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Found parachute stirs new buzz over D.B. Cooper

JOSEPH B. FRAZIER
Associated Press Writer
Glenwood Springs, Colorado

AMBOY, Wash. (AP) ” A tattered, half-buried nylon parachute unearthed by kids had D.B. Cooper country chattering Wednesday over the fate of the skyjacker who leaped from a passenger jet 36 years ago into a stormy night and, possibly, into the permanent lore of the Pacific Northwest.

The parachute is about all the evidence found in this neck of the southwestern Washington woods that might shed light on Cooper’s daredevil deed.

That bothers some people in Amboy.



“Hunters are all through here,” Idy Gilbert said Wednesday as she tended customers at Nick’s Bar and Grill. “They find lots of bodies up here all the time, people who are missing. They would have found some bones. All they found was a chute.”

But many in this scattering of businesses, modest houses and small pastures near the base of Mount St. Helens say all they know is what little they’ve seen on the news.



Jim Ford, who owns an ice cream and espresso shop in Amboy, was having fun with it. A hand-lettered sign outside his store advertised a “D.B. Cooper Mystery Mocha” to honor the search.

“Good fun,” he said.

The discoverers of the chute and its exact location are undisclosed, although theories here favor a number of backroads in the steep, heavily wooded hills where moss-draped trees are of almost rain-forest density.

But some ask how the chute came to be buried if Cooper didn’t live to bury it. Or if it isn’t Cooper’s, they ask, whose is it?

Retired FBI agent Ralph Himmelsbach of Woodburn, Ore., who worked the case for years, said Wednesday he doubts the remnant is from Cooper’s parachute.

“Lying in the mud, mostly wet, would not be the kind of environment that would be good for a parachute,” he said.

He said it might have been planted. He said a Navy veteran told him of service members bailing out of a disabled plane in the vicinity during World War II and dying, but he said those parachutes would be in even worse shape.

“The night it happened, I thought he had a 50 percent chance,” he said of Cooper’s survival odds. “… It has gone down since then.”

It’s the only unsolved skyjacking in the world. “It was a pretty bold event, placing the lives of more than 40 people in jeopardy for money,” he said.

But a parachute expert said the nylon could have lasted, absent prolonged exposure to the ultraviolet rays of sunlight or some powerful corrosive, such as battery acid.

“A parachute that was buried could last a very long time,” said Gary Peek of the Missouri-based Parks College Parachute Research Group, which does parachute research on contract for the military.

The man who supplied the parachute Cooper is believed to have used said he would be able to identify it.

“It was my parachute,” said Earl Cossey of Woodinville, Wash. “So, yes, I’d be able to identify it to this day.”

Cossey was a pilot and ran a skydiving school at the time in Issaquah, Wash. When Cooper demanded parachutes, the FBI got in touch with him.

Like cars, parachutes have serial numbers, and identification that includes dates of production and names of the manufacturers, Peek said.

“Maybe I owe him if he didn’t get that parachute out and working,” Cossey said Wednesday.

Twelve miles down the foothills, in Battle Ground, Marvin Case, editor of the weekly Reflector newspaper, said some now take a gentler approach, and in many minds the incident has moved from a reckless crime to the stuff of folklore.

“He’s seen now as not such a bad guy, even though he hijacked a plane and got away with the money,” he said.

On Thanksgiving Eve of 1971, a man calling himself Dan Cooper, later mistakenly identified as D.B. Cooper, hijacked a Northwest Orient 727 from Portland to Seattle, claiming he had a bomb. He demanded and got $200,000 and four parachutes, and he eventually jumped out the back of the plane somewhere near the Oregon line with two of the chutes, one a training model that had been sewn shut.

Odds are good he landed near where children playing near Amboy found fabric sticking up from the ground where their father had been grading a road, FBI agent Larry Carr said Tuesday.

The children, responding to a publicity campaign, urged their father to call the FBI, Carr said, and when their find became public this week, it rekindled the issue.

It never really went away.

In Ariel, about 20 miles northwest of Amboy, the Ariel Store has an annual D.B. Cooper party and look-alike contest.

Owner Dona Elliot said she thinks Cooper hid and waited for an accomplice to take him to the airport in Portland, about 60 miles south.

“It’s the perfect place. No one would have looked for him there,” she said.

The T-shirt for this year’s party will have a parachute theme, she said, even though she’s skeptical that the remnant is Cooper’s.

“It will be 37 years in November,” she said. “There can’t be too much left of that parachute.”

The FBI hasn’t excavated the site pending confirmation, either through an expert’s examination or scientific fabric analysis, of whether the chute is the right kind.

If it is Cooper’s parachute, it will solve one mystery but raise another, Carr said.

In 1980, a family on a picnic found $5,880 of Cooper’s money in a bag on a Columbia River beach, near Vancouver.

Some investigators believed it might have been washed down to the beach by the Washougal River. But if Cooper landed near Amboy and stashed the money bag there, there’s no way it could have naturally reached the Washougal.

“If this is D.B. Cooper’s parachute, the money could not have arrived at its discovery location by natural means,” Carr said. “That whole theory is out the window.”

The FBI doubts Cooper survived because conditions were poor, the terrain was rough and Cooper was lightly dressed.

Theories abound. Richard Tosaw of Ceres, Calif., author of “D.B. Cooper: Dead or Alive?” says, for example, that Cooper met a different death ” when his plunge ended in the Columbia River.

Some locals prefer to think he survived.

“I think he’s out there enjoying his money,” Gilbert said. “Most people here say they think he made it. We may never know.”


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