There is a scene from the film Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana Jones and Sallah look at each other and say:
“They’re looking in the wrong place…”
When Cooper jumped from the back of the jet, that was recorded by the flight crew fairly well, but due to possible parachute drift of around a mile in any direction…this left a search area of at least nine to twelve square miles. Doesn’t sound like much, but when Search and Rescue comes looking for someone, just a single square mile or two is a challenge.
Nothing really got going on a Cooper search until the day after the hijacking. If you look at the area in the prime dropzone for Cooper, you see numerous Forest Service roads, some paved roads, and a couple of rivers that lead right back to the Interstate 5 freeway. See map below:
This is a portion of the actual search map used by the FBI and the US Army. The hand-drawn black line is the flight path of the jet according to Northwest Airlines, SAGE radar, and Air Traffic Control radar. The jet was also being shadowed by two military jets (with radar) out of McChord AFB.
The blue arrow points to a parachute found in 2008 that was dismissed later by the Seattle FBI. At first, the FBI said this about it:
“It’s the right color, the right size, and found in the right place…”
A week later, they dismissed it based solely on the opinion of Cooper parachute packer Earl Cossey, who claimed he knew it wasn’t Cooper’s because it was made of silk, and the ones he packed were made of ripstop nylon. But silk is a natural substance and rots in the ground. Nylon does not, and chute experts who saw some of the pictures released by the FBI say it is obviously NYLON, not silk. To make things even MORE weird…if you inquire about the Amboy chute today, the Seattle FBI tells you they can’t discuss it because it is ‘evidence in an ongoing case’.
Picture of the chute found buried in Amboy, WA in March 2008:
The Amboy chute was buried without a container or harness, which means someone had to physically remove them before burial. It has been speculated that Cooper may have done this to move the ransom money from the bank bag (like the one shown below) into something more resembling a backpack, which is how he demanded the money be delivered to him in the first place.
Nearly fifty years after the crime, not a single shred of evidence has been found in the woods of Southwest Washington, with the exception of the Amboy chute. No body, no briefcase with the alleged bomb, no other chute, and no trace of the paper bag he carried with whatever he had inside it. The reference previously saying “they’re looking in the wrong place” simply means the FBI went looking to civilian parachute jumpers as Cooper quite a bit, but they were barking up the wrong tree. They also considered anyone who had a police record on file. Neither of those categories really fit Cooper, who in my opinion didn’t have a criminal record and wasn’t a civilian parachutist.
About six thousand dollars of the ransom money was discovered on the banks of the Columbia River in 1980. Researchers concluded that because the flight path was six to ten miles EAST of where the money was found, and that Cooper almost certainly jumped NORTH of the Columbia River, there is no way to figure out how it arrived where it was found. Some people believe Cooper tossed some of the ransom into the Columbia after November 24, 1976. And that Cooper did this as a response to the FBI’s acquisition of a ‘John Doe’ warrant they managed to get on the last day before the Statute of Limitations on the case was due to expire. (When the FBI did this, it was big news in the Pacific Northwest, because both the news people and the public were starting to count down the days until the Statute expired.) Some people thought Cooper might actually come forward, until the FBI played that little trick on him. The Statute on the Cooper case was five years, although later a law was passed making it no Statute of Limitations on skyjackings.
In addition, Citizen Sleuths, a group who were allowed to examine the physical evidence in the hijacking, including the money found on the banks of the Columbia, have alleged there is NO WAY the money laid out in the elements for the nine years between the hijacking and the date it was found in 1980. Their results are HERE.
Once on the ground, Cooper had a window of some hours to make his getaway. He would have landed sometime around 8:30 PM, and the real search didn’t begin until the next afternoon. That was done by some local law enforcement and a few available FBI agents. The search by the US Army didn’t start until some time later, and by then Cooper was most likely long gone. One of the biggest myths in the Cooper case was that a ‘storm’ was going when he jumped. The historical record by Weather Underground, via the Portland International Airport report from 11/24/1971 and into the next day, puts the lie to that myth. In reality, there was little rain and winds were the lowest they had been all day when Cooper jumped. The temperature at ground level was above freezing.
Another bit of evidence comes from the hijacking pulled off by Richard Floyd McCoy the following year. In that one, McCoy reached the ground safely after jumping 5,000 feet higher than Cooper, from a jet moving faster than the 727 Cooper hijacked, and carrying $500,000 – 2 1/2 times the money load Cooper got. Robb Heady managed to reach the ground alive, and that was in the Washoe Mountains near Lake Tahoe. He did sprain an ankle on landing, but was arrested when he reached his car. (He forgot about the United States Parachute Association bumper sticker on the back of his car, and when the FBI saw that, they simply staked out the car until he showed up.) There is also the case of Frederick Hahneman, who bailed successfully with $303,000 after a flight that originated in the United States and ended up with Hahneman jumping over the jungle in Honduras. He later turned himself in.
The end result is that jumping from a jet aircraft with a parachute and some ransom money has been done successfully at least a few times, and sometimes under worse conditions than D.B. Cooper experienced. This doesn’t mean Cooper lived, or even got away with it. But after nearly fifty years, you would think someone would have discovered some evidence that he died by now. Instead, they only found some ransom money on a riverbank with no sensible means of water delivery…and in a condition that precludes it laid out in the elements for nine years.
Citizen Sleuths, after their study of this money, concluded it had been in the elements no longer than a year or two.
Picture below: Although it has been established that Cooper did NOT write the book below, he probably could have if he had wanted.