*This is the last of the minor suspect profiles. I have a few more major suspects to profile, before we get back to the Gunther book.*
Profiled in the book “My Father was D.B. Cooper”, Jack Collins was a pilot, skydiver and an insurance agent with money troubles who was always looking for a get-rich-quick scheme. Apparently Collins used his skydiving hobby to fake injuries for insurance scams. His brother was a 727 pilot, and according to Jack Collins’ son, the two perpetrated the Norjak heist to help provide for a struggling family. Unfortunately, any theory involving an accomplice is extremely suspect. Richard McCoy, who hijacked a plane several months after DB Cooper, had to constantly communicate with the cockpit in order to align the aircraft with his dropzone. Even then, McCoy failed to meet up with his ride. Cooper made no attempt to find out the plane’s location from the cockpit, and there’s no evidence Cooper had a specific drop zone in mind. Still, between John and his brother, they would have the requisite knowledge of the 727 and skydiving to be plausible suspects. However, once again, we find someone who does not fit with Kaye’s tie findings. Unless something other than weak circumstantial evidence emerges, we can safely eliminate Collins as a suspect.
(Note: Duane Weber used “John C Collins” as an alias, and even served time under that name.)
Much of the debate in the DB Cooper case has centered around whether he survived the jump. The weather wasn’t perfect, Cooper was jumping at night with borrowed equipment and without standard skydiving gear or clothing. I’ve previously looked at this problem and came to the conclusion that the odds were in Cooper’s favor even if he was an inexperienced skydiver. In my quest to understand the dynamics of Cooper jump, I looked at bailout situations faced by bomber crews during the Second World War. I believe WWII represents the best available population for analysis, as thousands of novice skydivers were forced to jump from stricken aircraft under extreme circumstances over unknown terrain, often at night, with unfamiliar equipment, in any weather situation and from a variety of aircraft speeds and configurations.
From the situations I read about, combat bailout jumps were almost never made under ideal conditions (stable aircraft going less than 150 mph at proper altitude). In fact, there are some amazing tales of survival, including people who survived being thrown out of exploding aircraft. Many jumps were made at very low altitudes, giving the flyers very little to no time to stabilize their bodies and pull the ripcord “by the book.” Training was very minimal and often, especially in the RAF, completely absent. Thus, there is a strong prima facie case for similarity between Cooper’s jump and bailout jumps done in WWII.
Re-examination of WWII parachuting
In my original paper, I back-engineered a method for estimating Cooper’s survival probability using the available WWII parachuting data, which amounted to comparing the number of airplanes lost (multiplied by the number of crew per aircraft) to the number of POWs held by the Axis powers. This gave an approximate survival rate of 80%. This process was done for several reasons, among them to save time, get a bigger sample size and because there wasn’t an easily accessible collection of complete data. Unfortunately, aggregation of data at this level allows for a lot of variance. Other confounds included not knowing the conditions surrounding every bailout situation, and the fact the number of POWs didn’t necessarily represent the true number of survivors.
What was really needed was raw data from a large pool of actual parachuting events aggregated by a third party. In the process of finishing the first paper, I found just such an index. It was nearly complete and would give a good comparison between night and day jumps. Most importantly, it was not based on survivor self-reports, the information was third party and independently researched. Overcoming survivor bias is, in fact, the main problem this data set solved. If you use only self-reported survival stories, you automatically skew the data toward survival as non-survivors can’t relate their experiences.
Further, the data is only from Denmark. Confining the events to a single geographic region helps control the number of variables; most importantly the civilian population of Denmark wasn’t inclined to murder allied airmen like those in Germany (there are some anecdotes about German civilians and SS troops executing downed allied airmen, however Freeman Dyson discounts this as a major survival factor in his book “Disturbing the Universe”). In essence, this data acts as a natural experiment to compare night and day jumps, and also gives us a healthy sample size from which to draw conclusions about Dan Cooper’s survival.
In 66 nighttime bailout events involving 210 jumpers, there were 192 successful parachute deployments for a 91.4% survival rate. There were 6 possible no-pulls, i.e. bodies found with undeployed parachutes, and 4 apparent parachute mals. For the daytime airmen, we have very similar results. In 46 situations, there were 244 airmen leaving stricken aircraft with 235 survivors on the ground for a 96.3% survival rate. Again we find four apparent parachute mals, but only one possible no-pull. The 91.4% survival rate for RAF airmen jumping at night is significantly higher than the result from my initial study, and it gives more credence to the possibility of DB Cooper surviving his jump.
