Searchers scour wide area in hunt for missing skydiver

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NORTH BEND, Wash. - Searchers looking for a missing skydiver are faced with the difficult task of scouring a wide area near Mount Si because the skydiver could have traveled a large distance quickly after he jumped from a helicopter, investigators say.

The Sheriff's Office on Friday said the search area is at least 5 square miles. While the helicopter's flight pattern is known, it's not known what path the skydiver took after he jumped. He was wearing a winged suit that allows skydivers to glide through the air.

About 50 search and rescue workers headed up the Mount Si trailhead to look for Kurt Ruppert, Jr., 29, of Florida, who never made it to the landing zone after Thursday afternoon's jump, said KIRO 7 Eyewitness News reporter Jeff Dubois.

"When he jumped, likely he flew at least some distance before he deployed his parachute -- if he even got the parachute deployed -- so we really have quite a few mile radius that we're looking for here," said Sgt. Cindi West of the King County Sheriff's Office.

The pilot said the man jumped about 2:30 p.m. at an altitude of 6,500 feet. The sheriff's search and rescue team looked for the man until it was too dark to continue Thursday evening. His friends were at the landing zone, but they never saw Ruppert jump, and the helicopter pilot never saw the parachute deploy.

"With the daylight hours, we'll also have the opportunity to go off the trail more and maybe do some technical rope descents into some areas where he might have ended up," West said.

With temperatures below freezing on the mountain, and with heavy rain and some snow overnight, searchers are against the clock to try and find Ruppert, Dubois said.

Ruppert was wearing dark clothes that may make it hard for searchers to see him.

Friends of Ruppert said he's been skydiving for six or seven years and has around 1,000 jumps under his belt.

A lot of his jumps have been with a skydiving club in Florida.

"I wouldn't say he'd do something totally outlandish, without planning it first," said Art Shaffer, the owner of the club who first learned Ruppert was missing Thursday night.

Shafer said wingsuiters can reach 60 to 70 mph flying away from their jump point.

"My son and him have traveled as far as 8 miles jumping at 13,000 feet," Shafer said.

Dubois found Facebook posts from what appeared to be some of the skydiver's family members. In one post, they said he is an experienced skydiver, but implied he may not have done this kind of jumping before. They also say he has a strong "survival mode."