By Bruce Smith
On Sunday, November 24, 2019, we will have a road trip through the FBI’s official NORJAK Landing Zones. The exact itinerary will be along State Route 503 from Vancouver to Amboy, Washington, which follows the official Flight Path of 305 through the Victor-23 air corridor.
The FBI’s primary landing zone (LZ-A), is a 24 square miles area from Battleground Lake State Park northwards to Amboy and Ariel.LZ-A was revised in 1975 according to recently released FBI documents, and repositioned about ten miles south, in the Hochinson, WA area. This modification was caused by a re-configuration of the time of DB Cooper’s jump and where Flight 305 was thought to be when Cooper jumped. Initially, the FBI thought Cooper jumped at 8:09 pm when 305 was above Battleground, WA, thus putting him on the ground after a 10-minute drift northeast near Amboy. By 1975, the timehad been revised to 8:12 pm, which put DB Cooper’s exit over Orchards, WA, and a new LZ near Hochinson. Remember 305 was flying at 200 mph, so three minutes of air time equates as nine miles of ground covered.
Ironically, Washington SR 503 recapitulates this geographic scenario with near-perfection.
Details and a Sign-Up will be provided at CooperCon on Saturday. The Tour is free, but we may have to limit the number of cars convoying with us. Also, “touristas” will be free to leave the convoy at any time. However, in general the Road Tour will commence at noon at the motel where many attendees are staying in Vancouver. We will travel down SR 500 in Vancouver to SR 503 in Orchards, then head northwards to Hochinson for our first stop at a local coffee shop (and restrooms.) There we will discuss the details of this LZ – who searched here, when, what did they find, etc. Then we head north to Amboy.
The primary ground search for DB Cooper was conducted in the Amboy-Ariel, WA area. Initially, deputies from the Clark County Sheriff’s Department entered the woods off of Cedar Creek Road and Pup Creek Roads in Amboy. About twenty deputies and volunteers searchedin rain and fogfrom Friday, November 26, 1971 until Sunday, November 28, 1971. The ground search was suspended on Monday, November 29, 1971 so that accompanying FBI agents could participate in the huge V-23 fly-over from Sea-Tac to Reno. Afterwards, those FBI agents were reassigned to begin a house-to-house search in Amboy.
We will stop along Cedar Creek road to examine this critical area, and then head to the property of Bernice Rhodes on Pup Creek Rd. Bernice has lived on her ranch since the time of the skyjacking and has vivid memories of the ground search and the subsequent house searches by the FBI. She and her lands have appeared in several DB Cooper documentaries, including the recent Mission Declassified episode on DB Cooper for the Travel Channel.
Depending on the time and the desires of the group, we may proceed around Lake Merwin – which takes about 30 minutes of drive time - to see the Ariel Tavern and the Lake Merwin Dam and surrounding campgrounds. These lands were the HQ for the four-week joint military and FBI ground search for DB Cooper in March and April 1972. Two-hundred soldiers from Fort Lewis and approximately two-dozen FBI agents canvassed the lands around Ariel – which is north of the Lewis River – and again in the Amboy area, south of the Lewis River. They found two corpses of women who had been sexually molested and later identified as being residents of Vancouver, but nothing of DB Cooper and his getaway gear was found.
Of course, the Ariel tavern was the center of rest and relaxation for these troopers, and it became the gathering spot for Cooperites ever since. The famous Cooper Daze celebration was held here for over forty years on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and many considered it to be the high point of their social calendar. Sadly, the death of owner Dona Elliott in 2016 forced the cancellation of this event, from which CooperCon was born in 2018.
After Ariel, we will conclude our trip at La Casa Tapatia in Woodland. This town was the HQ for the initial FBI search, and was also the childhood home of Darren Schaefer, who will be riding with us. Hopefully, he can regale us with tales of local Cooper lore. Regardless, LCT has the best Mexican food in the area and we will end this portion of CooperCon 2019 on a high note!