It needs to be stated that none of the no-pulls are confirmable. There was no record anywhere in this sample of a group of men leaving an aircraft together only to discover someone didn’t get a handle on their ripcord. There was a total of 454 jumpers between both groups, so the fact we have not one confirmable no-pull should be a significant indicator of how rare no-pulls must have been. There were tens of thousands of bailouts during WWII, so it’s a near-certainty that some no-pulls happened. But I can’t find enough information to get a baseline on just how often they occurred. Even using the number of possible no-pulls among the RAF in Denmark as a baseline for inexperienced night jumpers, we’re looking at a rate of less than a 3%.
I ran a simple t-test comparing the US daytime and RAF nighttime samples; at a 95% confidence interval, the two samples are significantly different, but by an extremely thin margin. The difference between the two datasets was 4.88%, which is just a little higher than the 4.36% needed for significance. We can’t be entirely sure of the cause of the difference between the RAF night jumps and the American daytime jumps. Not only did RAF bomber crews operate at night, they also had smaller escape hatches than American aircraft, and RAF crews often had to attach their parachutes before jumping, giving them less time to prepare for the actual bailout. Regardless, this data confirms the efficacy of the parachute as a life-saving device, and that amateurs and inexperienced persons can use this device with a high rate of success even under difficult circumstances.
Examination of No Pulls in Skydiving
Anecdotally, No-pulls are a common occurrence in sport skydiving. You can find self-reported occurences and even videos with a simple search engine query. Skydivers even have equipment that automatically deploys their parachute if they haven’t pulled their ripcord (or thrown their pilot chute) by a certain altitude. Skydivers take it as a fact of their sport and have equipment and protocols to prevent fatalities caused by this phenomena. My interest is whether a no-pull represents an inherent risk of parachuting in general, or if it is a byproduct of the sport of skydiving. To figure things out, I looked at the details behing all the no-pull fatalities recorded in the Skydiving Fatalities Database.
There were 833 lethal parachuting incidents catalogued in the Skydiving Fatalities Database between 1995 and 2009. Of these, 107 are classified as no-pulls. However, even among these, only 48 fatalities appear to be directly applicable to Cooper’s jump. The majority of the recorded no-pulls involved demo-jumps, group formations, camera work, health problems, suicides, or other situations that Cooper would not have been dealing with during his jump. Thus, we can safely assume that most of the no-pulls catalogued in the Skydiving Fatalities Database, and thus most no-pull occurences from the world of skydiving, are caused by either the stunts and activities innate to the sport of skydiving, or by factors related to the mental or physical health of the skydiver.
Assuming Cooper was not suicidal, and there’s no evidence he was, and assuming he didn’t have a heart attack during the jump (which would have been a real possibility for a middle-aged smoker in 1971), this greatly reduces the possibility of a no-pull situation during Norjak. When we combine this information with the WWII parachuting data, it becomes clear that DB Cooper had a very good chance to survive his jump. However, the database did show that six of the no-pull fatalities happened when borrowed or rented equipment was used, and one individual died while jumping at night; both of these risk factors were present during Cooper’s jump but the represent a small minority of the total fatalities profiled in the database.
It will always be difficult to infer the true survivability of Cooper’s jump since we do not know the extent of his skydiving experience, the state of his equipment, the configuration of the money and how it was attached to his harness, his mental state and his health. We can say with some certainty that the weather and the lack of daylight had very little effect on his survival. In all likelihood, from the broad perspective presented here, we can be about 90% confident Cooper pulled the ripcord on his parachute and it deployed properly. From there, we can only make educated guesses whether he was hurt on landing, or whether he lost his life by drowning in the Columbia.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,500 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 58 trips to carry that many people.
Filed under: Misc | Comments Off on 2015 in review
A conman who spent most of his life in prison, Coffelt claimed he was Cooper in 1972. Apparently the goal was to make money out of a movie deal, Coffelt himself died in 1975. The FBI interviewed him, but his story was wrong on several important details (which they have never released). Regardless, the details of Coffelt’s story we do know about are completely wrong. He claimed to land near Mt. Hood, which was too far south and too far west. He also claimed to have an accomplice and that, even though he landed very far from the Victor 23 corridor, they somehow met up and made their escape. Story is still being sold to the public by one of Coffelt’s former cellmates.
