John Griffith is a marine casualty expert in Tacoma, Washington. His accomplishments include the photographic reconstruction of Ethiopian Airlines flight 409, overseeing the assembly of 50,000 high-resolution underwater digital images into one of the largest contiguous photomosaics ever created.
Tell me a bit about your background as a marine casualty expert.
I worked in shipwreck recovery from 2004-2010 and spent most of that time as a researcher, researching wrecks of high value and attempting to pin down likely locations.
What first got you interested in DB Cooper? Quite a departure from shipwrecks!
It’s one of those local legends that led to a lot of crazy speculation in the news. At least once a year there would be a story of someone claiming that a relative confessed to being D.B. Cooper before they died or some backpacker claiming to have found his parachute. I though that it would be fun to go looking for the rest of the money myself and started research to design a search area. The results were not encouraging.
How does your analysis and approach differ from other researchers? Without naming names, can I ask you to critique the approach of other researchers?
Most of the people looking into the DB Cooper mystery have done their homework, but see all of the contradictory information and just can’t reach any sort of conclusion. I can respect that, in many ways the mystery is fun and harmless and good fuel for imagination. The problem in that form of research lies with weighing all evidence equally, including the less trustworthy sources. For me the physical evidence always comes first and I consider anything that contradicts it with brutal skepticism.
How does this skyjacking figure into Washington State mythology?
It doesn’t have much competition. Washington state has little history, being sparsely populated for most of its past and removed from world events by geography.
What’s the weirdest theory you’ve heard on DB Cooper?
Probably the one where he crash landed in a woman’s garden, she fell in love with him and they lived happily ever after.
Do you think the mystery will ever be truly solved? Or do you think it’s been solved already?
The money found on the beach was pretty badly decayed and that was back in 1980. I doubt there’s any evidence left to find, so there won’t be any conclusive proof of what happened.
Tell me a little about what happened to Ethiopian Airlines flight 409. Is it complicated working in that region of the world, so near Israel, Syria and Lebanon?
That was a case of a 737 crashing shortly after takeoff from Beirut. I was there to work on putting together an full image of the debris on the sea floor. Most of that time was spent waiting for clearance from the local government. On the plus side, I had the opportunity to explore the area and got to see the old Roman ruins at Baalbek, Lebanon. The actual work on putting the image together was done later back in the US.
What’s the most interesting thing you found during the course of that investigation?
That Photoshop wasn’t designed with 20gb file sizes in mind! So much lag.
Are there any other strange or interesting projects you are or have considered looking into?
There’s some stories from local history that I looking at, but most of it would put people to sleep! How about I let you know if I come across anything interesting?