DB Cooper – Parachute Conundrum Still Unresolved

By Bruce A. Smith

Difficulties continue in determining what back chute was recovered by the FBI in Reno on the night of the DB Cooper skyjacking, and if it is a different parachute from the one returned to Norman Hayden, the owner of the main chutes.

The serial numbers do not comport between the “returned” chute displayed by Norman in 2013 at the Washington State Historical Museum’s “COOPER” exhibit, with recently released FBI documents that reveal different serial numbers recorded by National Guard inspectors in Reno.

Both chutes in question appear to contain a Pioneer harness with a Steinthal canopy inside.

The chute I saw at Norman Hayden’s machine shop in Renton, WA allegedly possessed the serial number “226,” while the FBI reports the National Guard recorded the serial number 60-9707. Are these different parachutes? If so, what kind of mistake has been made? Answers are yet to be forthcoming. Can we even confirm that these numbers are present anywhere on the chutes?

These discrepancies add more concern to an issue that has been fraught with controversy since the night of the skyjacking, when Earl Cossey claimed he provided the back chutes to DB Cooper. In contrast, FBI documents revealed in 2011 that Norman Hayden was the actual owner of the back chutes.

To summarize the conundrum, here is what I have learned in thirteen years of research:

DB Cooper had asked for four parachutes – two “front” and two “back” chutes. The front chutes were known as reserves and were delivered from the Issaquah Sky Sports Center by Washington State Patrol.

The “back” chutes, known as “mains,” are at the center of dispute.

There were two informational streams developed by Northwest Orient to get the needed chutes: George Harrison, the Chief of Flight Ops at Sea-Tac, and Al Lee, the Chief of Ground Ops at Sea-Tac. Apparently, these resulted in two delivery streams – Cossey and Hayden.

Al Lee called Cossey at home on Wednesday afternoon – the day of the skyjacking – according to Cossey. From that call, Cossey shipped his two back chutes from his home in Woodinville: a sage green military NB-6 or NB-8, and a tan-colored luxury civilian chute that has been called many names: Pioneer, Paradise, and Para-Commander over the years, as Cossey and other Norjak researchers have contributed all these names.

Instead of sending these chutes to Sea-Tac (ST), Cossey sent them via taxi to Boeing Field (BF) for unknown reasons, and when I asked why he sent them to BF instead of ST, he became hostile. Also unexplained is how the chutes traveled from Boeing Field to Sea-Tac, a distance of about ten miles. Cossey has said that they were delivered by a private car, but no names of the driver(s) have ever been released publicly as far as I know.

As for George Harrison, he first contacted Barry Halstad, a salesman at Pacific Aviation, which may have had an office at Boeing Field since Pacific Aviation sold airplanes and gear, such as parachutes. Norman Hayden was one of their customers, and Halstad suggested Harrison call Hayden directly and ask for Norman’s back chutes. Initial communications between these three were garbled, but eventually Norman sent his two chutes via taxi from his machine shop in Renton where he stored them directly to George Harrison at Sea-Tac, c/o the NWO freight desk. According to Hayden, they were two, identical Pioneer/Steinthals.

The only FBI documentation that I have seen on this timeline puts the Bureau’s first contact with Cossey on Friday morning, Nov. 26, when Cossey “appeared” in the Seattle Field Office. Afterwards, Coss became quickly enmeshed in the Norjak saga, and was eventually hired by the FBI as a consulting expert on the parachutes.

Currently, researchers are asking for a full photo array of the “returned” chute that Hayden showed me in 2013, just prior to the WSHM exhibit. As a result, I offer the following photo galley. I took all the photographs, and the two gentlemen pictured are Norman Hayden and Bruce Thun. The latter is the jump master and former Manager of Thun Field in Puyallup, WA, and he accompanied me to provide expert witness assistance.

Norman Hayden wearing his “returned” Pioneer/Steinthal parachute.

Close-up of the Pioneer/Steinthal.

Is the number “226” a “Type” or a misplaced serial number?

Bruce Thun, (l) and Norman Hayden (r).

Bruce Thun and Norman Hayden inspecting the Pioneer/Steinthal parachute.

To see other articles on DB Cooper and the parachutes:


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2 Responses to DB Cooper – Parachute Conundrum Still Unresolved

  1. Johnnie Greene says:

    Minnow Films ignored everything Robert Blevins sent them about Ken Christianson because they read the DZ and quickly learned that Blevins was a liar and a complete nut-job.
    That combination doesn’t work for film makers.
    However, they do love Bruce Smith. And so does the major Hollywood producer of the big screen movie version due out this year. Eat your heart out, Blevs.

  2. newworld3000 says:

    Bruce: I have a simple question. Everybody keeps on repeating the assertion that Dan-D.B. Cooper jumped with an inoperable reserve chute. My question is, how do we know that he was given an inoperable reserve chute? Unless there is a picture of it showing the necessary markings, then all we may have is Earl Cossey’s word for it.

    How would Cossey know? I keep on thinking he took inventory sometime later, probably days later, and concluded that a ground training chute was missing. Then he concluded or just assumed it was given to Cooper.

    I don’t think Cossey was ever the best source. If my understanding is correct parachute rigging was his side business.

    Not to mention, the reserve chute comes into play only when the main chute fails to open.

    What’s the real story here? Or have I missed something


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