FBI makes new plea in D.B. Cooper case

FBI agent Larry Carr has this special theory of how to solve the D.B. Cooper mystery.

Maybe, he said, some clever hydrologist armed with satellite technology can trace the Cooper cash found on the Columbia River in 1980 back to the very creek or stream where it fell from the sky on that fabled night in 1971. That might lead to the body of Cooper itself.

On Monday, the FBI renewed its plea for help from the public in solving the case in a news release that took the top spot Monday on the FBI Web site.

Carr, a special agent in the Seattle office — and an avowed D.B. Cooper buff — took over the Cooper case file last year and has been ratcheting up its profile.

"It's a mystery, frankly," the FBI said in the Monday news release. "We've run down thousands of leads and considered all sorts of scenarios. And amateur sleuths have put forward plenty of their own theories. Yet the case remains unsolved. Would we still like to get our man? Absolutely."

On Nov. 24, 1971, Thanksgiving eve, the man who bought a ticket as Dan Cooper hijacked a Northwest Orient flight from Portland to Seattle. He collected four parachutes and $200,000 in ransom money in Seattle and then leapt out the back stairwell as the plane flew south somewhere over Ariel, Cowlitz County, on a cold, nasty, rainy night.

And as anyone who lives around here knows, he hasn't been heard from since — a mystery that has fueled 36 years of theories and crazed speculation.

The Monday news release included photos from the FBI files of Cooper's skinny black clip-on necktie, a parachute he left behind on the plane and a few of the decaying $20 bills found by 8-year-old Brian Ingram near Frenchman's Bar in Vancouver, Wash.

In the account Monday, Carr discussed a few of his working theories on Cooper and his leap into infamy.

• He was no expert skydiver. At first, the FBI saw him as some brave and brilliant jumper. After a few years, they realized this scenario was all wrong. "No experienced parachutist would have jumped in the pitch-black night, in the rain, with a 200-mile-an-hour wind in his face, wearing loafers and a trench coat," Carr said. "It was simply too risky."

• He had no help on the ground. If he was meeting someone, why didn't he give the flight crew explicit directions on a route? His instructions were vague: Fly to Mexico, although they later settled on Reno. He also chose a lousy place to jump — over the high Cascades and not over jump-friendly flatlands — and couldn't see the ground when he jumped because of a cloud cover at 5,000 feet.

• Descriptions of Cooper are reliable. The two flight attendants who spent the most time with him on the plane were interviewed separately, on the same night and in separate cities and gave similar descriptions, Carr said. "They both said he was 5-foot-10 to 6-foot, 170 to 180 pounds, in his mid-40s and had brown eyes," Carr said. "People on the ground who came into contact with him also gave very similar descriptions."

• His identity remains unknown. None of the names tagged as Cooper have panned out. Duane Weber, who claimed on his deathbed to be Cooper, was ruled out by DNA testing, the DNA sample taken from the tie in 2001. Kenneth Christiansen, named in a magazine article this fall, didn't match the physical description and was a skilled paratrooper. Richard McCoy, who died in 1974, also didn't match the description and had Thanksgiving dinner the next afternoon with his family in Utah, unlikely for someone who'd jumped into a roaring storm only hours before.

Carr inherits a portfolio handled by numerous agents before him. And they agree Cooper never survived the jump.

"Diving into the wilderness without a plan, without the right equipment, in such terrible conditions," Carr said, "he probably never even got his chute open."

Still, the case remains open and is the source of endless speculation. Anyone with information should e-mail the FBI's Seattle field office at fbise@leo.gov.

Carr thinks the public can help.

"Maybe a hydrologist can use the latest technology to trace the $5,800 in ransom money found in 1980 to where Cooper landed upstream," he said. "Or maybe someone just remembers that odd uncle."