Dan Cooper, who came to be known as DB Cooper, is the name behind the man involved in the 1971 hijacking of a Boeing 727 aircraft in the northwest United States, who successfully negotiated a $200,000 (£158,000) ransom and two parachutes, before supposedly jumping out of the aircraft never to be seen again. Despite an extensive manhunt and protracted FBI investigation for more than 45 years, the perpetrator has never been located or identified, although numerous theories of widely varying plausibilities have been lobbied and thousands of suspects interviewed. In February 1980, a young boy discovered a small cache of ransom bills along the banks of the Columbia River, but the find only deepened the mystery after it was suggested they had been buried there after 1974 – when a Corps of Engineers dredging operation on that stretch of river was under way.
This led investigators to theorise that Cooper was still alive and had returned to the site to bury some of the money, but a major discovery revealed during National Geographic’s ‘The Skyjacker That Got Away’ may suggest otherwise.
The narrator said in 2009: “The most promising evidence remains to be the three bundles of money found on the river bank.
“If the FBI can determine how the money got there, and when, it could help answer the most important question – did Cooper survive?
“In 1980, the FBI concluded that the money was sitting above a dredge layer and must have arrived after 1974, leading many to believe that Dan Cooper returned to bury the money.
A scientist made a breakthrough in the case
DB Cooper escaped out the back of a Boeing 727
“But Tom Kaye is convinced that the money came out of the river and was not buried by human hands.”
Mr Kaye, a palaeontologist from the Burke Museum, became part of a team of 60 civilian volunteers who would aid the FBI investigation.
He returned to the river with his team and Special Agent Larry Carr during the documentary where they used land measurements, GPS, satellite and archive photographs to map out the area.
The documentary revealed how they made a “major new discovery” – the dredging of 1974 stopped 150 feet away from where the money was found.
Mr Kaye said: “We believe now that the dredging sand did not interfere with the original burial of the money and the money got buried there within a few months of Cooper’s jump.
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The money recovered in 1980
“The only transport method that makes any sense is through the water.”
The narrator revealed how the new find casts doubts over the image created of Cooper over the decades.
He added: “If the money was not buried by Cooper and came out of the river within a few months, how did it travel over 20 miles from the drop zone?
“The new evidence points to one conclusion – the bag of money landed in a nearby river.
“Did the hijacker have the skills to complete his mission? Back in 1971, the FBI spent thousands of man-hours looking for a suspect with aviation and skydiving expertise but found nothing.
“Now, Larry Carr thinks they might have got it wrong.”
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The team measured out the riverbank
Master parachute rigger has doubts over the story
Special agent Carr added: “When we started breaking down the actual events of the night, the choices he made, they started defining someone different than that picture.”
Cooper had brought no specialist clothing to make the daring night jump in -4C conditions and because he failed to specify the denomination of the ransom, he carried extra weight.
The man who packed the two main parachutes in 1971 is also convinced that Cooper was not a skydiver by the choices he made.
Known as Coss, the master parachute rigger said: “On that night, I provided two parachutes, one of them being an NB8, which is the one I’m wearing, and the other was a Pioneers of Sport parachute.
“He chose the NB8 and I don’t know why, it is very uncomfortable, will open much harder, the ripcord is very flat and it’s mixed in with a harness.
“So, he couldn’t probably even find the ripcord.
“Why in the world would a guy jump with an NB8 at night, going out of a 727 and not knowing where he was getting out? It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
The narrator went on to speculate how the evidence suggests Cooper most likely died during his attempt to escape.
He said: “Much was against Cooper that November night, visibility was poor, the wind factor was well below freezing and Cooper had no goggles or gloves.
“On board the hijacked plane, the parachutes were delivered with a set of instructions, Dan Cooper told Tina Mucklow he wouldn’t need them.
“This detail convinced many that Cooper was an experienced parachutist.”