Search for missing skydiver suspended as night falls

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by Associated Press and KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on January 4, 2013 at 9:44 AM

Updated Friday, Jan 4 at 6:53 PM

Dozens of searchers on Friday failed to find a skydiver who's been missing since he jumped out of a helicopter at 6,500 feet in the Cascade foothills east of Seattle.

The search for Kurt Ruppert, 29, of Lake City, Fla., was suspended when darkness fell Friday evening, and efforts to locate him will resume Saturday, said King County sheriff's Sgt. Cindi West.

A helicopter pilot reported about 2:30 p.m. Thursday that a skydiver had jumped from the aircraft but failed to show up at a landing zone near Mount Si.

The pilot said three men were alternating going up in the helicopter to jump, with one jumping while the others waited at the landing zone. The pilot said the men were jumping from about 6,500 feet. Sheriff's spokesperson Cindi West said the line of sight was blocked for the men at the landing zone so they did not see their companion jump.

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

The King County Sheriff's Office said the skydiver was wearing a “winged suit” and the speed and height of the jump would enable him to travel a large distance in a short amount of time. Investigators don't know if his parachute ever deployed.

A Thursday search was called off when it got dark. The search resumed at the Mt. Si trailhead Friday. The sheriff's office estimates 40-to-50 searchers are on the mountain looking for the man.

The search area is estimated to be at least five square miles. The sheriff's office said it has been able to pinpoint the flight pattern of the helicopter prior to the skydiver jumping, but said that a number of factors make it difficult to know where the skydiver might be.

King County's Guardian 2 helicopter couldn't assist Friday due to heavy fog. Guardian 1, which has a thermal imaging camera, would not be used in such a search because the search pattern is so large and the vegetation is so thick, said the sheriff's office. They compared it to using a magnifying glass to find a coin lost in a backyard full of vegetation.

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.
 

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