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Author invites public to solve DB Cooper mystery

New York author Geoffrey Gray is releasing nearly 200 pages of research material collected during the research phase of his 2012 book, "Skyjack: The Hunt for DB Cooper." He's asking the public to help solve the mystery of who pulled off the 1971 hijacking.

Richard DeCample remembers the moment he saw one of the most famous faces in American history.

"I had hooked up to the airplane and I was under the wing, but I could look up and I could see him looking out, but I'm like, 'What can he see?'"

DeCample, a 72-year-old who lives in Renton, was referring to the man's eye wear.

"I mean he had pretty dark glasses on," he said.

Forty-six years ago, DeCample was a ramp worker for Northwest Orient airlines. And the man wearing dark glasses was DB Cooper, the name given to the man who hijacked a Portland-to-Seattle flight on Thanksgiving eve, 1971. Cooper demanded parachutes and $200,000 cash, threatening to detonate a bomb in his briefcase.

DeCample's name and statement to the FBI are contained in documents that are now available for the public to view.

New York author Geoffrey Gray is releasing nearly 200 pages of research material collected during the research phase of his 2012 book, "Skyjack: The Hunt for DB Cooper."

"(Some of) these files have never been seen before, and they're rife with information," Gray said.
The public can register for free to see the documents. Citizen sleuths can then trade information and theories about the case that has baffled law enforcement for nearly half a century.

"We want people to have access to the material. We want them to help solve the case with us," Gray said.

Transcripts of the radio calls between the Sea-Tac tower and the hijacked airplane is where Richard DeCample's place in history is highlighted.

"You could feel the tension in the air, but we didn't know the specifics," DeCample said of the ground crew working to service the plane after it had landed in Seattle.

DeCample was operating a fuel truck for Northwest Airlines that night, one of three that was called to meet the hijacker's demand to fill the fuel tanks of Flight 305 so that the plane could lift off again.

Transcripts show the refueling took longer than usual, as the ground crew dealt with partially filled fuel trucks and, in the case of DeCample's truck, a malfunction with the fueling hose. The delays frustrated the hijacker.

"He's getting antsy, and that's our problem right now," radioed a nervous pilot as he told the tower to speed up the fueling process.

DeCample says he was in the process of transferring fuel to the plan when he glanced toward a cabin window and saw the face that's been memorialized in those famous DB Cooper sketches.

"I just wondered what he could see in dark glasses looking out the window at night," DeCample told KING 5.

In addition to the fuel truck foul-ups, the documents posted on Gray's website include raw FBI reports, witness interviews and a narrative called "The Hijack," written by FBI agents two days after the heist. The website also includes a copy of the Oregon newspaper article in which Cooper was first mis-identified as "DB Cooper."

The crime began at Portland's airport when a man calling himself "Dan Cooper" purchased a ticket to Seattle. When the plane was airborne, Cooper passed a note to a flight attendant stating that he had a bomb in his briefcase. He demanded four parachutes, $200,000 in unmarked bills, and refueling trucks standing by when the plane arrived at Sea-Tac Airport.

After the cash was delivered and passengers and flight attendants deplaned, the 727 took off and headed south. Cooper leapt from the rear staircase of the Boeing 727 somewhere over southwestern Washington.

Despite a massive manhunt, no trace of Cooper was found until 1980, when some of the ransom money was discovered by a boy digging in the sand along the Columbia River near Vancouver.

The FBI closed the case last year, citing a lack of new leads. Gray says it's now up to citizen sleuths to solve the mystery.

"I'm just excited to have some new eyes on these documents and release these things," said Gray.

-- Follow Chris Ingalls on Twitter @CJIngalls