FBI Uncovers a Possible New Suspect in D.B. Cooper Hijacking

Agents now have partial fingerprints to compare to prior suspects.

August 1, 2011, 3:49 PM

Aug. 1, 2011— -- FBI officials have yet to name the Pacific Northwest man suspected of possibly being the fugitive who parachuted from a plane in 1971 with $200,000 in hand because they're unsure that the man, who's dead, was the alleged skyjacker.

Forty years after the infamous fugitive known as D.B. Cooper parachuted out of the plane over Washington state, never to be seen again, the FBI has uncovered a new suspect it is calling the "most promising" lead to date in the nation's only unsolved commercial airplane hijacking.

The male suspect's name was given to the FBI by a law enforcement agent, as was a piece of the man's personal property. The item is at the FBI forensic lab in Quantico, Va., where it is being checked for fingerprints. The suspect in question is dead and not being identified by the FBI because the agency can't confirm it is Cooper.

"[The item is] back at our lab and we hope to compare it to partial fingerprints we got in the hijacking," Sandalo Dietrich, a spokeswoman for the FBI's Seattle office, where the Cooper evidence is kept, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "It would be a real break if it came back."

The FBI obtained a partial DNA sample from the black JCPenney clip-on tie Cooper left on the plane before jumping off its tail end. The FBI extracted the sample in 2001, but it did not match up with any suspects.

The tie, the parachute he discarded, his boarding pass with the words "DAN COOPER" written in red ink and a few deteriorated bills from the ransom money found in 1980 are the only physical pieces of evidence the FBI's Seattle office has.

The FBI has not released any further details on the man or the item.

What Happened on the Night of Nov. 24, 1971

On Nov. 24, 1971, an unassuming man wearing a business suit and appearing to be in his mid-40s allegedly hijacked and threatened to blow up a Northwest Orient Airlines plane traveling from Portland, Ore., to Seattle if he did not get four parachutes and a $200,000 ransom.

When the plane landed in Seattle, the suspect, known only as Dan Cooper or D.B. Cooper, allowed the passengers and two flight attendants off the plane, and the officials handed over the money, in $20 bills, and the parachutes.

According to the FBI, Cooper simply told the remaining crew to "fly to Mexico" after they took off from Seattle.

"Back in the early '70s, late '60s, hijackings weren't uncommon. The philosophy of the day was cooperate. Comply with his demands and we'll deal with it when the plane lands," said Larry Carr, an FBI special agent who manages the case out of the bureau's office in Seattle.

In a daring getaway, Cooper jumped out of the speeding 727, thousands of feet over the Pacific Northwest, during a raging storm.

Cooper disappeared, and is still missing today, despite an extensive manhunt. The FBI has chased hundreds of leads through the years and looked at a number of suspects.

The case returned to the spotlight once again in 1980, after a young boy found $5,800 in $20 bills from the ransom money decomposing along the banks of the Columbia River. Two young children discovered an old parachute 100 miles south of Seattle in 2008, but it was not Cooper's.

That Cooper was able to get away with his actions inspired a string of copycat hijack and jump episodes; 15 in 1972 alone. In all the cases, however, the FBI captured the criminals.

One theory is that having leapt into the darkness somewhere over rural Washington State, he died in the jump.

Other theories have been discussed at the Ariel Store and Tavern on state Route 503, near where many believe Cooper landed. One is that Cooper was actually a woman and the recipient of the first sex change operation in Washington. Another theory is that Cooper survived the jump, but came to his demise upon encountering Sasquatch, also known as Bigfoot, in the woods of Washington.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events