This is perhaps the most interesting story in the Cooper Saga. Barbara Dayton was a middle-aged woman who worked as a university librarian. She was also a pilot and mechanic who owned and worked on small aircraft at Thun Airfield in Washington. Originally born Robert Dayton, she received Washington State’s first sex-change operation in the late 1960’s. A natural storyteller, she spun a complex yarn to her small circle of friends about switching back to her male persona, using the lights of Portland to time her jump landing well south of the Columbia River, hiding the money in a cistern, then moving it to Tena Bar in time for Brian Ingram to find some of the money in 1980. While Bobby Dayton does bear a resemblance to DB Cooper, Barb was too short, her landing zone was too far south of Portland and her explanation for the Tena Bar find is at odds with the available science. Ron and Pat Forman’s book “The Legend of DB Cooper: Death by Natural Causes” presents Barbara’s story.
Sports Editor at Newsweek, he disappeared on December 10, 1967, somewhere between Midtown and Greenwich Village and has never been seen again. The only reason I’m writing about him here is because a Cooper forum member mentioned him while listing all the possible Cooper suspects from the NamUs missing person database. Lake is about the right age, and bears a passing resemblance to the sketch. (Something that becomes annoyingly clear to anyone investigating the Cooper case is just how many people there are who bear a likeness to one of the FBI sketches.) Lake can be immediately eliminated because he had no knowledge of parachuting, aviation, the Pacific Northwest, nor would we expect to find unalloyed titanium on his tie. In all likelihood, Lake met with foul play on his walk home and his body was never recovered from the Hudson River. His disappearance is an interesting mystery itself and more information can be found at johnlake.com. I use Lake as a control for other suspects, if a candidate is not a better fit for Cooper than he, I disregard their story straightaway.
One of the most prolific posters in the original DropZone forum on the DB Cooper case, and otherwise consummate Cooper gadfly, is Jo Weber. Well known to most of the independent sleuths of the case, she claims her deceased husband, Duane Weber, gave a deathbed confession to the crime. He told her he was “Dan Cooper” and this led Jo on the road to spending the next two decades investigating the case.
While her story changes as needed, her primary introduction to the Cooper case came when she read Max Gunther’s book. She even claims to have contacted Gunther, convinced “Clara” (the woman who gave the story to Gunther) was an ex-girlfriend of Duane’s. She also contacted Ralph Himmelsbach, who either encouraged her or at least humored her enough for her to continue to claim Duane as Cooper. She was the catalyst to starting the Cooper thread on the DropZone forum, and posted nearly every day for seven years.
As interesting as her stories are, Duane Weber is not Dan Cooper. While he does roughly match the physical description, he’s not particularly reminiscent of the FBI sketch. Passenger Bill Mitchell, who sat in a row across from Cooper, didn’t believe Duane was Cooper because he had comically large ears, something Mitchell would have noticed and remembered. Duane could not be put anywhere near the Pacific Northwest at the time of the hijacking, and there’s no evidence he had any knowledge of the 727 or of the airline business in general.
The tie evidence also contraindicates Weber, since Weber never worked in any industry that used the spectrum of metallic particles found on Cooper’s tie. (Jo disputes this by saying Duane worked in dentistry and would have had some exposure to titanium and other metals, but this explanation is specious for a variety of reasons.) Finally, some of Duane’s DNA was submitted for testing to compare it with samples taken from Cooper’s tie. Those tests came up negative. The FBI spent considerable resources looking at Duane, and do not consider him a suspect.
I created a spreadsheet with all the Cooper suspects and all the clues in the case, giving points when a suspect matched the evidence and taking points away when they don’t. Pretty simple, somewhat subjective, but it really helps separate good candidates from bad. Duane Weber scores lower than every other suspect I’ve profiled. Duane Weber is not D.B. Cooper.
In all likelihood, Jo internalized the Gunther story and used it as a platform to build up her own stories about Duane. It appears as though she really did have significant contact with Max Gunther, and as such she could be an important source in helping clarify Gunther’s actual contact with Clara, what research he did, and other important details that would help us better solve the case. Unfortunately, she would have to drop her delusion that Duane is a viable Cooper suspect, which will likely never happen.
*The original draft of this post erroneously stated Duane was too short to be DB Cooper.
