By Bruce A. Smith
I’m developing a timeline to better understand what the FBI knew about the parachutes and when they knew it. Much of the following information comes through the hard work and courtesy of DB Cooper researcher “Fly Jack,” and his uncanny eyeballs that have pored over the federal 302 field reports released by the FBI over the past few months.
Note: DB Cooper hijacked a Northwest Orient 727 on the afternoon of November 24, 1971, and after exchanging the passengers for $200,000 and four parachutes at Sea-Tac airport, he jumped into the night skies of southwestern Washington and has never been seen since.
Here are our findings:
1. The FBI had the basics on the parachutes on the night of the skyjacking, or at least in the wee hours of Thanksgiving Day, 11. 25. 71. One agent, SA Reese Chipman, reported the back chutes were “in ordinary military olive drab green containers, approximately 2-3 feet long and 15-18 inches wide,” and cites an unnamed individual at Boeing Flight Services (BFS) at approximately 12:25 am. However, the name is redacted in the 302 (164-81-83), and the role of BFS is unclear.
Later, Chipman contacted two additional individuals, (names redacted again), at 2 am and 2:50 am on the 25th. Presumably these were Barry Halstad at Pacific Aviation and Norman Hayden in Renton, WA, who owned and provided the back chutes to Northwest Orient Airlines. From those conversations it is likely that Chipman developed the following descriptions:
“Number One: Civilian luxury type, tan, soft cotton material outside, 26-foot white canopy inside. Had a military chute inside of it. One or two burp sacks in folds. Has foam pad cushion, and a frayed mark down the rib on the back, from rubbing on metal.”
“Number Two: Military back pack chute, standard military olive drab green on outside, 28-foot white canopy on inside, two burp sacks in back. Foam pad cushion.”
2. The above descriptions of the back chutes – one a civilian luxury chute that is tan in color, and a second chute of military olive drab color – entered the official FBI documentation when the Norjak Summary Report was released later. This report cited Hayden as the source for parachute information, but he denied that notion when I interviewed him in 2011. In addition, he said that he had never been interviewed by the FBI. Also, Halstad told me in 2011 that he had never heard of Boeing Flight Services, so it is unclear whom Chipman first discussed the parachutes on the night of the skyjacking
3. Another 302 (164-81-181), dated Friday, 11. 26. 71, states that the FBI got a call at 12:21 am that morning from an AP reporter named “Clossy” claiming that he had spoken with Earl Cossey earlier on Thanksgiving Day, 11. 25. 71, and learned of the dummy chute. Clossy was calling for confirmation. This shows that Coss was involved early in the game.
4. On Friday, 11. 26. 71, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Seattle’s afternoon newspaper, announced that Norman Hayden was the owner and provider of the two back chutes.
5. Coss “announced” himself at the FBI Seattle office during the day on Friday, 11. 26. 71, and began the “military, sage-green, NB-6, and it was my personal parachute” narrative for the back chute not retrieved in Reno and presumably used by Cooper. However, Coss was unable to deliver the serial numbers for either chute, and the FBI begged him for the numbers “discretely” for the next year. Cossey told the FBI that he has already given the numbers to the Bureau, which is false, apparently. Note: Cossey was murdered in 2013 shortly after his reputation as the FBI technical expert on the parachutes began to sour.
6. On Friday, 11. 26. 71, Las Vegas FBI agent Dennis Barry, Jr. announced that the Reno evidence retrieval team had discovered the “not used” back chute on Flight 305 contained the packing card serial number SN 60-9707.
7. When I traveled to Norman Hayden’s shop in Renton, WA in 2011 to inspect his “not-used” chute, it had the packing card SN 226.
8. Currently, DB Cooper researcher Fly Jack and others surmise that the packing cards – SN 226 and SN 60-9707 – got swapped somehow on 305 prior to landing in Reno. Perhaps DB Cooper pulled one or both, and switched them for some reason. Bottom Line: both back chutes aboard 305 were packed by Cossey but owned by Hayden, who claimed steadfastly in 2011 that both were identical Pioneers.
9. Still undetermined is how the early descriptions of the back chutes revealed two different looking parachutes. The first reports claimed they were both olive drab/tan-looking military chutes, yet hours later FBI reports proclaimed one to be a tan luxury chute, and the other an olive- drab military parachute. Hayden’s “not used” chute that I saw in 2011 is clearly tan, with no discernible military markings.
10. DB Cooper researcher Robert M. Blevins also made a meaningful contribution to this issue, as his interviews with Norman Hayden have been posted at the DZ and shared with Fly Jack. In those notes, RMB reveals that Norman told him that he bought the back chutes in 1968 from an aviation surplus supply shop that is no longer in business, and they arranged for Cossey to pack the chutes prior to sale. When I spoke with Norman, he could not remember when or where he bought his parachutes.