Bill Mitchell Transcript from WSHM

Bill Mitchell Interview on October 3rd, 2013, October 18th, 2013
by telephone with Fred Poyner IV and Gwen Whiting


Bill Mitchell: “My name Bill Mitchell. I grew up in Redmond, Washington. Went to Redmond High School, then went to University of Oregon. And, graduated from high school in 1969, went to Oregon 1970. I was a sophomore and I was coming home from Eugene to Seattle for Thanksgiving. I, ah, got a ride from a friend from Eugene to Portland. And, I, ah, hadn’t bought a ticket so went into the Portland Airport actually, ah, just went looking for the next flight to Seattle. And it was a NorthWest flight. And, it’s hard to imagine but back then I bought the ticket and then to get into the airplane you walked out a side door of the terminal. Walked out on the tarmac and it was a 727. And you, and you walked up to the back stairway went down and that’s how you got on the plane. I mean there, you know. So I walked up. I remember it was actually sunny, It was one of those North West days where there was lots of clouds around but it was sunny. And it was in the afternoon, and I can’t remember the time but it was still daylight and the sun was out. And, I walked up to the back, ah, staircase and there were ah hardly anybody on the plane. I sat back, sat on the left rear middle seat. And uhm, I mean you know I mean it was a 37 minute flight and I. Oh, there was another thing. I had called my parents from the airport and said heh I’m on this flight, I have all my luggage with me. Just meet me in the, in the no parking zone in the terminal.” "So, I got on the plane, sat back on the right. And, you know, I can remember the sis, the si, the sun kinda blasting thru the clouds which you’ll, things to know, I’ll make a point later. Um, weren’t very many people on the flight and I don’t remember DB Cooper getting on. Which was a kind of a key point that the FBI kept asking me, I mean I didn’t, I don’t know if he was there or if I, he came on after me. Probably I guess he came after me.“

Poyner: “Okay.”

Bill Mitchell: “I got on there and I think I had homework so I, I had a big ski coat I just spread out on the three seats. There was a guy sitting in front of me, and then this guy was sitting to my right. So we take off. And, I kind of, some place along the line I notice the guy has sunglasses on to the right but it didn’t really, but the sun bright coming thru the clouds. I didn’t really think too much of it. So we take off. And, we’re flying up to Seattle and the, sometime in the air the pilot comes on and says we have engine trouble, so we’re going to run out the fuel. And, I mean every things fine but we’re just going to run out the fuel for either a landing for something like that. That didn’t alarm me. I mean, you know I thinking you know we’re in the air, no big deal. And, like I, there weren’t very many people on the flight. And, he said everyone can move up front to the first class if they want to. So the few people who were back with me got up and moved up front. And, I’m thinking…I’ve got all my stuff spread out here, I’m just going to stay here. And that, I guess apparently, I talked to the FBI made him nervous and made the FBI thinking why is that guy staying back there. And, you know, so I’m just sitting back there. So…”

Poyner: “Interesting point, yes.”

Bill Mitchell: “You know... and, I remember acting, called a stewardess or flight attendant, sit so, I sit in the back on the left hand middle. She, she would, she sitting in aisle seat on the right side of the back. He was in the middle…his briefcase was to the right seat. Now, she would stop and go to the phone and, and. I mean I don’t, I still didn’t have a clue on what was going on. You know, I mean there was, there really, there was no publicized high jacking up until then. And, they…so she was just up and back.” And one of the… interesting points was I remember a lot of details about him and the FBI I when I was being interviewed afterwards said “How come you remembered so much?” And, about him, ‘cause most people really don’t when aren’t alarmed. And, I said, well here I was a sophomore in college and this, ah, flight attendant was paying all this attention to this geeky looking guy instead of talking to me. You know, so I, I look at him…he had a skinny little tie. And he had I want to say he had my brown shoes and socks, or something didn’t match there. The point out and I some what, in that, in that little story. Got into a couple of books about me thinking how come that stewardess was paying attention to a guy, that guy instead of me. So that was quite humorous to my friends.”

Poyner: “Okay, great.”

