SEATTLE - Hoping to solve at least part of a 36-year-old mystery, the FBI is analyzing a torn, tangled parachute found in southwest Washington to determine if it belonged to famed plane hijacker D.B. Cooper.
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 on the unsolved highjacking - 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.'
In November 1971, 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, 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. On the flight to Mexico City, he apparently took the cash and 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. The parachute was discovered about 160 miles south of Seattle, near the border.
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.
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.