There Is Something about This That Is an Inexorable Draw to Current and Former Denizens of the Pacific Northwest

The Rare Earth Elements

I am referring to the hijacker (incorrectly) known as D.B. Cooper.

For some reason, anyone who has spent any time living in Oregon or Washington (I dunno about Idaho), it’s like catnip

So when I came across a report of new evidence in the only unsolved airline hijacking in the continental United States, (updated incorrect link) I gotta comment:

A group of amateur scientists claim they may have narrowed the suspect pool in a case that has stymied the experts for decades.

The infamous case of D.B. Cooper and the nation’s only unsolved skyjacking has left investigators befuddled since a parachuted Cooper leapt from a Boeing 727 headed to Seattle from Portland on Nov. 24, 1971.

But a team of “Citizen Sleuths” say that evidence they’ve uncovered could mean that Dan Cooper, the name used when the culprit bought his one-way ticket with cash, was in fact an employee of some sort of aerospace engineering firm.

The crucial pieces of newly uncovered evidence: thousands of microscopic particles on a $3 clip-on necktie from JC Penney.

“All of these particles are too small to be seen with the naked eye, but modern science can now track them to their source,” the group wrote on their website. “These particles through their shape and composition can tell a story.”

If you are one of the few who are unfamiliar with the saga of D.B. Cooper, here’s the short version:

On that fateful day in 1971, a man calling himself Dan Cooper purchased a one-way ticket from Portland to Seattle on Northwest Orient Airlines. He hijacked the plane, demanded $200,000 in ransom money, and having received it during a stopover in Seattle, jumped from the aircraft wearing nothing but a business suit and a parachute somewhere over the forests of southwest Washington.


“Each of those particles comes from something and somewhere and can tell a story if the proper instruments like electron microscopes are used,” the group wrote.

The particles in question — Cerium, Strontium sulfide and pure titanium — are of note because because of how rare they are, lead investigator Tom Kaye told King 5 News in Seattle.

“These are what they call rare earth elements. They’re used in very narrow fields, for very specific things,” he said.

As an aside, neither Strontium nor Titanium are rare earth elements.  (Click on image above for larger image)

Of particular interest was the pure titanium. The mineral was widely used in aircraft manufacturing in the early 1970s, but titanium used in airplanes was almost always mixed with other metals, which ruled out Boeing, the region’s largest aerospace manufacturer.

So, I already pointed out one scientific error, the listing of Strontium and Titanium as rare earth elements.

Here are scientific and business facts about the substances in question:

  • Strontium sulfide could NOT be present now, because it would have reacted with wqater in the air over the past 40 odd years to form Strontium Hydroxide and Hydrogen Sulfide (SrS + 2 H2O → Sr(OH)2 + H2S) or with both the water and CO2 to form Strontium Carbonate (SrS + H2O + CO2 → SrCO3 + H2S).
    • Strontium Sulfide has no applications, it is an intermediate stage in refining.
    • The primary used of Strontium are  in CRTs (Picture tubes and the like to keep the watcher from being irradiated) and as a coloring agent in fireworks as SrCO3 (red sparks).
    • The article might have made an error, instead we are referring to Strontium Sulfate (SRSO4)
  • Metallic Titanium (as sponge or powder) is used in fireworks, as is TiO2, and produces white sparks.
    • Pure Titanium is almost NEVER used in structures.  An alloy, most commonly Ti-6Al-4V (6% Al, 4% V) is, and but this may be another error.
    • Titanium has been used extensively in medical implants since the 1960s.
    • Titanium began to hit bicycle frames in the 1970s. (With unimpressive results until the early 1990s)
  • Cerium has the following applications:
    • “Flints” used in lighters and fire starters (Ferrocerium and Mischmetal).
    • Fine polishing of glass.
    • Phosphors in fluorescent lights and CRTs (in the latter application, they keep the screen from darkening over tiem).
    • Catalytic converters in automobiles.
    • The nitrate is used in ointments for treating severe burns. 
    • Medical implants like artificial hips.

The person wearing a clip-on tie was someone who, in a pinch, had to work machines, because if a clip on gets caught in a machine, it comes off, and a real tie pulls you in. This would imply that they are not that senior.  (It was the first and only instruction on fashion that I got in E-School)

Though a number of sources are saying Boeing, Kaye specifically eschews this link, because pure Titanium is not used in airframes.

His conclusion, that, “The tie was likely in a plant that manufactured cathode ray tubes,” is one that I would agree with.  (Note that many of the news reports misquote him and point the finger at Boeing)

In fact, the Strontium and Cerium would tend to indicate this sort of application.

I am unaware of any normal application for Titanium in CRT manufacturer, but perhaps for a high end application, say something made by Tektronix, which is headquartered in Beaverton, Oregon, which located just outside of Portland, where flight 305 originated.

I don’t think that Cooper survived the jump, so I would look at people who vanished, or abruptly quit at Tektronix or its local suppliers, at around that time.


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