Whiting: “Could we ask you maybe to describe what else you could remember about him: build, height, anything you noticed?”

Bill Mitchell: “One of the things, I do, you know being interviewed by the FBI and they asked me, talked to me a lot. And they said: “If you could have or if you, if you wanted to could you have, aaah, jumped him.” Or you know…and I said: “First of all I wouldn’t have you know, but I’m, I’m pretty certain six two and two twenty…I’m a big guy.” And, people would walk back and so to this, and people would walk back to restroom. And walk right down the aisle. And, he had…I did notice his hand was in and out of the briefcase. You know…”

Poyner: “Okay, so the brief case…it was open?”

Bill Mitchell: “He would open it up and have his hand in the briefcase sometimes, which I thought…I mean I noticed peculiar things. You know…” “What’s that guy doing? What’s that geeky guy, who’s got the attention of this blond stewardess, doing something like that?” I mean, you know, that, that didn’t make sense. So, so to answer your, to get back to your question. I told the FBI, you know if I was walking down the aisle and I knew he didn’t…I knew what was going on, and he didn’t have his hand in there, I was way bigger than him and I could’ve, you know, I could’ve grabbed him and jerked him out of his seat. But I never would have done that. You know, I kept saying that to them. So…he was slight, he had, I mean his hair looked, I mean I thought his hair…I mean I really picked on him ‘cause like I said you’re up in the plane for over three hours and nothing to do. And he had a white shirt, skinny little tie, you know, suit, and he didn’t look like, an executive and not to be getting all that attention.”

Poyner: “Can I ask a couple of quick…”

Bill Mitchell: “…Absolutely…”

Poyner: “…specific questions Bill? You mentioned his sunglasses. Now, was there any point, when you noticed him…did he always have the sunglasses on? Do you, or did you ever see him without them on?”

Bill Mitchell: “Had them on the whole time.”

Poyner: “Okay. And as far as you know?”

Bill Mitchell: “Yes.”

Poyner: “And did ever notice…sort of the tie, did you ever notice a tie-clip of any kind? Was that something…”

Bill Mitchell: “No, never noticed the tie-clip, but you know now that, they say, a clip on…I didn’t ever mentioned that I thought it was a clip on, back probably the FBI. But it…”

Poyner: “…Okay…”

Bill Mitchell: “I mean it looked like, it was a skinny little tie you know, it was 1970’s and that didn’t look very hip…”

Poyner: “Well sure, but what I’m getting at is, the tie itself, it didn’t have any kind of jewelry on it, anything that? A tie-clip intersects the tie and…”

Bill Mitchell: “Sure, I did not see any of that. And, he also, and he smoked a lot which, I don’t and never have liked it and you know, and I didn’t like him that way either.” “You know…I want to say that my mom smoked, so I know, so there’s good to be had Raleigh filters so I guessed for some reason Camels filters. And, I’m not sure why I thought that, but…”

Whiting: “Was that the brand that you mom smoked?”

Bill Mitchell: “No, she smoked Greater Camels…that’s maybe why I thought that but I can’t remember.” “I don’t remember why Raleighs versus Camels.”

Whiting: “Okay.”

Poyner: “If we could go back to when you boarded the plane really quick. You mentioned you had gotten on [the plane] by the rear stair well. Were you…can you give any kind of idea…were you the first aboard, were you one of the last people to board, do you have any recollection as far as what, what kind of order were you boarded?”

Bill Mitchell: “No, no I…”

Poyner: “No?”

Bill Mitchell: “…no, I…” “…you know I want to say…I mean I bought my ticket standby and, you know. It was like downstairs, and I’m looking at these flights to Seattle and Northwest has this one. It was like down and I’m looking…and so I bought the ticket, called my parents and, raced up. I want to say pretty close to the end, but I don’t know that for a fact.”

Poyner: “Okay.”

Bill Mitchell: “…and there weren’t that many people. You know…not very many people on this flight.”

Poyner: “Okay. And, as far as where you sat in the plane, were you in the very, very back…like the last row of the plane?”

