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He's Not About to Let D.B. Cooper Get Away

August 28, 2005|Tomas Alex Tizon | Times Staff Writer

That was the last anybody saw of Cooper. Authorities don't even know whether that was his real last name. The name he provided when he bought his airline ticket was Dan Cooper. After the skyjacking, a newspaper reported that police had interviewed an Oregon man named D.B. Cooper, who turned out to be the wrong man, but the name stuck. Cooper made it to the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list.

"This is a guy who tweaked Uncle Sam's nose and appears to have gotten away with it," said retired FBI agent Ralph Himmelsbach, trying to explain Cooper's folk-hero status. Himmelsbach, who once headed the investigation, said that although Cooper broke the law, he didn't hurt anyone -- except probably himself. Himmelsbach said Cooper jumped from 10,000 feet into a minus 7 degree temperature -- 69 degrees below zero with wind chill -- wearing "a business suit and slip-on loafers.... It's a long shot he survived."

In February 1980, an 8-year-old boy picnicking with his family along the Columbia River found a muddy wad of $20 bills totaling $5,800. Authorities confirmed the money had been part of Cooper's loot. The find corroborated the theory that Cooper was dead at the bottom of the river, but others speculated that he was clever enough to have placed the money in the river as a diversion.

It is near this spot -- an area where debris naturally collects -- where Tosaw has concentrated his efforts over the past several summers. "People want to believe he got away with it. They want to believe he's alive somewhere," Tosaw said. "I just want to find his wallet, so the world will know who the hell D.B. Cooper really was."

Tosaw said he might make one more trip out here before the rains started later in the year. Chances are he'll be back again next summer, he said. One of his secrets for staying motivated is to surround himself with like-minded people. One of those is Mike John, who heads Advanced American Diving Services out of the Portland area. Tosaw hired John's crew for the latest searches.

"We all recognize the chances are slim that we'll find him, but they found the Kennewick Man," said John, referring to a prehistoric skeleton discovered along the banks of the Columbia in 1996. "That guy had been buried in sand for 10,000 years, and then one day a couple of teenagers find him by the side of the river.

"You never know."

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