by Bruce A. Smith
Boeing seems to be pulling the curtains closed over Dewey Max Cooper’s employment record at the aircraft manufacturer.
Dewey Cooper is reportedly an accomplice in the 40-year old DB Cooper skyjacking case, as announced by his niece, Marla Cooper, the Oklahoma woman who also claims that another uncle, LD Cooper, was the infamous skyjacker.
Marla stated recently at the DB Cooper symposium in Portland, Oregon that her uncle Dewey was the skyjacker’s getaway driver and had once worked at Boeing on the 727 assembly line.
However, Dewey Cooper died on lung disease in 1985, and LD Cooper passed away in 1999.
Nevertheless, Marla suggests that Dewey’s experiences at Boeing could have been the manner in which the brothers knew the 727 could be parachuted and what the specifics would be to do so successfully in terms of flying the aircraft slow enough for a safe exit.
I spoke with Debbie Namaguchi from Boeing’s Commercial Airplane division’s media relations last Friday, Dec. 9, and she was profoundly pessimistic that she – or anyone at Boeing– could tell me anything about Dewey Max Cooper’s employment record at Boeing over forty years after the fact. She claimed the data would be too old to retrieve, and that the systems necessary for checking those records, if they still existed, would be too outdated and not compatible with current technology.
Nevertheless, last August someone at Boeing confirmed Dewey’s employment in the late 1960s to Dominic Gates, an aviation reporter for the Seattle Times, and the fact was published in that newspaper on August 4. I reached Mr. Gates on December 14 after backtracking through Times articles and contacting their DB Cooper reporters Steve Miletich and Hal Bernton.
I offered a swap with the Times, and gave them access to all my Cooper data. In return they shared their notes concerning Dewey, which included the following correspondence from Boeing:
“A search of Dewy (sic) Lewis Cooper did not turn up any results. However, we also ran the name mentioned in Steve Miletich’s story: Dewy (sic) Max Cooper. A person by that name worked briefly for Boeing in the late 60s. No other information available.”
I emailed the source of that Boeing note, asking for more information on how long Dewey worked for Boeing and in what capacity. I also asked him for his perspective on how widespread the knowledge was at Boeing that the 727 could be used as a skydiving platform and the metrics necessary to fly the plane slow enough to have a successful jump.
That individual did not respond to my email. However, Ms Namaguchi called me bright and early the next morning to tell me that she had just learned that a Boeing source had made the Dewey news available to media last August. Her message announced the following:
“I was able to get some information that we did provide to the media last August. I can confirm that Dewey Max Cooper did work for Boeing in the late 1960s. At least I was able to get you that information. So, anyway, good luck on your story.”
Although she sounded pretty chipper in her phone message, she turned icy cold when I called her back and asked if she could dig a little deeper and find information pertaining to how long Dewey worked at Boeing and if he had any connections to 727 production.
Her reply was terse:
“That’s all I can give you.”
When I pushed a little further the chill got stronger.
“That’s as far as I can take it.”
I thanked Ms Namaguchi and said goodbye.
Boeing’s reluctance to talk about Dewey is surprising and disturbing. Further, their claim that they can’t find employment records from the 1960s is difficult to accept or understand. Surely Boeing and its unions keep precise documentation on employment so that they pay the proper amount of pensions and health benefits to its retirees.
Plus, why the ice? Why can’t Debbie take the search any further? Why aren’t my entreaties for information viewed as just a simple media request in a major felony?
Along these lines, Bob Sailshaw, a retired electrical engineer from Boeing and an individual who worked on the stair systems on 737s in the 1960s and 1970s, told me that the capacities of the 727 to be a jump platform were fairly well known at Boeing in the late 1960s, but only in engineering design circles.
So, the metrics to fly a 727 in a skydiving configuration were somewhat known, but generally restricted. Remember, the pilots of Flight 305 didn’t know their aircraft could be flown with the aft stairs deployed until DB Cooper told them, and they needed confirmation from NWO, Boeing, and possibly the CIA before they consented to the flight. Plus, Bill Rataczak, the guy actually flying Flight 305, told me that when DB Cooper told him precisely how to position the wing flaps, he knew the skyjacker was very well informed since “the 727 is the only Boeing product with a wing flaps setting of fifteen degrees.”
In addition, I have asked Sailshaw to work the phones and call his old buddies at Boeing, particularly in HR and benefits. So far, no success.
© 2011 The Mountain News – WA