Bill Mitchell: “Yep.”

Poyner: “Okay.”

Bill Mitchell: “On the left as you go in on the left. As you face forward, on the left.”

Whiting: “You don’t happen to remember what seat number that was, do you?”

Bill Mitchell: “Nope.”

Whiting: “Okay.”

Poyner: “That’s fine.”

Bill Mitchell: “You know…my mom kept a collection and notebook of everything. And, you know, I want to say she had…she had my ticket but I can’t find it. You know that would have been kindof cool.”

Poyner and Whiting: “Yes.”

Whiting: “…That would have been cool to see that.” “So, just out of curiosity do you recollect him ever…did you ever hear him speak at all?”

Bill Mitchell: “(sigh, breathing in) No. I couldn’t. He did talk to Tina. It was, you know, the flight attendant. He would relay everything to her and she would go back to the phone and talk to the Captain or Co-Pilot or whoever was on the end of the phone.”

Whiting: “And do you recollect noticing anything about their interaction that got your attention?”

Bill Mitchell: “…No. I mean, no there was no panic. No, I don’t remember anything. I mean dissent, didn’t crossing my mind that it was a hijacking. You know, I mean engine couplings, so Okay.”

Poyner: “Can you relay a little bit the experience when the plane landed? ”

Bill Mitchell: “…Sure…”

Poyner: “When the passengers departed, and what that was like?”

Bill Mitchell: “So, we’re up there for hours. And, the we’re, ahm, I’m getting a little cranky.”

Poyner and Whiting: (laughing agreeing)

Bill Mitchell: “…the head stewardess…I think the pilot said: ‘We’re going to land soon.’ And the head flight attendant came back to me. And said: ‘Would you please move up forward, to the front?’” You know, and I was, really going that next guy. And I was getting kind-of cranky and about to say: “Listen, I’m spread out here and I’ll just stay here. You know, if it’s gonna crash…it’s gonna get me here as well as up there.” “…you know. But I didn’t say such a thing and I got up and moved up to the front section, but I didn’t bring my coat. It was a big ski parka. And, I might have brought my book. But anyways, so I sat down and then, and remember she brought up my coat and said: ‘Thank You’ like. And I kind-of remember that was strange why was, I forgot my coat. You know.” "Then we finally land. And, and we are landing and it’s dark, it’s raining. We are out in the boondocks of Sea-Tac. We are so far away from the terminal that. I’m thinking that: “Oh, this is grand. You know why are we way out here?” But, didn’t say anything. And then, then later, I mean see the flight attendant bring a big bag on. The plane lands and a fuel truck comes up to it. Nobody active, I didn’t see anybody out on the…next to the plane. And there’s one guy and, but he a, he, the door opens and out comes the, this is the front door so they had a portable stairway there. And, she’s hauling this big bag with, later I find out is ten thousand twenty dollar bills, to the back. But I didn’t know what it was. And they put, then they put the parachutes, and I didn’t hear or see the parachutes, but they got on front. And, then they let us off. And as we are walking down the in the rain thinking: “Sheesh what, there’s one FBI guy standing…one guy standing out there. And, he said: ‘Yes’ to somebody asked him and it still hadn’t crossed my mind what’s going on. And he [said]: ‘Yes, you have been hijacked.’ And then…everybody start walking towards the terminal which, I mean it’s a mile…” “…you know but things are starting to buzz in my head. And then up pops another guy which I don’t know where that guy came from. And he said: ‘OK, this way, right here.’ And, then a bus showed up and we get on the bus. In the, and the, we get on the bus and up comes the first FBI guy who shows a badge and first I saw. And, you know the FBI guy. And so that was impressive.”
And, he said: ‘I’m going to go thru a list of names and see who’s on this, see who isn’t on this flight.’ So, the first name called was “William Mitchell.” And I said: “Here.” (laughter) And, then the next name called was “Dan Cooper.” And then there was no answer, and he said “Okay, thanks” and took off. So, I’m real curious about, for those three hours, you know I was a student at the University of Oregon, and back during that time students weren’t real thought of highly with regard holly students and everything else. During that three hours, I wonder what the FBI. You know they had to be looking up everybody on the flight and I wonder what they looked in my past to call my name first…” “…I was a student.”

