forman, whose friend and fellow-pilot Barb Dayton confessed to being DB Cooper. After her death in 2002 from pulmonary disease, the Formans wrote about her alleged exploits in their 2008 book: The Legend of DB Cooper – Death by Natural Causes.
Another topic of great interest will be a possible report from one witness who has come forward after forty years of silence to describe what has been dubbed, “The Fiery Object” phenomena. She, and at least one other, have told investigators that they saw a low-flying jetliner soar over their home in Vancouver, Washington shortly after 8 pm on the night of the skyjacking, and observed a glowing red – possibly burning – object fall away from the aircraft and arc towards the Columbia River and Tina’s Bar.
However, one principal to the Cooper case may not be there – Earl Cossey. Geoffrey Gray, despite all of his contacts does not have Coss’ phone number or know of his whereabouts apparently, so Geoff asked me to invite Cossey to the symposium. I have deferred; but I did give Geoff the phone number.
If you would like to do more than just read about DB Cooper gossip – and fact – on the Mountain News, you can attend the symposium rather inexpensively. Participation is not exactly free – donations are requested – but rooms at the Hilton go for $79 a night if you mention the symposium.
In addition, the Friday night before the symposium will feature a welcoming party for all the Cooper enthusiasts who gather.
After the symposium, DB Cooper aficionados will head 39 miles north to the Ariel Tavern in Ariel, Washington, where the 40th Annual Cooper Daze festival will be in full swing.
Ariel, WA – along with its notable pub – was the center of the FBI’s ground search for DB Cooper in the days and months after the skyjacking. DB Cooper is believed to have bailed out of NWO’s Flight 305 in the skies above Ariel at 8:12 pm on his fateful night. However, not a trace of DB Cooper has ever been found – not his back parachute or the reserve, not the bomb and the brief case it was in, or the bag of money with $200,000 in twenties inside – and certainly not his body.
However, a bundle of $5,800 was found over eight years later under a few inches of sand on a Columbia River beach, at a site known as Tina’s Bar. It is the only verifiable physical evidence discovered after the skyjacking and how the money got to Tina’s Bar is brimming with conundrum. The river that flows from Ariel joins the Columbia six-miles downstream from Tina’s Bar, and as a result the question of how the loot arrived at the beach is as big a mystery as who DB Cooper is – or was.
Despite the dearth of evidence- or perhaps because of it – DB Cooper and his exploits are celebrated in the yearly beer-bash at the Ariel Tavern. It is a large place with a huge gathering, replete with good food, music, and drunken revelers, along with DB Cooper look-alikes in black suit and tie or sporting an NB 8 parachute on their back.
Sadly, Norman and his real DB Cooper parachute will not be there to show the faithful what a genuine Cooper artifact really looks like.
© 2011 The Mountain News – WA