Volunteer investigators find parachute strap linked to 1971 DB Cooper case

A new History Channel documentary suggests Amelia Earhart didn’t crash after all. Courtesy: History Channel

A FRESH piece of evidence could lift the lid on the mysterious case of missing skyjacker DB Cooper — the issue too baffling even for America’s top investigators.

Last year the Federal Bureau of Investigations abandoned its 45 year probe into what happened to the unknown businessman, who hijacked a Northwest Airlines passenger jet in 1971 and jumped out of it, in what would become one of the world’s most fascinating aviation mysteries.

Armchair detectives have refused to give up the search for answers, and earlier this year a team of researchers revealed their analysis of a tie left behind on the hijacked plane suggesting DB Cooper may have been a Boeing employee.

And now, another group of volunteer investigators say they’ve found a parachute strap that could blow the case back open — and point to the location of the riches Cooper was holding when he jumped.

An undated sketch of DB Cooper based on recollections of the passengers and crew of the Northwest Airlines jet he hijacked. Picture: AP

An undated sketch of DB Cooper based on recollections of the passengers and crew of the Northwest Airlines jet he hijacked. Picture: APSource:AP

Cooper, dressed in a business suit and carrying a suitcase, boarded the Seattle-bound Northwest Orient Airlines in Portland, Oregon on November 24, 1971.

Shortly after takeoff, he indicated to a flight attendant he had a bomb in his suitcase. Cooper also had a series of demands: four parachutes, a fuel truck on standby at Seattle airport — where the plane was headed — and a second flight to Mexico City. He wanted $200,000 in cash, estimated to be about $A1.6 million today.

Cooper’s demands were met and after the plane touched down at Seattle airport, he allowed the 36 other passengers and some crew members to disembark while he remained on the plane and demanded the pilot fly slowly to Mexico.

As the jet inched towards Reno, Nevada, Cooper opened a rear door and, with the cash and a parachute, jumped out.

The hijacked Boeing 727 at Seattle-Tacoma Airport. Picture: Seattle Times/Bruce McKim

The hijacked Boeing 727 at Seattle-Tacoma Airport. Picture: Seattle Times/Bruce McKimSource:AP

In the 45 years since, no trace of Cooper’s body has been found, fuelling speculation he survived the jump.

The case captivated the public’s attention — and its imagination. Hundreds of theories — including some very bizarre ones — about Cooper’s identity and the whereabouts of his ransom money emerged over the years.

In 1980 a young boy digging in sand north of Portland unearthed bundles of cash that matched the serial numbers of Cooper’s ransom money. The cult status surrounding Cooper grew, but the mystery remained.

“The fascination with Cooper has survived not because of the FBI investigation, but because he was able to do something that not only captured the public imagination, but also maintained a sense of mystery in the world,” author Geoffrey Gray wrote in his book Skyjack: The Hunt for DB Cooper.

FBI Special Agent Robbie Burroughs with a parachute found in Seattle in 2008. At the time, the FBI was examining any possible links between the parachute and the DB Cooper case. Picture: AP/Kevin P. Casey

FBI Special Agent Robbie Burroughs with a parachute found in Seattle in 2008. At the time, the FBI was examining any possible links between the parachute and the DB Cooper case. Picture: AP/Kevin P. CaseySource:AP

But in July last year, after “one of the longest and most exhaustive investigations in our history”, the FBI admitted defeat.

“During the course of the 45-year [hijacking] investigation, the FBI exhaustively reviewed all credible leads, co-ordinated between multiple field offices to conduct searches, collected all available evidence, and interviewed all identified witnesses,” the bureau said.

“Although the FBI appreciated the immense number of tips provided by members of the public, none to date have resulted in a definitive identification of the hijacker.”

In January, there was a new development — scientists working for Citizen Sleuths, a group that took up its own investigation into the Cooper case in 2007, claimed their examination of a black tie left behind in Cooper’s seat on the plane suggested he may have worked for Boeing.

Crew members of the hijacked Northwest Orient Airlines flight explain what happened during a press conference.

Crew members of the hijacked Northwest Orient Airlines flight explain what happened during a press conference.Source:News Corp Australia

The scientists used a powerful electron microscope to find more than 100,000 particles of “rare earth elements” on the tie, including pure titanium, which caught their eye.

They said titanium was a rare metal in 1971, and linked Cooper to a “limited number of managers or engineers in the titanium field that would wear ties to work”.

Based on this finding, the scientists said they believed Cooper worked for Boeing — the maker of the very plane he hijacked.

But now there’s been a new possible breakthrough.

Thomas Colbert, a TV and film executive who with his wife put together a volunteer crew of investigators into the Cooper case, said his group had uncovered what appeared to be a decades-old parachute strap during a dig of an undisclosed location.

Colbert would not reveal the exact location of where his crew were digging for clues, but told Fox News the strap was found “right where a credible source claimed the chute and remaining money are buried”.

It’s the second possible breakthrough in the case this year, after amateur sleuths announced they’d found compelling evidence on the tie left behind on Cooper's plane seat. Picture: FBI

It’s the second possible breakthrough in the case this year, after amateur sleuths announced they’d found compelling evidence on the tie left behind on Cooper’s plane seat. Picture: FBISource:Supplied

Colbert said he planned to pass the possible evidence to the FBI this week, along with his crew’s dig site.

For his part, Colbert, who runs the website DBCooper.com, believes Cooper is Robert Rickshaw, a 73-year-old army veteran who was actually questioned about the Cooper case in 1978 and eliminated as a suspect.

It’s not the first theory about Cooper’s identity to emerge over the years. But Bill Baker, the FBI’s former assistant director of criminal investigations, said the idea was still worth considering.

“Look … this is more than a theory,” he said. “You still have a [living suspect] that has all the attributes of someone to do this successfully. These are issues that have to be examined and weighed [by the FBI].”


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