A skydiver wearing a special wingsuit was reported missing after jumping out of a helicopter near Washington’s Cascade foothills Thursday.
The skydiver, Kurt Ruppert, 29, of Lake City, Fla., jumped out of the chopper at about 6,500 feet and has not been seen since. Search-and-rescue team members are hoping that Ruppert simply became lost or stuck in a tree, rather than injured in his descent, according to the Associated Press.
Ruppert’s skydiving suit, sometimes called a flying-squirrel suit, features special fabric underneath its arms and allows the wearer to glide through the air in the manner of a flying squirrel. At 2,000 feet, the suit deploys a conventional parachute for safe landing.
Because of the wingsuit’s unique aerodynamic design, it means that Ruppert could have traveled much farther than skydivers using traditional parachutes, Sgt. Cindi West of the King County Sheriff’s Office told AP.
"The speed and height of the jump would enable him to travel a large distance in a short amount of time," West said.
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On Thursday night, four dozen people formed a search party, but were unable to find Ruppert. The search effort resumed on Friday, with searchers combing over a five-square-mile area including the nearby 4,200-foot Mount Si.
According to West, many people run into trouble around Mount Si because of its treacherous pathways. "We've got a lot of search and rescues up here every year," she said. "It's dangerous and difficult. The footing is bad, and there are lots of cliffs."
West said Ruppert’s jumpsuit is brown and green, and it thus will likely be difficult to spot in the surrounding trees and natural terrain.
Ruppert was skydiving with two friends, who each reached the preplanned landing site without incident. His friends said they did not see Ruppert’s parachute deploy.
"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.