Crews narrow search area for missing Wash. skydiver

Crews narrow search area for missing Wash. skydiver
A King Co. Sheriff's Dept. helicopter flies over rugged terrain in the search for 29-year-old Kurt Ruppert, who has been missing since a skydiving trip on Thursday. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

NORTH BEND, Wash. (AP) - Rescue crews have narrowed the area they're searching in the rugged Cascade foothills for a skydiver who vanished during a jump.

King County sheriff's Sgt. Cindi West says they made the decision based on the flight pattern of the helicopter he jumped from and information from his cell phone.

There's been no sign of Kurt Ruppert since he jumped out of a helicopter at 6,500 feet on Thursday afternoon. The 29-year-old from Lake City, Fla., was wearing a special wing suit with fabric under the arms to allow him to glide like a flying squirrel.

Searchers were hoping Ruppert was stuck in a tree with his parachute or perhaps lost in state-owned land around 4,200-foot Mount Si.

He was skydiving with two friends, and they were taking turns jumping. The friends were waiting at a grassy landing area, but neither saw whether Ruppert's chute deployed.

Authorities know the flight pattern of the aircraft, but a number of factors have made it difficult to find Ruppert. 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 for Ruppert on Thursday and Friday, then resumed the effort at daybreak Saturday in a 5-square-mile area that includes 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."

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.