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Scientists Hunt for D.B. Cooper

A team of scientists are bringing new technology to the search for clues in the mysterious disappearance of 1971 hijacker D.B. Cooper.


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Tom Kaye, paleontologist, Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, Seattle: D.B.Cooper, 1971, has a wild scheme to jump out of the back of an airplane at 10,000 feet in the middle of the night in a rainstorm over unknown territory. The guy either had to be crazy or brilliant and have mad skills.

Right at the spot we’re standing here we’ve calculated that this is the precise location that Brian Ingram, when he was eight years of age, scooped across the sand with his arm and uncovered the three bundles of bills which have been the only Cooper cash ever recovered from that hijacking event in 1971.

Larry Carr, FBI Special Agent, Seattle Field Office: I think it’s a great mystery—what happened to this guy? The last thing we knew is he had $200,000 and bailed out of the back of a 727 November 24, 1971, and then from there we don’t know.

If we could find resolution to the case without allocating resources, without sending FBI manpower to the investigation, but come up with an answer, then why wouldn’t we do that?

Kaye: We have with us a team of people that have all volunteered their time, their money, and their effort to try and come solve this just purely for the excitement of doing it.

Right now we’re on Tina Bar. We’re looking at the location where the money was found. Tomorrow we’re going to be heading off to look at unpublished photos from the Oregonian newspaper, which could tells us exactly what was going on here at that time. And then at the end of the week we’re heading up to Seattle to meet with Special Agent Larry Carr to look at the FBI archive.

Right now we’re in the Little Washougal River, which is east of the flight path of D.B. Cooper and where they think he potentially jumped out. We’re here because the Little Washougal River and the Washougal River are the biggest rivers in the area that are capable of moving a wad of money like this down stream. So it’s thought that his money fell into one of these two rivers, went downstream, hit the Columbia River, and then moved further south on the Columbia River toward the Ocean until it showed up on Tina Bar.

Brian Ingram, who discovered ransom money in 1980: We are out here making a campfire, my father and I, and that’s when we discovered the three packets of $20 bills, later to be proven as ransom money of D.B. Cooper.

Kaye: We’re throwing a lot of technology at these Cooper bills, and trying to figure out the history—what caused them to degrade, what degradation components have been mixed in with them, and does this tells us something about where these Cooper bills have been.

Ingram: I’ve got a pack of bills on there. I’m trying to find out how buoyant it is, and as far as what’s the distance it’s going to travel. We seem to find its location right here, where it seems like it’s wanting to come right back to us, which happens to be right at the spot that I found the money in 1980.

Carol Abraczinskas, scientific illustrator, University of Chicago: Why am I so interested in D.B. Cooper? Who isn’t interested in D.B. Cooper after hearing a little bit of the story? I’m a scientific illustrator at the University of Chicago. And I’m part of the team and I’m working with Tom. And the beginning part of my job here was to do some research and I located some images. And so now we have an appointment at the Oregonian to look at some unpublished photos taken by some of the staff photographers that I was able to locate.

And the second part of my job with Tom is going to be doing some scientific illustrations for his paper, maybe some maps or charts, or anything that he might need for his research.

Special Agent Carr: You know, the whole goal is to start bringing some science, some new technology, into the case. The investigation’s long over. We know what we know from what the FBI has done all those years. And now it’s time to, you know, maybe give someone else a chance, to allocate, or let someone else allocate their own resources to the investigation. And hopefully that shakes something new.