Poyner: “…Makes me wonder if they were going off some manifest as far as the boarding order.”

Bill Mitchell: “…Yes, maybe, reverse order or something.” “…reverse boarding order or something. They asked, I never thought of that. I’ll say one thing now that you know this has been forty years but I’ve also told this story a lot. So, if you’re thinking that “Gee, he remembers a lot.” I have told this story you know…”

Poyner: “…we understand…”

Bill Mitchell: “…Okay, and so then we get on this bus, and we get on this bus and we go to a…a VIP Northwest room. We get off the bus and get in there. And there’s a whole bunch of agents there. And they’re talking to everybody and I’m just sort of catching on to what’s going on. It’s that guy next to me. You know, that’s who it is, but I’m just sitting there. And they’re talking to all these guys…and all these people on the plane. And finally one of them turns to me do, he said: ‘Do you know, do you see anybody that’s not here?’ I said: “Yea, it was the guy sitting next to me.” Right then about, they take me in to another area and they start. I was the only one that really recognized him. And they so, I got tons of attention then. And, everybody else was, had been excused and were on their way. And they kept saying: ‘There’s one guy who was a witness back there,’ as they left. So everybody’s waiting for me. And I was there for a longer time then everybody else. Then, my poor dad had been waiting in the car in the No Parking Zone for me to get off this plane. And he, he had heard it on the radio. So he parked the car. And he went in and there was a woman who had heard the same thing and her husband was on and the Northwest hatters had said plane delayed. And they weren’t commenting on anything started screaming at the Northwest people (laughter). And, so they brought up all the family units that had asserted and the man…”

Poyner: “…Everybody’s Okay?…”

Bill Mitchell: “…Yes. Ah, we’re going to meet the demands and all this stuff. That was earlier while we were still in the air. And then here’s my mom home fixing her little baby son’s favorite dinner. She’s getting news flashes of fire boats and police boats in Elliott Bay out cruising ‘cause that’s where they’re circling. Police boats, local news had pictures of the police boats to pick up the carnage after the plane exploded ‘cause she’s going nuts. And, I’m you know, both my parents are aware of what’s going on and I don’t. I’m just happy as a clam that up there doing my homework…” “…so that was sortof interesting. So…I talked to the FBI. And, you know…I gave…give ’em a description. And then they say: ‘You can go home.’ And they say: ‘We’ll contact you later.’ And they said: ‘Oh. by the way, there’s probably two hundred newsmen out there waiting for you…’ “…and they said, always professional, they said: ‘Okay, we can’t tell you not to talk to the news people…but this is, we don’t know where this guy is and if you’re the only guy, you’re one of the few people who recognize him…you know, I wouldn’t talk.’”

Poyner: “Were they concerned for your well being…?”

Bill Mitchell: “…yea, that was it…”

Poyner: “…or was it more like they were concerned about their investigation?”

Bill Mitchell: “I think…I took it as they were concerned about me…”

Poyner: “Okay.”

Bill Mitchell: “…and, you know, and I said: ‘How do I get through two hundred newsmen?’ And they, the FBI guys goes: ‘Do you have a sandwich?’ ‘Sure, sure…’ ‘Then, here,’ and he says: ‘So here, take the sandwich. There are two state patrolmen out there and they’ll open the door and they’ll push. They’ll push you going, but just eat the sandwich and don’t stop.’”

Poyner: “So…the logic being that you had your mouthful and you’re not going to talk…?”

Bill Mitchell: “Mouthful and once you go, you go. Once you get thru the initial, you know, you don’t stop. They’re not going to chase you.”

Poyner and Whiting: “Okay.”

Bill Mitchell: “…Okay, now I did that and…”

Whiting: “Yes?”