Some may remember List as the man who murdered his entire family in order to guarantee their place in Heaven and disappeared for almost 18 years before America’s Most Wanted caught him using an age-progressed model of his face. He was also considered a Cooper suspect since he matched the description and disappeared two weeks before the hijacking. However, he already had $200,000 from draining his family’s bank accounts, he didn’t need to steal more money, at least right away. Further, his career as an accountant doesn’t match the particles found on the tie, he does not have any kind of parachuting background and he did not have the knowledge or skills to pull off this heist, certainly not under such a tight schedule. After his capture, he readily admitted to the murders of his family, but denied being the hijacker..
Mayfield is well-known in the Cooper saga. A skydiver and pilot who had several run-ins with the law, fingers pointed to him almost immediately after Norjak. He was even acquainted with Ralph Himmelsbach before the hijacking. Certainly, Mayfield had the skills and probably had the moxie to pull off such a stunt. However, Mayfield contacted the FBI on the evening of the hijacking, only a few hours after Cooper jumped from the plane. It would have been very difficult for even a competitive skydiver like Mayfield to cover his tracks so quickly. Most importantly, Mayfield is known to be of very short stature, about five feet three inches tall, and thus he does not fit the description of the hijacker.
The story of LD Cooper exploded on the media and disappeared just as quickly. Marla Cooper reported her uncle Lynn Doyle Cooper as a DB Cooper suspect to both the FBI and media circles, and this included claims that the story was so convincing that the FBI might even close the book on Dan Cooper. Lynn Doyle was a surveyor in Washington state who served in the Korean War, his brother once worked for Boeing and might have picked up knowledge about the 727 there. The two thus might have conspired to commit the hijacking, resulting in Marla’s memories of LD being injured around the time of Thanksgiving in 1971. However, no physical evidence ties LD to the hijacking, and he did not work in one of those fields that would have been exposed to unalloyed titanium like the particles found on Cooper’s tie. Also, a DNA test failed to produce a match between LD Cooper and the DNA profiles found on the tie. Supposedly a movie is in the works, or a book, or something. There’s simply not much to investigate. Lynn Doyle Cooper is not our Hijacker.
If the evidence presented in the Gunther book is so strong, why do few people actually believe it? There are a number of reasons, not least of which is the lack of a real name for a suspect. However, Gunther also gets a lot of little details wrong; early in the hijacking narrative, Gunther gets the seat Cooper sat in wrong, he writes about a confrontation between Cooper and 305 Captain Bill Scott when in fact Scott and the rest of the flight officers never left the cockpit. In fact, entire chapters appear filled with errors and misinformation (more on that later).
Most seriously, Gunther seems to contradict several important details of the hijacking that were kept secret by the FBI until only recently. These include the color of Cooper’s parachute, the description of the bomb Cooper used, how Cooper lost some of his money, and almost the entire hijacking narrative. How do we reconcile these and all the other problems with Gunther’s book if we are to take his story at face value? First, let’s examine the major problems in detail.
There are problems with the entire hijacking narrative, mostly found in the second chapter of Gunther’s book. A sample of these issues: Cooper never asked for a specific seat, the flight had an open seating arrangement. Gunther gets the seat row and number wrong. There is no mention of Bill Mitchell, the young college student in the row across from Gunther. Captain Scott never left the cockpit to talk to Gunther, nor did any of the flight crew. Cooper never asked where the plane was before he jumped. Cooper put on the parachute long before Mucklow was sent to the cockpit, etc, etc. There are just a lot of little details that Gunther gets wrong.
The primary reason is Gunther, nor his primary source ‘Clara’, were eyewitnesses to the hijacking. By the time Clara contacted Gunther, ‘Dan LeClair’ had been dead for several years. What little information Clara had was secondhand from LeClair. In fact, based on the text, it appears the primary recollection of the hijacking from LeClair’s perspective was unusual connection LeClair made with Tina Mucklow during the course of the hijacking.
Regardless, it shouldn’t be surprising that Clara was fuzzy on these details. She wasn’t the. And why would she ask what seat Cooper was in? Or when he put the parachute on? These details are important to the investigator, but not to anyone else. Gunther fills the gaps the best he can, using his own research to supplement Clara’s story.
