When the F.B.I. or any law enforcement agency investigates a major crime, one of the things they do is to hold back a known fact or two from the public. They do this to weed out false confessors to the crime, or to eliminate (or confirm) suspects. The D.B. Cooper hijacking case was no different. It has recently come to light that the F.B.I. decided to hold back a key bit of evidence about the bomb the hijacker used to force Northwest Airlines to hand over $200,000 in cash and four parachutes.
Over the last forty-six years, only four things have ever been revealed about the bomb itself. First, that it was housed in a briefcase. Second, that there was a battery inside similar to the one in the picture. Third, that there were wires attached to both the battery and the bomb. Fourth, that the bomb was composed of red sticks. This last bit originated from stewardess Florence Schaffner, who was allowed a quick glance inside the briefcase. Schaffner was passed a note from the hijacker shortly after takeoff from Portland, OR that read:
Miss. I have a bomb here and I would like you to sit by me.
As soon as Schaffner did as she was told, the hijacker opened the briefcase for a quick moment. She later told the flight crew what she saw. Red sticks, lots of wires, and a battery bigger than one you would put into a flashlight. That’s been the story for several decades now, although FBI agent Ralph Himmelsbach has said occasionally that he was sure the bomb was phony because dynamite sticks are generally tan in color, and not red.
Red sticks. Could they have been road flares? The problem with road flares isn’t that they are red. It’s that they have an ignitor on one end, and a lot of instructions printed on the outside. Even a stewardess who only got a quick look would be able to tell the ‘dynamite’ was phony. So if they weren’t dynamite, and they weren’t road flares, then how could they pass for a real explosive? If the F.B.I. had even a clue that the bomb was a phony, they probably would have stormed Flight 305 right on the tarmac after it reached Seattle. But something created doubt in their minds about the whole thing, and somehow they assumed the bomb could be real, even if the alleged dynamite was the wrong color.
The answer was both simple – and a brilliant move by the hijacker. He not only fooled the F.B.I. and the flight crew, but the bomb itself had a purpose beyond just being a bomb.
It was a key part of the hijacker’s escape plan.
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