Bill Mitchell: “…it worked perfect. Ah, what, so went home and ah, you know you remember the climate at that time. Boeing going down and so everybody made this guy a legend. You know this was, this was, I mean, he didn’t ask for a million dollars, only asked for two hundred thousand. He had this so well planned out. Nobody, nobody got hurt. All, you know, everybody’s but this as, as kind-of you know…a hero. And, I can remember it, it, I, even being, you know, twenty years old…I can remember it started to…it bothered me. It started getting me like hey, wow. This was, this guy had eight sticks of dynamite hooked onto a battery…You know…it…it kind-of was frightening…”

Poyner: “…That was the kind of the perception we’ve had to deal with ourselves, Bill, in our exhibit planning. You know, to give it a perspective that this guy was a criminal…”

Bill Mitchell: “…And look how he’s changed the culture. And look… you know, so that was I can just remember that being this…this wasn’t as cool as everyone thinks it is or was you know. So…then I had…I had FBI interviewing me probably…well initially it was two or three times a day. They would bring, they would always bring, I mean for awhile they had me working with an artist. And obviously the flight attendant knew more because she was…knew what was going on and could…”

Poyner: “On that point I think Gwen has a question…”

Bill Mitchell: “…Sure…”

Whiting: “Yes, I just wanted to ask you about a few specific points in the description. You know there have been so many different accounts that seem to have gotten mistranslated and re-reported. How old do you…did you think he was?”

Bill Mitchell: “So, I was twenty and I want to say forty…”

Poyner: “…Okay…”

Bill Mitchell: “…for the record, I mean you know. I mean look…he had a…you know, a turkey gobble. It wasn’t a double chin, but he had a loose skin under there. I mean, looked like again I picked on the guy ‘cause he was being paid attention. And that struck me as…as being… but then and I said I remember…to the FBI I said that, you know, his hair could easily have been dyed or a toupee or something. ‘Cause I mean it looked awful. Well, but being twenty and I didn’t really…”

Whiting: “Was the color unnatural in a way?”

Bill Mitchell: “No. It was all solid dark. You know, I mean it was all, there was no grey, there was no, I mean it was all solid and well groomed. So, I can remember I said yes, yes you know, but I wasn’t sure. Then I didn’t…”

Whiting: “Did he have any sort of…facial hair at all?”

Bill Mitchell: “Nope.”

Whiting: “Nothing? Very clean shaven?”

Bill Mitchell: “Yep.”

Whiting: “What about his skin tone? There’s been, you know, a lot of discussion about him being ‘swarthy,’ but I’m not clear what that means.”

Bill Mitchell: “I didn’t notice that. I don’t recall seeing a pretty …white guy.”

Poyner: “Bill, here’s a question with regards the passenger cockpit…not the cockpit, but the passenger cabin. Were the lights on? Was the interior lighting on the whole time? Was there ever a time when the whole cabin got dark?”

Bill Mitchell: “Not that…I didn’t notice that…”

Poyner: “…Okay…”

Bill Mitchell: “…I don’t think it was. It was lit while we were there.”

Poyner: “Okay, Okay great.” “Is there anything else you’d like to add?”

Bill Mitchell: “Yea, well yea. Something about…so like the FBI saw every military parachute club, every parachute club. They would always bring probably at least ten pictures. You know, once or twice a week for a year and a half. I mean when I went back to school, the FBI there in Eugene would, you know I got to know all. They’d come over and…and they’d always layout at least 10 pictures. [FBI agent]: ‘Okay. Do any of these guys look like him?’”

Poyner: “Okay.”

Bill Mitchell: “…You know, and that sort of thing. We…after I went down and saw it, we couldn’t get down on the opening, but the next day. And they left and saw everything. And you know, if I remember right, every article I read for years had something that I did not think was true. You know because of the misinformation.” “There was always, always some little thing that said well that’s not true. [Laughter] Well, that’s not true. And, your, I thought your exhibit was…your exhibit was one hundred percent accurate…”

Poyner: “Well, thanks again Bill. We appreciate your time.”

Whiting: “Yes.”

Poyner: “Take care now.”

Bill Mitchell: “Well, thank you. Bye.”

Poyner: “Bye.”

Whiting: “Good bye.”