Gunther, presumably from Clara, describes the bomb as follows:
*He found an attache case or small suitcase in a storage room at the hotel. Inside this case he built a fake bomb of red-painted tin cans, aluminum and wire (p. 137).*
Here is how the bomb is described by as eyewitness:
*“In the left corner had 8 long sticks of about 6 inches long and 1 inch in diameter there were two rows of them. Then a wire out of there. Then a batt lite [sic], (probably like) a flashlight batt only as sthik [sic], (probably thick) as my arm and eight inches long”. [From RTTY or TTY Log Page 104]*
Commonly, it is assumed the reddish sticks were road flares, wrapped around a large cell battery with black tape, plausibly accessorized with myriad wires to give the full “electric and technical” effect. I found Gunther’s description of the bomb is one of the more jarring and obviously erroneous passages in his book.
However, LeClair was described as quite handy and mechanically minded. While I first thought of just regular cans of soup being spraypainted, it’s possible LeClair may have removed the bottom and top pieces of several tin cans, rolled them tight and narrow to make the ‘dynamite’ sticks, then used an unmodified can or cans painted to look like the battery, and added the wires. Honesty, it doesn’t seem likely given the availability of road flares and radio batteries. Since the bomb was never recovered, we can’t know anything for certain. Personally, this description seems like it was mostly conjecture and misunderstanding on Clara’s and Gunther’s part.
This is especially complicated, since any Cooper story needs to account for the Tina Bar money find. We’ll examine the finer details of how LeClair could lose half the money in a later post, here I just want to mention one of the biggest problems with the Gunther text. Several times, Clara claims Leclair specifically requested $20 bills. It appears from the text Clara really believed this, however we know Cooper did not specify any denomination for the money. This cannot be easily resolved, but I would say this mistake in the narrative from Clara evolved from Clara and LeClair’s efforts to launder the money after the hijacking (small bills are more easily exchanged in everyday transactions).
The traditional story regarding the parachute rig Cooper used in the hijacking was that he got an old Navy NB-6 container and harness with a 28-foot round canopy, and that the canopy was white. Over the years the details have changed depending on who and when the details were being discussed. Most recently, evidence was found by Cooper researcher Bruce Smith that Cooper likely used a Pioneer Parachute owned by an acrobatic pilot named Norman Hayden. Confusion over the ownership, type and color of the parachute used by Cooper is now an open question, at least until the FBI releases their complete files on the case, and even this may not help us learn whether, in the confusion on the night of the hijacking, the true color of the parachute was recorded. (In fact, opening the parachute container would have been both difficult for an amatuer and dangerous, as an improperly packed parachute can kill.)
Gunther, from Clara, describes the parachute as a multi-colored parachute with bright red and yellow panels. A quick Google image search for “Pioneer parachute” did return a vintage photo of a round canopy of black, red and yellow, so the color scheme itself is plausible. Clara might not have seen the complete parachute before it was destroyed either, so it’s possible there were more than two colors. Or, it could be a false recollection, or a Gunther fabrication. Who knows? The point here is not whether we can come to a definitive conclusion, the question is whether we need to answer every little contradiction or fuzzy detail with a complete explanation.
The answer to that question is, basically, no we don’t. What we have here is eyewitness testimony given over a decade after the events unfolded. And the testimony is incomplete because our witness, Clara, wasn’t on the plane. What she knows of the hijacking and how Dan LeClair planned it is all hearsay. Even events she witnessed could have been tainted by later facts, for instance, her belief Dan LeClair was a meticulous planner who would never have left something up to chance.
We also must remember the book is much more than just the story Clara told Max Gunther. Gunther did his own research including dozens of interviews with many of the principals in the case. He talked to several FBI agents, and had more than one interaction with Himmelsbach. Skipp Porteous talked to Himmelsbach about Max Gunther and relayed this exchange through his book “Into the Blast”:
*When I asked his opinion on Max Gunther’s book, Himmelsbach said he didn’t like Gunther and knew all about the book. He pointed out that Gunther claimed someone named ‘Clara’ talked to him and provided him with all the details about Cooper. Himmelsbach says that Gunther later changed his story to match the facts.
Porteous, Skipp; Robert Blevins (2011-01-06). Into The Blast – The True Story of D.B. Cooper – Revised Edition (Kindle Locations 1043-1045). Adventure Books of Seattle. Kindle Edition.*
Simply put, this book is a complex document. It is not just the eyewitness testimony of a single individual. It is very likely the story Gunther got from Clara was incomplete, and he was trying to fill in the gaps he knew his audience would expect from such an exposé. Gunther was a journalist, he was comfortable doing interviews and research. If you read through the book, you’ll note he almost always references sources in the text. Once you start looking for them, you can source almost the entire book, and he even hints at when he’s just guessing.
