SEATTLE - The FBI is analyzing a torn, tangled parachute found buried by children in southwest Washington to determine whether it might have been used by famed plane hijacker D.B. Cooper, the agency said.
Children playing outside their home near Amboy found the chute's fabric sticking up from the ground in an area where their father had been grading a road, agent Larry Carr said Tuesday. They pulled it out as far as they could, then cut the parachute's ropes with scissors.
The children had seen recent media coverage of the case — the FBI launched a publicity campaign last fall, hoping to generate tips to solve the 36-year-old mystery — and they urged their dad to call the agency.
"When we went to the public, the whole idea was that the public is going to bring the answers to us," Carr said. "This is exactly what we were hoping for."
A man identifying himself as Dan Cooper — later mistakenly but enduringly identified as D.B. Cooper — hijacked a Northwest Orient flight from Portland, Ore., to Seattle in November 1971, claiming he had a bomb.
When the plane landed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, he released the passengers in exchange for $200,000 and asked to be flown to Mexico. He apparently parachuted from the plane's back stairs somewhere near the Oregon border.
Agents doubt he survived because conditions were poor and the terrain was rough, but few signs of his fate have been found.
Carr spoke with the children's father, whom he declined to identify, early this month and learned the chute was white, the same color as Cooper's.
And when Carr overlaid the family's address onto a map investigators made in the early days of the investigation, he learned another encouraging fact: They lived right in Cooper's most probable landing zone, between Green and Bald mountains.
Carr hopped in his car and drove down. He dug around the property for about 45 minutes, unsuccessfully looking for a harness or other remains from the parachute, but the children weren't home, and the father wasn't sure exactly where they found it.
There are no obvious markings on the parachute to indicate whether it's the type Cooper used, a Navy Backpack 6 with a 26-foot canopy, Carr said. He's hoping a member of the public who has expertise in the parachutes will come forward and confirm whether it's the right kind before the FBI bothers to excavate the property. Barring that, the agency could turn to scientific analysis of the fabric.
"We've got to be pretty darn sure we're not wasting time and money here," he said.
If it is Cooper's parachute, that will solve one mystery — where he apparently landed — but it will raise another, Carr said.
In 1980, a family on a picnic found $5,880 of Cooper's money in a bag on a Columbia River beach, near Vancouver. Some investigators believed it might have been washed down to the beach by the Washougal River. But if Cooper landed near Amboy and stashed the money bag there, there's no way it could have naturally reached the Washougal.
"If this is D.B. Cooper's parachute, the money could not have arrived at its discovery location by natural means," Carr said. "That whole theory is out the window."