NORTH BEND — About 50 search and rescue volunteers combed the Mount Si area near North Bend on Friday in search of a skydiver who went missing Thursday.
The 29-year-old Florida man jumped from a two-seater bubble-style helicopter at 6,500 feet, King County sheriff’s spokeswoman Cindi West said. Dressed in what West called a “squirrel suit,” the man was supposed to free-fall to about 2,000 feet and then pull his parachute cord.
Spotters on the ground never saw the parachute, nor did they spot the man, West said. KIRO TV on Friday identified the skydiver as Kurt Ruppert Jr., 29.
The Sheriff’s Office was called about 2:30 p.m., and search and rescue crews looked for the man until dark Thursday. They resumed their search early Friday and were combing through a few miles of thick brush, West said. Authorities called off the search at 5 p.m. Friday and were expected to resume searching this morning.
The helicopter was believed privately owned. The missing man’s father was en route to Seattle, West said.
A squirrel suit is one of several names for what are called wingsuits, specialized jumpsuits that have fabric between the arms and legs to create more lift. Users start their wingsuit flights from up high, opening their chutes at the end of their jumps.
Searchers looking for the missing man faced the difficult task of scouring a wide area near Mount Si because he could have traveled a large distance quickly after he jumped, investigators said. In addition, he was wearing dark clothes that might make it hard for searchers to see him.
The Sheriff’s Office said the search area was at least five square miles. While the helicopter’s flight pattern was known, it was not known what path the skydiver took after he jumped.
“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 miles’ radius that we’re looking for here,” West said.
Temperatures were below freezing on the mountain, and heavy rain and some snow fell overnight.
Friends of Ruppert said he’s been skydiving for six or seven years and had made about 1,000 jumps, many of them with a skydiving club in Florida.
“I wouldn’t say he’d do something totally outlandish without planning it first,” said Art Shaffer, owner of the club, who learned Ruppert was missing Thursday night.
Wingsuiters can reach 60 to 70 mph flying away from their jump point, Shaffer said.
“My son and he have traveled as far as eight miles jumping at 13,000 feet,” Shaffer said.
Facebook posts from what appeared to be some of the skydiver’s family members said he is an experienced skydiver, but implied he might not have done this kind of jumping before. They also said he has a strong “survival mode.”The Associated Press and KIRO TV contributed to this report.