Thanks to Gunther’s habit, we can look at the chapter with the most factual errors, chapter two, and source the problem: The FBI. Gunther talked to several agents in addition to Himmelsbach, and it appears many of the factual errors were intentional misinformation, most prominently the fictional conversation between Cooper and Captain Scott. Providing false information would be one way to test the veracity of this story, however by this time Clara had most likely broken off contact with Gunther and she would not have been able to correct the misinformation anyway.
If you’re looking for a reason not to believe Gunther’s story, you will find it. This was my conclusion when first reading through the text, until the point when Gunther revealed LeClair’s profession. This fact, which represented the only time after-the-fact forensic evidence confirmed a DB Cooper confession, required a deeper look into the text. It is my belief, despite the aforementioned issues, that the Gunther hypothesis still holds true.
The primary paradox in the Cooper case has been the discrepancy between the Tina Bar find and the original jump location near Ariel, Washington. Water flows to the Lewis River in Ariel, where it dumps into the Columbia downstream from where the money was found. The money would not move upstream on its own, so something has to give. One way to cover the paradox is to move the jump zone. And it has to move a considerable distance in order to get the money upstream from Tina Bar. This has led to numerous theories, including the infamous Washougal Washdown theory.
The timing and location of the jump could probably be pinpointed with the original radar information and data from the flight recorder but neither source is available anymore, so finding the true jump point will have to be made from other evidence, including eyewitness accounts.
First, let me mention that arbitrarily changing the drop zone based only on the Tina Bar find is a fallacy since we don’t know how the money got there with 100% certainty. There is room for mechanical and human intervention in how the money was transported from its original starting position to Tina Bar. I prefer simpler explanations, but nothing is off the table.
For simplicity, until other evidence is found which calls into question the original flight path, we shall adhere to the pre-existing evidence regarding where and when Flight 305 was during the times mentioned below. The key to eliminating the paradox is working the original evidence and finding out why the authorities calculated a drop zone near Ariel and why that was or was not in error.
Oscillations and the Pressure Bump
The main confusion in the eyewitness reports is whether there is a difference between the reported “oscillations” and the “pressure bump” caused by the stairs snapping back against the fuselage when Cooper jumped. Strictly speaking, we can’t be sure there were two separate events. We know the pressure bump happened because it had to, testing showed this was the case. Whether the pilot, in this case Rataczak, felt any kind of disturbance through the stick as Cooper crept out over the stairs is unknowable. Rataczak clearly believes he did, whether this was the oscillation or the pressure bump or turbulence, we can’t know.
What we do know is the cabin crew keenly felt something. Anderson, the flight engineer, had pressure gauges on his panel and they would have jumped around significantly during the pressure bump. The pilot would need to trim the aircraft after Cooper left. The entire cabin crew might have experienced ear popping from the momentary change in pressure. These pressure events were used in later hijackings to pinpoint landing zones for Cooper copycats like McCoy. The entire narrative here is undocumented, and we only get after the fact recollections.
For our purposes, we’re going to assume two distinct events. An oscillation which caused Rataczak to remark Cooper was “doing something with the air stairs” and was relayed over the radio around 7:11 pm, and pressure bump caused by Cooper’s jump sometime shortly after that.
-At 7:11, the cockpit reported Cooper was possibly “doing something with the air stairs” and relayed this information over the radio. It was overheard by a number of independent witnesses who were listening to these exchanges during the hijacking. This is the time generally given for the jump. In the released flight transcripts, nothing of consequence is communicated for the previous six minutes indicating this was the beginning of the jump ‘episode,’ not its conclusion.
-Harold Anderson, the flight engineer, said the time of the bump was not recorded, but that it happened “five to ten minutes” after the last communication with Cooper, a time generally given as 8:05 pm. This would give an approximate range of 8:10 to 8:15 for the jump, plus or minus a minute.
-In the summaries of the crew debriefs, documents available on the Cooper Forum website, Anderson says the pressure bump occurred when 305 had “not reached Portland proper but were definitely in the suburbs or immediate vicinity thereof.”
This gives some absolute barriers, Cooper did not leave before 7:10, and he was definitely gone by the time the plane was over Portland.
