On a rainy evening forty years ago this month, a man in a dark suit and a tie, carrying a briefcase and a paper bag, boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 305 in Portland that was headed for Seattle. It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving Thursday. Once the flight was airborne, he quietly told the stewardesses he had a bomb in his briefcase and a few requests. He demanded that four parachutes and $200,000 in cash (just over a million in today's dollars) be waiting at the Sea-Tac Airport. His requests were met and the flight eventually took off again, headed for Reno, Nevada. Somewhere over southwest Washington State, he jumped from the back airstairs with the money and two of the parachutes - and became part of American folklore. He was never seen again.
In 2008, after decades of failure to solve the case, the F.B.I. finally asked for help from the public. They received a lot of tips. Then a team of professionals approached the Bureau and asked to examine the limited evidence available on the hijacker.
For the last few years, Tom Kaye, Carol Abraczinskas, and metallurgist Alan Stone have been running tests on this evidence. These items include the tie and tie tack discarded (allegedly) by the hijacker, the ransom money discovered at Tena Bar on the Columbia River in 1980 by Brian Ingram, and other items. Kaye is an associate researcher who works at the Burke Museum at the University of Washington. Abraczinskas is a principal scientific illustrator for the University of Chicago. Stone is the founder and president of Aston Metallurgical Services in Wheeling, Illinois. They also conducted a number of exploratory experiments to try and duplicate conditions regarding the ransom money found on Tena Bar.
Among the many discoveries they made, one could be the most telling. They agree that the bundles of cash found in 1980 were likely NOT deposited there by natural means. In other words, they believe the money was placed there by human hands within a year after the crime, not washed down from upriver, as the F.B.I. and others have speculated.
Their findings contradict the F.B.I.'s position that the found money shows Cooper did not survive. The Bureau theorized in 1980 that Cooper probably landed in the Columbia River and drowned, and that the money washed up on the banks or was deposited in a dredging operation. The Citizen Sleuths team showed this was almost certainly not the case and offer scenarios on how the money really arrived at Tena Bar.
They have published their results on an extensive website that includes over a hundred photographs and detailed analysis of all the evidence. On some questions regarding the identity of the hijacker, they offer clues and ask for help from the public.
November 24, 2011 will be the 40th anniversary of the Cooper hijacking. Activity on the case has picked up tremendously. Two books were released on Cooper this year. Skyjack by Geoffrey Gray, and Into The Blast by Robert Blevins and Skipp Porteous. As part of the anniversary, Geoff Gray is holding a symposium on the morning of Saturday, November 26th, with a public discussion on the Cooper case in Portland, Oregon at the Portland Hilton. There will be displays, slideshows, and speakers, including a couple of former FBI agents who worked on the case. Afterward, anyone interested will be continuing on to the Ariel General Store and Tavern in Ariel, Washington (forty miles from Portland) to attend the annual D.B. Cooper celebration held by Dona Elliot at the tavern.