Several items were discovered after the hijacked Boeing 727 landed at the Municipal Airport in Reno, Nevada the night of November 24, 1971. Landing at 11:01 PM Pacific Standard Time, the investigation of the plane began a mere 24 minutes later at 11:25 PM. Four FBI agents, upon searching the airplane noticed a pink parachute along with an open, green-canvas reserve container. Located all the way in the back of the plane, the reserve container with its cloverleaf ripcord handle, was found on the floor directly in front of seat #18D. The pink parachute, located one row ahead and across the aisle, was spread out over seats #17C and #17B.
According to the Senior Master Sergeant and Tech Sergeant of Nellis Air Force Base who conducted the inspection, the pink parachute that was opened and abandoned on the airplane was a 24-foot Ripstock type, with serial # DA 58-53912. Manufactured in October 1959 by the Switlik Parachute Co. - a company established in 1920 and still in business today - the chest-chute was one of two chest-chutes delivered to the hijacker. Both were owned by Seattle Sky Sports of Issaquah, Washington, located 17 miles east of Seattle. The inspection card record contained in the canvas pack at the time of the FBI examination, stated that the chute had been inspected and repacked on September 16, 1971 by Rigger Earl J. Cossey.
The Senior Master Sergeant and Tech Sergeant also noted that not only had all 24 of the shroud lines (suspension lines) been cut out of the reserve container, thus freeing the entire canopy [1, 4], but that two individual shroud lines had been cut off from the canopy [5, 6] and had been completely removed from the aircraft. Two additional transcripts in the FBI Archive stated that “three of the shroud cords had been cut” by the hijacker [7, 8].
Tina Mucklow stated in FBI interview transcripts that upon takeoff from Seattle, “the hijacker was occupied with opening one of the parachute packs.” She recalled that the color of the chute was “a bright pink-orange color” and “the hijacker was attempting to in some way pack the money in a parachute container in order that he could in some way attach it to his body along with the regular parachute straps. She clearly recalled his removing a small jack knife from his pocket and cutting some portion of either the outside container or the parachute in order to secure the money in this rather than in the white bank-type bag which he had been furnished.”
Mucklow also reported that about the time the plane was taking off from Sea-Tac, the hijacker instructed her to go forward to the cockpit, to close the first class curtains and have no one return to the rear of the plane. It was at this moment that she noticed the hijacker had tied a cord around his waist .
Because it is thought that Cooper tied the bank-type bag to his waist using shroud lines (suspension lines) cut from the pink parachute [1, 3], a careful inspection of the parachute was conducted during the Teams visit to the FBI Archive in 2009. All 24 shroud lines were untangled in 1.5 man-hours and each line was rolled into a tight bundle for easier inspection. The individual suspension lines were examined and upon careful observation, it was discovered that five shroud lines had been removed from the pink parachute. Each cut line had a markedly different length removed, except for two – lines #11 and #12. Measurements were taken of each cut cord and lines #11 and #12 resulted in a difference of only ¼ inch (6.5 mm). The lengths of each cut line were compared to the measurements taken of the overall uncut lines, in order to determine the exact amount of cord removed from each separate line.
Five cords on the pink parachute had cut lines:
Line #7 had 186 ¾ inches of cord removed
Line #11 had 169 ¾ inches of cord removed
Line #12 had 169 inches of cord removed
Line #15 had 213 inches of cord removed
Line #22 had 217 ¼ inches of cord removed
The length of an uncut cord (including the double-sewn cord used to tie into the cross-connector, the bundle of cords located between the butterfly snap-hook rings in the reserve container) is 218 inches (or 18.2 feet).
Exactly how much suspension line is currently missing from the pink parachute?
955 ¾ inches (or 79.6 feet).
Exactly how much suspension line did D.B. Cooper use to wrap the bundle of money to his waist?
If the investigative search of the plane was conducted a mere 24 minutes after the plane touched down in Reno, NV and the number of cut cords recorded by the search team at that time was two, it suggests that Cooper removed two shroud lines (suspension lines) from the pink parachute. Logically, it seems as though the hijacker would grab two cords at the same time and make only one cut, rather than choosing lines individually and cutting them separately. Lines #11 and #12 seem the most plausible two, being a mere ¼ inch difference in length and located next to each other on the canopy. If D.B. Cooper took these two lines, he took a total of 338 ¾ inches (28.2 feet) of cord with him. If he doubled-up the cords for extra security during the jump, he used 169 ¾ inches (or 14.1 feet) of cord.
Two cords vs. Three cords
Whether two cords or three cords were cut remains a debate. Tina Mucklow asked the hijacker during the flight to cut some of the chute cord for her to possibly use as a safety line when the aft stairs were lowered, so as to not be sucked out of the plane . Mucklow stated that Cooper informed her that she didn't need a cord. Was an additional cord cut from the chute at the time for Mucklow, but never used?
This research was conducted by Carol Abraczinskas, University of Chicago.
1. FBI Transcript: “MUCKLOW advised that when she returned with the second back parachute, the hijacker was cutting open one of the chest parachutes with a pocketknife and cut some of the nylon cords. He then took the nylon cord, wrapped it around the neck of the money bag numerous times and then wrapped it a few times from top to bottom. With the same piece of nylon, he then made a loop-like handle at the top.”
2. FBI Transcript: Regarding Stewardess Tina Mucklow: “She asked him to cut some of the parachute cord to use as a safety line when she opened the air stairs but the hijacker said, “Never mind,” that he would do it.”
3. FBI Transcript: Regarding Stewardess Tina Mucklow: “Approximately four minutes after take-off, the hijacker stood up and told her to go to the cockpit; to close the First Class Curtains and have no one come out from behind the curtains. The lights were out in the rear compartment. She went forward into the First Class Section and as she pulled the curtains, she turned and saw the hijacker for the last time and noticed that he had a nylon cord tied around his waist and standing in the aisle.”
4. FBI Transcript: “Upon interview, Stewardess ALICE HANDCOCK advised that after the parachutes had been brought on to the aircraft, she noticed that one of them had been unpacked and she asked the hijacker if he had taken the parachute apart, to which he replied that he had.”
5. FBI Transcript: “They also noted that while the nylon chute itself was in good contition, two of the 24 nylon lines attaching same to the canvas pack had been cut and removed.”
6. FBI Transcript: “Therefore, he is of the opinion that whoever pulled the rip cord and released the chute from its canvas pack, then proceeded to cut the shroud lines free from the canvas pack and also cut and removed two of the shroud lines.”
7. FBI Transcript: “ORANGE CHEST PARACHUTE, 24 FOOT RIP STOP, TYPE SN DA5853912. DATE OF MANUFACTURE 10/59. OWNER-SEATTLE SKY SPORTS, ISSAQUAH, WASHINGTON INSPECTED AND REPACKED 9/16/71 BY E.J. COSSEY. THREE SHROUD CORDS CUT”
8. FBI Transcript: “This parachute was found on the plane when it landed at Reno. The parachute had been opened and removed from its packing. Three of the shrouds had been cut, apparently by the hijacker.”