Another clue comes from the Time Table on Sluggo’s website, which gives us this little tidbit:
SEA CNTR advises Portland Altimeter (Corresponding Sea Level Barometric Pressure) is 30.03 inches of Hg. [This is important because it shows that at 20:15:56 they were very near Portland.]
Finally, “Shutter” (owner of the DB Cooper Forum) has been working on the problem of the flight path with what I’ll call “an extreme simulator” and did a test run from Ariel to Portland at my behest under nearly the same meteorological circumstances (he removed the cloud cover) and plane configuration of NWA flight 305. For my purposes, this simulation was mostly to get a view from the cockpit to better understand Anderson’s statement about being near Portland.*
My judgment, based on the simulation, is the absolute earliest someone from the cockpit could reasonably say they were near “Portland proper” is about five and a half minutes south of Ariel. This happened about 8:15 pm according to the published flight path. This is open to interpretation, and I encourage interested readers to see the video for themselves on the Project 305 YouTube channel. I’m being very conservative with the estimate, and I believe this to be the northern barrier for the drop zone.
All the evidence appears to overlap around the 8:15 mark. This is the upper limit of Harold Anderson’s statement of “five to ten minutes” after the 8:05 communication. At this location the flight was plausibly near enough to Portland both by my visual estimate from the cockpit and from the communications transcript.
It can’t be known exactly where 305 was at this instant, but the released FBI flight path suggests it is near Orchards, WA. It would be fair to say the flight could be plus or minus three miles north and south (one minute flying time), and perhaps one mile east and west from that point. This is significantly south of Ariel, very near the Lacamas River watershed, and it also makes a jump point over the Columbia River a possibility (though our estimate here is still a few miles and about a minute of flying time short of the Columbia).
Admittedly, the statements from the crew are ambiguous. None of the crew have spoken definitively on the flight path or about the pressure event. Only Rataczak has regularly spoken publicly about the hijacking, and his remarks on the subject is anything but clear. A strict interpretation, which is what others like Tom Kaye have favored, is what gives us the Ariel jump zone. By allowing for the possibility of two events and using the Ariel location for the start of the oscillation and using other evidence to establish the pressure bump, we get a drop zone farther south, closer to Portland and the Columbia River. This eliminates the paradox between where Cooper jumped and where the money was found, and does so without relying on the money find itself.
*Here is the entire paragraph from the FOIA document: Anderson stated that approximately 5 to 10 minutes after the last contact with subject at 8:05 pm, they heard and felt an oscillation of the aircraft and commented that the hijacker could have departed causing the unusual vibration since there had been no change in flight parameters or any other external force which would account for this sudden vibration. They telephoned the company representative (redacted) shortly thereafter and stated that the ‘oscillation’ which could have been the hijacker’s departure, would have occurred between 8:05 pm and their call to the company 5 or ten minutes later, the exact time being recorded in the company log. Anderson stated that they had not reached Portland proper but were definitely in the suburbs or immediate vicinity thereof.
According to Gunther, Cooper lost nearly half of the ransom money in the jump. My theory as to exactly how this is possible based on Gunther’s text will be dealt with in a later post. My goal here is to give a general overview of the Tina Bar find and the current theories regarding how the money got from the dropzone to a popular fishing spot twenty miles away.
Firstly, it has to be remembered how unbelievably unlikely it was that this money was found. These three bundles had been in “the wild” for eight years. In all likelihood the money was protected from the elements by the bag or by sand for most of this time, but it was still outside of human control. After so many years, the money was so degraded that the Ingrams (the family who discovered the money) described several of the bills “dissolving” into mush as they tried to clean and break apart the money (it had compacted together into a solid wad). Brian Ingram, then just eight years old, stumbled upon the money while playing (or digging, or something, accounts differ and Brian has basically forgotten) in the sand. Finding the money under these circumstances was a million to one event.
Unfortunately, this means the money was not found under controlled circumstances. The Ingrams washed and dried and otherwise manipulated the money wad[s] before it could be studied scientifically. When the FBI was notified, they did their own recovery operation on Tina Bar, which included a bunch of agents haphazardly shoveling into the sand, further contaminating the scene. A scientist (geologist Leonard Palmer) wasn’t brought in until the second day of the FBI operation. Worse for amatuer Cooper slueths is, while pictures and reports of the FBI dig are with the Norjack case files, they are not available to the public. All of the analysis done by Cooper aficionados has been done with limited access to these resources.
