January 4, 2013 in Region

Florida skydiver missing after Washington jump

By Doug Esser Associated Press
 

SEATTLE — A skydiver who was wearing a special flying suit when he jumped out of a helicopter at 6,500 feet Thursday is still missing today in the Cascade foothills east of Seattle, authorities said.

Searchers were hoping 29-year-old Kurt Ruppert of Lake City, Fla., was stuck in a tree with his parachute or perhaps lost in rugged state-owned land at Mount Si, said King County sheriff’s Sgt. Cindi West.

Authorities know the flight pattern of the aircraft, but a number of factors have made it difficult to find Ruppert, who was wearing a wing suit with fabric under the arms to allow gliding like a flying squirrel.

West said she was told wing suit flyers don’t deploy parachutes until they reach an altitude of 2,000 feet.

“The speed and height of the jump would enable him to travel a large distance in a short amount of time,” West said.

About four-dozen people began searching Thursday then resumed the effort at daybreak Friday in a 5-square-mile area that includes the 4,200-foot Mount Si, which is covered with trees on steep slopes. It’s popular with hikers even though it can be treacherous.

“We’ve got a lot of search and rescues up here every year,” West said. “It’s dangerous and difficult. The footing is bad and there are lots of cliffs.”

It was foggy Friday morning but the weather cleared enough for a helicopter to join the search. The temperature was in the 40s, and Ruppert isn’t dressed or equipped to stay out overnight, authorities said.

Ruppert is wearing a brown and green jump suit that likely blends into the terrain.

He was skydiving with two friends, and they were taking turns jumping from the helicopter. The friends were waiting at a grassy landing area, but no one saw whether Ruppert’s chute deployed.

“The guys on the ground could not see where he jumped from their angle, and the pilot couldn’t see when he went out the door because he was focused on flying,” West said.

Ruppert has been skydiving seven or eight years and is good at handling a wing suit, said a friend, Art Shaffer, owner of Skydive Palatka in Palatka, Fla.

Shaffer jumped with Ruppert at midnight on New Year’s Eve and said Ruppert left Tuesday to jump with friends in Washington.

Ruppert is single and once owned a landscaping business, said Shaffer, who is in contact with Ruppert’s family and friends.

“We’ve got our fingers crossed,” he said.

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