The Tina Bar find is important to understanding what happened to Cooper after he left the airplane. If Cooper died in the jump, the simplest explanation for why he was not found is that he landed in the Columbia. However, money sinks once fully saturated with water. The money was found well above where the river levels were at the time of the hijacking. Since there is very limited real estate in the area where a body could rot and not get noticed, the “Cooper died” hypothesis requires a search for mechanisms to get stuff from the bottom of the river to Tina Bar.
Because the Columbia is an important shipping lane, the river is regularly dredged. And there was a significant dredging operation a few years after the hijacking in 1974. The big question is whether this dredging brought the money to Tina Bar. While a huge and ongoing topic of debate, the answer to this question is probably not. Leonard Palmer, from a large trench dug near the money location, determined the money was in a distinct layer that was well-above the 1974 dredge material. From “The Palmer Report” we get the “Washougal Washdown” theory that describes the money being somewhere upstream until the 1977 floods, which then brought the money to Tina Bar.
Tom Kaye re-examined Palmer’s report and believes Palmer misidentified at least one of the layers from his trench. Kaye found a base layer of clay material that runs along the entire length of the bar. This layer appears to match the description of Palmer’s clay layer, which Palmer concluded came from the 1974 dredging operation. Since Kaye found this clay layer along the entire length of Tina Bar (which was heavily eroded by this time), he concluded the clay layer was a natural formation and not from 1974 dredge operation.
Kaye also looked at old photos of Tina Bar from before and after the ‘74 dredging and concluded the money was found a significant distance away from the dredging spoils, eliminating the dredge as the mechanism for getting the money to the bar. From this and his other findings, Kaye believes the money found its way to Tina Bar before the dredging operation. He even speculates some of the dredge material could have been pushed north by natural processes and thus helped cover the money until it was found.
The money was found at what many forum members believe was a “collection point” on the bar, where debris would gather during floods. The money location was near heavy foliage which would act as a backstop for debris. Since sandbars are dynamic environments, debris could be deposited on top of the sand and later be buried by wave and tidal action.
Something we can be certain of is that the money was put where it was found by natural forces. The evidence is overwhelming; the money was not planted at Tina Bar. Several FBI agents reported finding fragments during the dig. The size and distribution of the fragments is open to considerable debate, but there were fragments and this alone contraindicates human action. The state of the money reflected long-term exposure to the elements. The money was found in a spot where we’d expect to find flotsam to accumulate, and it was found downstream from where the 727 flight crossed the Columbia.
The Tina Bar find has been the obsessive focus of most of the members of the Cooper Forum, and represents the plurality of the posts found there. The focus spins around the three main theories 1) the money landed near Tina Bar, somewhere uphill and upstream, 2) Cooper and/or the money landed in the Columbia, snagged somewhere underwater, and some of the money was deposited via dredge, or 3) the money landed farther downstream, possibly in the Washougal watershed, and was delivered during the 1977 floods.
What does this all mean for the Gunther Hypothesis?
Given the provisional assumption that Leclair lost *a bag* of money, we can deduce one of several possibilities: The money may have fallen off of Leclair right away as he tumbled from the plane; the bag of money could have torn away from him when he pulled the ripcord; or the money was lost at some point during Leclair’s hard landing and he was unable to locate it in the darkness. No claim is made regarding a plant, Gunther leaves us with the impression the money did not venture far from the dropzone. As a consequence, the Tina Bar find helps to indicate where Leclair either left the aircraft or where he landed or some point in between.
If the money lands near Tina Bar or Caterpillar Island, Leclair lands somewhere in Salmon Creek or even Whipple Creek (almost matching the description from the book).
If the money lands along the shores of the Columbia south and east of Tina Bar, Cooper lands in the Vancouver suburbs (not supported by the Gunther account).
If the money lands farther east, near Fifth Plain Creek, or Lacamas Creek, or somewhere in that watershed, Cooper lands in the same area or in even more remote areas of farms, forests and cabins (exactly matching the circumstances from the book).
We can’t be certain of any scenario since Gunther made changes to the story to protect Clara’s identity. It’s likely all the information regarding where the cabin was, how far Cooper traveled from his dropzone, how far the cabin was from any particular area, and where Cooper cached his equipment, are fabrications. This will make it nearly impossible to identify Clara from this information. However, based on the Tina Bar find, we can safely move Cooper’s dropzone well south of Ariel.